It has been great to see the church almost full these last couple of weeks and to see some faces I haven’t seen in a long while. It feels refreshing that society is slowly beginning to open up again. To actually sit in the warm in a café for coffee and to have people round to our house has been great. But it’s not all as straightforward as it may seem. For some, in this strange in-between time between full lockdown and society being fully open, there is a surprising experience of ‘emotional adjustment.’ Jeremiah 6:16 reads,
‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, “We will not walk in it.”
I think that sums it up perfectly, we are at a crossroads and for each of us in different ways, we are experiencing some conflicting thoughts and emotions. For some, the dominant emotion is the excitement and relief that restrictions are being eased. For others, there is real anxiety and risk with emerging from lockdown: some of us due to medical conditions should rightly avoid too much social contact until the vaccination programme is complete. For others a sense of lethargy about life. And still others are experiencing the need for a significant emotional adjustment. People have recognised the phenomenon of ‘reverse culture shock’ similar to what some people experience when coming back from an extended stay abroad. We have been in lockdown long enough for it to be habit forming – adjusting from a largely homebased life where we interact through screens to being out and about again interacting face to face is a culture shock. For some, we are experiencing all these emotions at the same time.
It’s important to ‘real’ at this time and be kind and sensitive to ourselves and others as we emerge from lockdown.
But we also need to pay attention, because reverse culture shock can take us by surprise and cause people to get stuck or knocked off course. Lockdown has meant many of us have become somewhat detached from life; detached from God, friends, family, church and from our own sense of identity and purpose. In the place of detachment, distractions can loom large – the world, flesh and the devil. For some, it’s a bit like we have got a bit too used to hunkering down at home. Maybe it’s become too easy to watch church online in our PJs while drinking homebrewed coffee, or I suspect for many of us with children, we are out of the habit of ‘motivating’ the children to get to church! It’s like we have been hibernating and are slowing waking up, but still feeling very sleepy. For others, more significant or even pernicious distractions may have taken hold. Mark Aldridge preached a great message in St John’s on Sunday (have a listen via Podcast | St John's Church (sjbchurch.co.uk) and spoke of how the Yeast of the Pharisees can work through the whole batch of dough – this yeast of reverse culture shock, detachment or distraction can if we allow it at this point can begin to have lasting and significant effects. Being at the Crossroads implies there is choice involved – we must make a proactive choice to ‘look for the good way’ and choose to ‘walk in it.’ When you stand at a crossroads, if you take a wrong turn, to begin with, you don’t travel far off course, but the further you travel down the wrong path, the more off-course you become. The longer we leave re-engaging with God and church, the harder it will become. Like when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, we know that getting out of bed is good for us and that we will feel better when we do, but we need a bit of willpower to actually extract ourselves from the duvet. We need to make proactive choices in this moment.
We may need to encourage one another in this – certain members of my family (mentioning no names!) need some encouragement to get out of bed in the morning. We must look out for those who are finding emerging from lockdown and re-engaging with life hard - consider who you can get in touch with, meet up with, offer hospitality to, or invite to church. There is a sense of needing to renew and reinforce relationships – consider who you could meet up with for a coffee, a beer or invite round to your house. Let’s all be proactive in looking out for one another, encouraging one another and renewing our friendships and relationships by offering hospitality.
Also, for many, we have experienced lockdown as a time of re-evaluation and reflection. In the slowing down of life, God has taught us things about what is truly important. As we consider emerging from lockdown, we are keen not to lose sight of those things: to emerge from lockdown differently than we entered it. We therefore instinctively and wisely recognise that our emergence needs to be slow, considered and careful.
God is here in this moment with us, very present to us. It is he who will lead us out of lockdown. And of course, I believe his purposes are much bigger than simply leading us through this moment – he is doing something significant in our lives and in our churches. But he leads us step by step, moment by moment. If we are faithful in the small steps, he will entrust us with the bigger things. (Luke 16:10).