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Spiritual diary of sheltering in place: The lifeline of “easier does not mean easy”

Lynne Baab • Thursday April 16 2020

Spiritual diary of sheltering in place: The lifeline of “easier does not mean easy”

I have had a rough last week. I think I know what precipitated it – an article about lots of individuals in Queens, New York, how they are suffering from illness, lost jobs, not enough to eat, and fear.

When Dave and I started our sheltering in place six weeks ago, about ten people had died here in Seattle, and many more were ill. But nowhere in the United States were hospitals overwhelmed. No one had yet lost their jobs. Nowhere were bodies stacking up. The stock market hadn’t yet crashed, and the economic predictions were still rosy. In those first couple of weeks, I was able to engage in grief and gratitude in a pretty healthy way.

I grieved about the loss of autonomy. Ordering groceries, rather than choosing the food myself in a store, has been much harder than I expected. I grieved about losing face-to-face family gatherings. I grieved about the sleeplessness I experience because of anxiety about so many things about this pandemic. But until a week ago, I was also feeling joy and gratitude pretty frequently: for spring flowers, moments of connection with friends by various means, relaxed times with my husband, and many other gifts.

Something about this past week was really, really hard for me, and quite a few of the people with whom I emailed, skyped, texted, and talked to on the phone got an earful of my angst. Two days ago, while telling my women’s group (on zoom) about it and asking for their prayers, I had an AHA moment.

When I was a teenager, my mother used to tell me that she couldn’t understand why I was feeling unhappy about things. As you know, teenagers have to have angst about something, and I worried about relationships and my appearance as much as the next teenage girl. Mom used to say, “Look, you have nice clothes to wear to school, something I longed for as a teenager.” Mom said that if she’d had nice clothes as a teenager, she would have been happy. So why wasn’t I happy?

Mom was raised in poverty on a farm in the Midwest in the Great Depression. She was north of the dust bowl, but even without clouds of dust, her family experienced year after year of drought. Her father raised pigs and corn (to feed the pigs). Year after year in the 1930s,  the corn crop failed. My grandfather had to borrow money for feed for the animals. When time came to sell the pigs, all the profit went back to the bank to pay off the loan.

I see now how deeply Mom was impacted by poverty. In her childhood, and especially in high school, she longed, she pined, she ached to have nice clothes like the town girls whose father’s occupations had continued to earn them money during the Depression. She knew that if she had nice clothes in high school, she would have been happy.

I see now that my teenage angst was a slap in the face to her. She gave me the thing she had longed for. What was wrong with me that I couldn’t appreciate the gift I’d been given?

My AHA moments last night helped me see that in the past week, those painful high school arguments with my mother were resurrected deep within my mind, influencing me on an unconscious level. What’s wrong with me that I can’t appreciate the gifts I’ve been given?

Dave and I have financial stability. I’m praying often for the people I know who have lost their jobs. I ache for them.

Dave and I have a comfortable house where we can hunker down. I am praying often for homeless people and people crammed into small apartments.

I have a husband with whom more than 99.9% of interactions are harmonious. I’m praying for people who experience destructive conflict at home. I can only begin to imagine their pain now.

We have a back deck and a quiet neighborhood where we can get outside. I’m praying for those who live in densely populated places where it feels to risky to get outside for a walk. Nature is so healing, and many people are missing it right now.

My prayers for people in need are right and good, but I also need to give myself a break. Just because I’m suffering less than they are, I’m not obligated to feel happy and grateful all the time. In fact, it dawned on me, maybe I don’t feel happy because I’m hurting for them.

Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a column about being an introvert in this pandemic. He is quite sure that sheltering in place is easier for introverts than for extraverts. However, even as an introvert, he’s finding it hard. He concluded the column with these words:  “I thought this would be easier for me than for many of you — and it is. But it turns out ‘easier’ and ‘easy’ are two entirely different things.”

Early in this series, I wrote a post about living in grace during this pandemic. I need to take that post to heart. Yes, Dave and I actually have it much easier than many people. However, easier and easy are two different things.

Loving God, this pandemic raises all sorts of emotions that are influenced by memories we are hardly aware of. Please work in our hearts and minds to help us be present to our sometimes tumultuous thoughts and feelings, to bring them into your presence, and to accept your grace and goodness. Lord, have mercy on us, and have mercy on all who are suffering.

(Next post: more lifelines. Illustration by Dave Baab. I am always thrilled to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

A review on for my newly released kindle edition of A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife mentions its relevance in this pandemic: “I began reading A Renewed Spirituality to help me with midlife related changes. I finished reading it during the COVID-19 pandemic. This book helped me cope with both. The author weaves together stories from her own life and those of others to create an engaging read. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about finding and worshipping God in nature, which we can do even if quarantined. The author’s tone is kind and humble, yet her intelligence and wisdom are evident. I loved this book!”

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