Relationships During the Pandemic
How has the pandemic changed the way people relate?
Observations of what has been happening with relationships during the pandemic
The pandemic has revealed our status quo in relationships. Our high-tempo lives were abruptly paused, the regular noise went on mute, like commuting to work, frivolous chats with our colleagues or friendly contacts with the supermarket assistants. We found ourselves locked in, either with our family or alone. The majority of our superficial relationships were put on hold, we stayed face-to-face with whatever treasures we really possessed. We might have realised this change - or maybe just started to feel that something was wrong or missing.
Thanks to the pandemic we have learnt which of our relationships had been properly built.
Unpleasant acquaintances disappeared, while our families did not. What a painful discovery it must have been to learn that our spouse or children were just part of our daily ritual. And we faced the choice to either get acquainted with them anew or look for a place to hide from them (while the non-Christian world would think as far as a divorce, this isn’t an option for the Christians).
The pandemic demonstrated the difference between our connections and those with whom we share each others’ lives. Our connections may know something about us, while our relationships see our deep struggles and our true natures. Seeing the absence of any true relationships was a painful discovery, and we should hope that most of us did not experience this. Did you feel grateful for those genuine friends who supported you during the isolation?
Our communities were tested as well; not just the churches, but all types of communities. Was it a surprise to learn that some connections existed just because they had been structured so – and therefore they disappeared? Was it sobering to realise that our job connections were stronger than many relationships inside our churches? Was it humbling to accept that being part of a church community meant reaching out to people, overcoming our feelings in order to check in on them, while actually we wanted to be comforted in the first place?
We may have even felt betrayed, because our dear relatives or friends moved away from us. Or did we move away from them? Our friends could also have been stressed or tired. And while suffering from the lack of relationships, should it have been us who reached out to the loved ones to restore dialogue? To a certain extent, if our relationships have been pressure-tested by COVID and survived, they have proved themselves strong. Let’s celebrate!
The pandemic revealed our need in other humans, the hidden longing to share our lives with them, and proved us to be social beings. It diagnosed our relationships and our ability to invest into them.
Will anything change?
The pivotal question is whether the pandemic was a moment of truth, pushing us to review our lives and dedication to other humans?
The physical dimension of our relationships will be further tested. The virus is still alive, while the self-isolation periods are almost over. We are encouraged by governments to keep the social distancing. This is followed by some fear of social contacts, leading to potential problems in building new connections and translating them into relationships. Besides, will people or certain groups of people, stigmatise those ill with COVID or some flu-like symptoms? What will people be ready to do for their relatives or friends having COVID? How close will they approach them, knowing that Christian love is often an action, not just a comforting word?
Another challenge is how we overcome the convenience of being on our own (or with a very small family circle), doing things your own way, in your own tempo, erasing everyone and everything which does not fit you, no, YOU.
The first challenge demands us to be somewhat courageous, the second – less egotistic and self-focused. Any dialogue, any dedication requires effort – we must be intentional and sacrifice our comfort. We will understand that we cannot be humans without relationships. The great commandment, the part ‘to love your neighbour as yourself,’ should push us to be proactive – and humble.
Coming back to the pivotal question: ‘Will anything changes at all?’, let’s imagine the pandemic as a fire. High temperatures melt iron and the slag appears. If the slag is removed, we eventually receive steel. If the slag remains, the metal does not transform into steel. This can be the case for our lives: the pandemic may challenge us, put pressure on us, melt our character – but if we do nothing with the pains, problems, frustrations, anger, fears, feedbacks from other people, etc., we do not change. Opportunity does not equal results.
So, we can let God change us through the pandemic, or we can ignore it.
Longer Term Outlook
Thinking about the future, we remain curious whether our world will be the same as it was before the crisis and how this can further change our lives.
We might see the rise of local communities, because they are better skewed towards providing physical support. As long as we humans remain physical creatures, along with being spiritual, we will need the physical contact and real help. This may mean less contacts with acquaintances who live far away because you cannot meet each other as often as you used to. And this may mean more contacts with those living nearby, if you keep investing in them intentionally.
Another dimension will be caused by the anticipated economic recession. People, families and communities will be tested by running out of money, being in need, having fears for the future. We can proactively support each other, or we can reactively do what’s good, or we can reject others and close ourselves in our comfortable private bubbles. The choice is still to be made.
And what is widely discussed in the so-called ‘Western culture’ is the impact on mental health. Relationships with God and other humans form our identity, thus disrupted connections influence our true nature negatively. It is upsetting when Christians, shaped to be in relationships with God and the community, suffer from mental health problems.
Church is Counter-Cultural
What’s encouraging is the eternal nature of the church and its foundation laid on God’s truth.
If we are part of God’s created church, we are in the right place to avoid the future hurdles of the pandemic. Church is meant to be local, being part of the catholic (ecumenical) church. Church was born from the Spirit and connected people both spiritually and physically. From the very beginning it took care of the basic needs of its members, through helping each other to live our lives before God and with other people, through prayer, connections and material aid.
Even if culture moves further towards the virtual, isolated, full of distrust and dominating self-interest, church is meant to remain counter-cultural.
It is up to us - members of the church, both local and ecumenical – to make efforts to live according to God’s standards for the church.
Shouldn’t we submit ourselves to God’s design and put more intentionality behind our relationships and our churches?
By Olena Tyshchenko from the Cultural Influencers Group, June 2020