Let’s be honest, there is no part of life that is untouched by COVID-19. Schools, jobs, sports, graduations, weddings, memorials…on and on we could go, have all been impacted. Now perhaps you can identify a glaring omission from that short list…relationships. COVID-19 has been uniquely challenging on so many of our relationships with others. Maybe you’re missing coffee with a close friend; or, perhaps you have an elderly family member that you have been unable to visit. On the flip side, maybe the unusual amount of time at home has exposed some relational challenges with an immediate family member. Whatever relationship it is, COVID-19 has likely changed it. So, how do we keep healthy relationships even in these tense times of social distancing and quarantine? We want to offer you three practical ways that might help you build and maintain healthy relationships in this most unusual time.
BE RELATIONALLY INTENTIONAL
Can’t meet that friend for lunch or coffee? Unable to gather with your church small group? Missing out on those regular visits to see aging loved ones? Now is the time to get creative in how you pursue those relationships. While it may look different, it does not have to be dormant. While you may be forced to engage relationships in a different capacity, there is still some way for you to engage. Maybe the friend you typically met for lunch each week is now a weekly FaceTime call. Maybe the aging loved one is now a window visit. COVID-19 has forced all of us into our shells a little more than we might realize. We must be intentional about pursuing those relationships that previously were a part of our everyday rhythms. A little effort can go a long way in this season of relational isolation. But we must be careful to avoid the all or nothing approach. The tendency will be to ‘wait until things go back to normal’, but the reality is that we may be waiting longer than we think. So let’s not wait any longer. Let’s take the first step today toward reengaging in those relationships. The relational isolation caused by COVID-19 promises to be one of the most significant effects of this pandemic. We need relationships, perhaps now more than ever. Proverbs 17:17 reminds us that, “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Safe to say that this pandemic season qualifies as a ‘time of adversity.’ Lean into it, rather than away from it. Do not wait for those easy opportunities to connect relationally with those around you. Instead, initiate them. Be that friend that truly loves at all times, particularly in this difficult season. COVID-19 has exposed our deep need for connection with others and, as it turns out, God has designed us that way. So, as we pursue those relationships, even when it’s not easy or convenient to do so, we are in-step with how God has created us. Who is that family member or friend that you need to connect with today? Shoot the text, dial the number, post on their wall. Take the first step – be intentional in your relationships today.
EXTEND GRACE… AND THEN EXTEND IT AGAIN
If your quarantine experience has been like most, you have had more time at home with your immediate family than you ever imagined possible. The kids are home from school. Mom and dad now work from home. The family bubble is alive and well! Or is it well? Unfortunately, there have been disturbing statistics released during this quarantine period that suggest that things like divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and other serious matters are steadily increasing. While your experience may not resemble something as horrible as these things, chances are that you’ve experienced your share of ‘off days’. You’re fighting with your spouse or your kids, the stress is mounting, and all of those traditional ways of blowing off some steam have been taken away from us. The gym is closed, the theater is closed, your favorite restaurant is take-out only. You feel stuck. Let’s be honest for a moment, COVID-19 has also exposed some of those things about ourselves that we are not super proud of. It’s exposed our bad habits – our ugly side. Between those emotions and feelings we have about ourselves, and the pressurized family bubble, we feel like we are on the verge of exploding! So, how do you keep from not? Extend grace to yourself and to those around you. Not one of us is the same person we were in early March. COVID-19 has impacted us all. This is a season that must be marked by grace. Just when you feel like you have extended enough grace, do it again, then again. Unique seasons call for extravagant grace. Ephesians 4:32 encourages us this way, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This is what grace looks like. Extravagant grace reveals itself in moments when it’s the last thing we feel like giving. As you show grace to yourself, you increase the likelihood of extending it to those around you. Make today the day that you begin to depressurize the family bubble. The next opportunity to explode, to lash out, to make a cutting comment…extend grace instead…and then extend it again.
COMMUNICATE OPENLY & ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO DO THE SAME
George Bernard Shaw is famously quoted as saying, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Don’t be disillusioned, more time at home and around the family does not necessarily mean greater communication. In fact, it can sometimes foster the exact opposite as we tend to withdraw. The importance of good, open communication cannot be overstated in this unique COVID-19 season where emotions are raw, stress is high, and the future is uncertain. Yet, Learning the art of good communication takes practice. Do you know the best time of day to try and engage with your spouse in a meaningful conversation? What about with your kids? Can you rephrase a question in such a way that invites honest dialogue rather than a defensive response? Communication is complex, but it’s also necessary for healthy relationships! In Ephesians 4:29, the Apostle Paul exhorts us this way, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” How many of our conversations would go down a different path if we paused to ask ourselves ‘does this fit the occasion?’ Timing and tone count for so much in our relational communication. Since all effective communication is two-way, we must practice being good listeners, which will encourage others to communicate openly as well. Are you simply listening to respond, or are you listening to understand? There is a big difference. As we express a genuine interest in understanding our loved ones, they are more likely to open up and communicate honestly with us. When that happens, relationships are nurtured, restored, and strengthened. COVID-19 has changed the world, which means we need to communicate openly with each other as we navigate through these unique challenges together. We have enough outside of our relationships that is working against us, let us not allow poor communication to be a part of the problem. Is there a conversation that you need to have today? Are there some emotions you need to identify and open up about? If so, take a deep breath, and step into the conversation. You won’t regret it.