by Kathy Escobar
In 2014 I wrote a book called Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart for people who were experiencing a faith deconstruction and were trying to find life on the other side of all they once knew. Earlier this year in February, two weeks before realities of COVID-19 whirled through the United States and upending life as we—and people across the globe–knew it, I released a new book called Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World. I decided to combine both of these together today because I think they fit together into the space we are living in right now as human beings on a planet experiencing a major disruption.
Many of us are feeling disoriented, confused, overwhelmed, lost.
A lot of folks who are resourced are experiencing what it’s like to be un-resourced, to see up close and personal the disparities of a broken health care system, the lack of safety nets, and the realities of survival.
Two months into this churn, there’s a restlessness among most of us in different ways and a desire to “get back to normal” again. It’s a natural reaction, and I have it, too. But I truly believe that one of the biggest parts of our work in the upcoming weeks and months is to become far more honest about this critical reality—there is no going back to “normal.”
Before the pandemic hit, some of us have had life experiences where everything changed– faith unravelings, trauma, and a painful loss of people, jobs, health, or dreams where we can never go back to what was before. Rather, what we can do is find our way forward into something new. There aren’t clear formulas or steps to follow, but there are some things that we can do to anchor our hearts, our souls, our feet, our faith into a new season of our story.
That’s where Practicing comes in. The book is centered on 10 practices to engage with to embody a healthier way of moving in the world that not only changes us personally but has a ripple effect into our families, neighborhoods, churches, communities, the wider world. These 10 practices are: Healing, Listening, Loving, Including, Equalizing, Advocating, Mourning, Failing, Resting, and Celebrating. Practicing is packed with practices, stories, reflection questions, and ways to be transformed, and I hope that people and groups will use it as a tool in the upcoming months and year as we look for ways to heal, grow, embody hope.
It’s built on the centering ideas that change always starts with us and faith is a verb.
In considering Godspace and the beautiful work that happens here, I thought it would be good to touch very briefly on some questions and thoughts to ponder over each of these 10 practices related specifically to the pandemic. My hope is that each of us glean just one or two from this list to reflect and consider as part of our work in finding our way forward in our own unique contexts.
Healing. What are some of our relational patterns that have become more illuminated during this season–maybe it’s control, people-pleasing, insecurity, isolation or other things we do to cope? Maybe it’s ways we’re living out what we’ve learned in therapy or spiritual direction in a more healthy way. How can we be more honest about them with ourselves and others?
Listening. The pandemic has magnified the destructive polarization in our current culture in all kinds of brutal ways. How can we hold space for others who see the pandemic differently from us even though we vehemently disagree? Even if we can’t find common ground, what are ways we can listen for understanding, ask questions instead of only make statements?
Loving. Loving our neighbors requires skin in the game. How can we meet needs in tangible ways, share resources, and sacrifice our comfort for the sake of others? Who is on our hearts that needs connection and support? How are we considering the most vulnerable?
Including. So many are getting left behind in the realities of #pandemicprivilege. Who’s missing in the transition to the online environment? Who is being excluded because of lack of resources or abilities? How can we “make room at the table” (even though we can’t sit freely around real ones right not) to include, reach out, listen to, and learn from?
Equalizing. The pandemic is revealing the ravages of unjust systems and disparate power. Whose voices and perspectives do we need to listen to more carefully right now and honor their wisdom, stories, and perspectives despite our discomfort? What actions are we being challenged to take that we might be dismissing because of our privilege?
Advocating. We need people of presence to hold these hard things–individuals and groups who are willing to hear what the real needs are, come alongside, and help break down barriers to access resources. What is on our heart to advocate for? What’s a way we can use our voice, power, resources on others’ behalf?
Mourning. So many are grieving right now and loss of people, freedoms, jobs, and a pile of other things is weaved through every part of this pandemic. What have we lost? What feelings are surfacing? How can we let our feelings be our feelings, period, instead of trying to spiritualize, minimize or do-whatever-we-can-do to soften them? How can we hold others’ grief and not try to fix the pain?
Failing. I have yet to talk to a person who said they were rocking the pandemic. We’re all disoriented in different ways, not measuring up to false ideals of how we’re supposed to make it through this time. Parents who are thrust into homeschooling kids have an extra measure of pressure from all sides, and the feelings of failure can be so brutal. How can we be more gentle with ourselves, let go of expectations, and honor not only our humanness but others as well?
Resting. Rest? Now? That’s easy say and hard to do when our bodies and souls are all being rocked with such radical change, but the practice of resting is critical to survival. How can we find time to rest our weary minds? What are things we can do, no matter how small, to make space for taking care of our souls so we can last? How can we help someone else rest in a creative way?
Celebrating. It’s hard to “celebrate” when there’s so much pain and loss in every direction, but it’ll help us make it. What’s something good—no matter how small–in the middle of the hard? What are we grateful for? Where are we seeing God’s beauty, hope, love, kindness, mercy in the middle of the muck? How can we honor and acknowledge it?
Which of these questions and ideas are you wrestling with, pondering, trying to integrate into your reality right now?
How can you reflect on even just one of them more deeply and practice what emerges?
A core idea that keeps emerging for me is that embedded into every part of this season is the need to practice living in the in-between. We are still at the very beginning of this; a long and hard road is ahead and our human desire to “figure this out” and “get back to normal” is going to come on strong. I feel it deeply, too, but I keep reminding myself: There is no going back.
There is no going back to normal.
There’s only finding our way forward–practicing, trying, stumbling, bumbling toward our new reality, remembering that God’s somehow with us, and faith is a verb, meant to be practiced.