In January 2020 I started to hear people talking about the Corona virus, but it wasn’t something I took serious. In February, I started to hear a few more clusters of people talking about the threat of the Corona virus in the United States, but I was still optimistic that it wouldn’t be a problem for me personally.
In March, everything changed. Festivals started to close, sports started to cancel, and it wasn’t long before our mayor was signing a city ordinance for us to Shelter-In-Place.
As the ordinance went into effect I was surprised by how my friends and neighbors responded to the ordinance with such optimism, and it reminded me of how people tend to process going through cultural changes.
As a pastor, I have led many people into cross-cultural experiences, and found there is a pattern that people go through in cross-cultural experiences that might apply to this season of our lives:
Honeymoon: In cross-cultural experiences there is definitely a “honeymoon” phase, and it is likely that we will see that same response with the “Shelter-In-Place.”
This stage is characterized by positive feelings, almost euphoric, everything is new, and some people might be thinking, “This quarantine time is the best thing ever!” During this stage people are focused on catching up on to-do lists, catch up with friends and family, and getting special projects done around the house.
Watch out for: being overly optimistic. It is good to see the positive, but let us not overlook the real challenges that are taking place around the world.
Frustration: It isn’t long in a cross-cultural experience before a strong feeling of dissatisfaction sets in, and the excitement turns into discomfort, impatience, anger, and sadness. In a similar way, it is likely that we will start to see a similar response with the “Shelter-In-Place.”
This stage is characterized by missing relational contacts with co-workers and friends, even missing specific routines or errands that use to feel common, and it is especially difficult if key life events are being minimized like birthdays and anniversaries.
During this stage you might find yourself thinking or saying, “I am tired of Zoom calls, I am bored with watching the same shows, or talking to the same people.” During this stage you start to feel trapped!
Watch out for: letting negative thoughts take over and dwelling on all the changes. Scripture encourages us in this in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
Anger: This stage tends to surprise people, because the things that you use to love about a new cross-cultural experience now become the things you want to avoid in the cross-cultural experience. In a similar way, it is likely that we will start to see a similar response with “Shelter-In-Place.
In this stage you are going to see yourself wanting to resist all the changes. It might be difficult to notice at first, but you might find yourself becoming very skeptical and asking “why questions.” Why didn’t the president see this coming? Why didn’t our city plan better? Why didn’t my employer, neighbor, spouse, children’s school, etc.?
Watch out for: being overly critical; this breeds pride and comparison. It is going to be easy to simply point out the negatives of political leaders, friends, and family, but now more than ever, look for the positive. Philippians 2:3-4 speaks to this, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Grief: In a cross-cultural experience this stage tends influence people in different ways, because you start to see yourself withdraw, become apathetic, and some even experience depression. In a similar way, it is likely that we will start to see a similar response with “Shelter-In-Place.”
In this stage you might find yourself neglecting to take showers so as to prepare for the day. You might find yourself eating more unhealthy foods, or even your sleep patterns change as you stay up more in the night, and sleep in more in the morning.
In the earlier stage you were asking “why questions” but in this stage you have lost interest in those questions and you might find yourself thinking things like, “Who cares?” What difference do our politicians actually make in life? Why does it matter if my children stay up with their schoolwork? Who cares if I get ready for the day?
Watch out for: spiraling. It is healthy to grieve the changes of our routine, and miss those areas of our life that we thought of as familiar, but dark thoughts can compound and they are not always to recover from.
We have no idea what tomorrow might bring, and the sooner we can embrace the present, the healthier we will be in the process. The Lord is caring for you right now in the present and you can receive comfort in knowing that. Scripture addresses this in Matthew 6:25-34. Verse 26 says, “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”
Adjustment: Overtime, people will begin to adjust, create new rhythms and routines, and start to feel more comfortable in cross-cultural contexts, and no doubt, we will start to adjust in this season as well
During this stage you will know what to expect at the grocery store, have more information as to what is being done, how long it will last, and what needs to be done during this transition. Some of those “why questions” will be answered, and some of those “why questions” will be found to not be that important. Eventually you will start to see some compassion for others, interest in life, and overall optimism start to return.
Keep in mind, everyone will go through this process differently. It might take a few days, week, or even months. It all depends on the person. In the end, Acceptance will happen.
We might not ever return to what we have known in the past, and we don’t know how long this season will last, but the sooner we can embrace this new season, the more we will enjoy and thrive in this season.
Watch out for: feelings of pride that by God’s grace you have arrived at this place of adjustment faster than someone else. God has a process for all of us. We do not need to rush anyone’s process, as we are all right where the Lord wants us to be. So be sure to repent of any frustration over people who are still in other stages. Acts 3:19 encourages us that there is refreshing that comes from the Lord after we engage in repent of our sin and returning back to him. “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” Acts 3:19
Re-entry: When we travel into different cultures and go through the period of adjustment, we can make the mistake of assuming that we will return to our home, and things will be like we never left. As a result, re-entry can be just as difficult as the cross-cultural experience.
In a similar way, it is likely that we will start to see a similar response with “Shelter-In-Place.” Things have changed, you have changed, and hopefully we are all better for the experience.
Watch out for: quickly jumping back into old routines without making room for the new growth you might have encountered during “Shelter-In-Place.” What new routines and habits came out of sheltering that would be beneficial to continue with?
During uncertain times like this it is important to maintain healthy balance in life. This includes maintaining a healthy diet, exercise, engaging in fun at-home activities that you enjoy as well as interacting with loved ones and friends virtually. Most importantly, we must be intentional about maintaining a close relationship with the author and perfecter of our faith. I encourage you as I encourage myself daily: spend time in prayer and scripture to get to know the One who “is good and does good;” Psalm 119:68.