Sunday morning, for the first time since the pandemic began, I went to an indoor worship service, with real people and live music. We wore masks, but we were invited to sing hymns. It was glorious. I felt nurtured and strengthened and grateful.
I know better than to expect this every Sunday.
When my kids were little, I would often screech in for worship so exhausted and frustrated from getting my family ready that I could barely concentrate. But sometimes, I showed up absolutely starving for hope. I’d look forward to worship as a way to nourish my soul, to fill me up for whatever the next week might bring. I remember one Sunday in particular that left me feeling so discouraged because I’d needed a good Word so very badly.
I told a friend about it later that week, how I’d been starving and famished and desperate for Good News at worship that Sunday. She paused for a moment and then kindly suggested, “Maybe you could not let yourself get so hungry next time.”
It was brilliant advice. I knew that I needed to nourish myself with food in order to live my life and not act hangry ( hungry + angry) towards my family; I just hadn’t learned yet that I needed to do the same spiritually and emotionally.
My friend’s great advice was much harder to remember this past pandemic year, which was filled with so much loss for so many people. I think many of us dug deep and relied on our own strength and fortitude and grit to carry our families through the first few phases. I’ve been happy the past few months because I felt like we were on the other side; I felt the momentum of coming out of a crisis and into a new chapter of our lives. Unfortunately, at least in Georgia, the infection rates are climbing again. I’m feeling a sense of dread that we’ll be in the throes of this virus forever, if more people don’t get vaccinated. I feel hope leaking out like helium out of a balloon.
During worship on Sunday, the preacher used the phrase “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer” to address the Trinity in a prayer. My eyes flew open at the “Sustainer” part. “I need more of that Spirit in my life,” I thought. Keeping me nourished and fed is more than a one-woman job; it’s going to take true community to keep us all nurtured and strong.
I’ve been searching for parallel experiences to help guide me in the past year and found strength in remembering my grandparents coming out of WWII and rebuilding their lives. Now I’m wondering if a “seasonal” metaphor might help this pandemic make sense to me. Was the start of our COVID year a long Winter and now are we in one of those fake Springs that gets your hopes up in March and then hits you with an ice storm? Please, sweet Jesus, no. I don’t think I can keep rallying forever.
I was talking with another mom recently about how much time our kids have spent on their phones during the pandemic. Some of it has been for school and also because we were isolating at home, but now I’m worried that all of our brains have thoroughly adapted to spending our days on screens. I know that I check social media and other junk on my phone so much more than I did pre-pandemic. I usually don’t feel better when I look up from Instagram a half-hour after I jumped on to post a quick picture; I usually feel worse about my life and sometimes about humans in general.
One of my writing teachers, Jen Louden, has coined the term shadow comforts to talk about the ways we choose to “numb out” instead of facing our feelings or the reality of our lives. We reach for things that we think will make us feel better, but they actually are just distractions or ways to avoid doing hard things. Shadow comforts might include, but are not limited to, mindless internet surfing, over-eating, Netflix binge-watching and hours on social media. It’s the difference between eating junk food and healthy food: we might want the chips, but then we feel worse in the long run. There are people and activities in our lives who bring out the best in us.
It’s worth figuring out who and what helps sustain us. For me, gardening, walking with friends, reading, taking pictures, laughing with my kids, napping in my cozy bed, eating fresh food, doing yoga and working on house projects with my husband all restore my soul. Most of us know what real nourishment feels like, but we often forget to actually incorporate this goodness into our daily lives. We can start again, though, and practice feeding ourselves, often and well.