This one comes to us from Lydia Suitt.

For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a dramatic change of pace in our lives. It has been, in a word, disorienting. For me, it has involved a more relaxed morning routine, less frequent showers, significantly more screen time, difficulty sleeping, less time outdoors, and decreased opportunities for social connection. It has also involved a measure of grief. I have personally been grieving the loss of time spent with co-workers and friends; freedom to leave the house for outings; and opportunities to travel and to be in nature—specifically, our anticipated spring camping trip was recently cancelled.

We are all experiencing different changes in routine and different objects of loss. And while some of those losses—when we try to pinpoint them or speak them aloud—sound small, they are having a significant impact on us. My small losses have led me to become increasingly restless, so I feel compelled to set goals—health goals, reading goals, creative goals. I also have noticed an increase in negative thoughts. For me, whether at work, at home, in my relationships, or spiritually, these anxieties tend to center on the question, “Am I doing enough?”

I think the impact of these small losses is magnified because they signify another, deeper loss: the loss of our identities and of several sources of meaning. The external losses contribute to an internal void. They have revealed how much of our meaning and purpose is rooted in things like completing projects at work, emotionally supporting our friends, financially supporting our families, exploring new opportunities, and serving at our churches and elsewhere. When we can’t do some of these things, or can’t do them at the level that we previously could, we start to question who we are and whether we matter.

We respond to this existential question in a number of ways. Some of us distract ourselves from it. Maybe it’s calling everyone we know, binging Netflix, or online shopping. Some of us, and this is my natural tendency, try to conjure up new sources of meaning. Fearing that we won’t be someone if we don’t do enough, we devise new projects and dive into our work with perfectionistic vigor. Others of us succumb to the void and start to question whether we inhabit a meaningful role in the world.

However, when we recognize the problem—that these small losses have big impacts because they call our identities into question—another possibility opens up. We can confront the losses and use them, as opportunities to self-reflect and rediscover grace. We can examine how the pandemic and self-isolation have affected us. And we can explore how our responses may be shaped by the loss of parts of our identity. We may discover that part of our sense of meaning comes from being able to do certain things—things that we cannot do while we’re living and working from home.

We can then let grace fill those voids. We can receive the gift of meaning from the only source of meaning, the creative Word of God. This gift has been present since our creation; it’s the gift of being able to just be. It’s the gift of laying aside all of our accomplishments and identities and finding that we’re still loved. We’re still “someone” when all those things go away, because we were “someone” before any of them began. God’s love and our meaning does not depend on our achievements or lack thereof. It depends on God’s promise and has been secured since God spoke his Word of love into the world – a Word that is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So as bits of our constructed identities are chipped away by the new normal, instead of despairing the loss, we can take advantage of this time to receive God’s meaning-granting grace.

What does this mean for me? As I evaluate changes in my roles as worker, encourager, and adventurer, I don’t need to try to fill these voids with new projects – new ways to feel like “someone” again. Instead, I can reflect on the knowledge that I have always been “someone,” not because I do certain things, but because I am loved by the only one who determines meaning. Whatever steps I take from here—goals or no goals; action or rest—can be taken from a place of freedom, rather than anxiety.