Updated: May 28, 2020
“I am so glad to hear that!” cried my dear, sweet friend, grabbing me into a big hug. “I was worried about you!" Relief flooded her face. "Honestly, I had planned to sit you down and tell you that you needed a change for your mental and physical health. I was worried about you, Jen,” she confessed.
I had just announced to my friend I would be working part time, and her emotional response quickly validated my decision. After all, she had been on the receiving end of my venting about all the challenges I was experiencing in my previous role for some time. She was concerned about the stress and long hours that were affecting my sleep patterns, slowing my grief work, and impacting my health.
When God provided the opportunity for part-time hospital chaplaincy work nearly a year ago, this friend was one of the first to encourage me to apply. Others were also concerned about my mental and physical well-being; they supported my need for change. Then, these folks celebrated with me when my choice eased some of the physical and emotional challenges I was facing. They also enjoyed the time freed up to nurture their friendships even more.
Fast forward to March of 2020, and the world pandemic of COVID-19 descended on our lives. Just one week into the pandemic, I heard the words, “You are an essential worker as a hospital chaplain.” In that moment I knew I was going to be faced with a season of isolation and a wide spectrum of emotions. I soon learned that in order to continue to go to work, I needed to implement intentional behaviors day-to-day in order to protect family, friends, patients and colleagues. Things like leaving my shoes in the garage after work, showering when I get home, and limiting my contact with others are among the many new routines I had to implement to stay well and stop the spread of the virus.
Life is not meant to be journeyed alone. Unfortunately, social distancing and my safety regiment created way too much unforeseen solo time. Initially, family and friends stayed away, unsure of how this whole thing would play out. Then some brave friends and family emerged. They were willing to talk face-to-face from a distance, while others called regularly to check on me. These folks became my wise advisors who took seriously the emotional and mental toll that isolation was having on me. Slowly, with care taken to social distance, others have gravitated back to me, wearing masks and limiting contact.
There are times when it is still just me, doing life with my sweet puppy, because these trusted advisors have lives of their own. In those moments, I try not to get swallowed up in the darkness of this solitary time. I've learned to turn to the One who is ever near me. There is comfort as I feel Christ’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit in my life amid these challenging times. The Apostle Paul knew about these dark times and wrote about them in his letter to the church in Thessalonica:
“Now concerning how and when all this will happen, you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. But you aren’t in the dark about these things. You are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. But let us, who live in the light, be clear headed, protected by the armor of faith and love. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, CEB)
My trusted friends are there for me, empathizing with my darkness, and seeking ways to build me up with their presence and words of encouragement. These folks are also there to tell me when it is time to buck it up and move forward. They opt to not get stuck with me in my challenges, but instead offer suggestions on how to progress beyond the difficulties. I am blessed to know such loving, supportive people, and I am certain they have been put in my life for this place and time. I thank God regularly for the ways they support me AND call me out on the not-so-great stuff.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Blessings abound from my trusted and wise advisors who regularly have my back when I need to send up an S.O.S. Unfortunately, there have also been those who have chosen to back away from me. The discovery that some friends find it difficult to support my decision to continue working on the front lines of the pandemic was hurtful at first. Then I realized that each person has their own comfort level when it comes to dealing with the Coronavirus. It's important that I not personalize that, and come to grips with understanding that not all friends have the stamina to hang in there through the long haul. They were supportive and loving when I most needed it, but right now may need a temporary hiatus. God sent them into my life and will bless them even if they choose not to return to the level of friendship we once had.
Who are the people in your life that show up for you when you need them most? Who are the people whom you show up for? Are there others who seem distant and silent? I invite you to assess your friendships and see where you might be called to invest a bit more OR to cut your losses and move on. For those whom you are moving on, say a prayer for them, or you may even want to send a card of love and encouragement. We are called, for our own well-being, to invest in those who are willing to invest in us.
Lord of Light, thank You for sending people into my life that lift me up when I am faltering. Bless too, the people in my life whose season of friendship has come to end, and continue to guide them in their lives. In this time of darkness, continue to send the Light of Christ into my life so that when my people are not available, You still show up. Thank You, Amen.
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