You can see this sermon on our Facebook page 

Returning from COVID Captivity
July 28, 2021

You’ve heard about animal rights protests at zoos.

They argue that animals kept in captivity may eventually adapt to their unnatural habitat, but they are traumatized in the process, and after some time they can’t be returned to their natural habitat.

They’ve been changed by their captivity, and their former environment has changed, too.

Does this sound familiar to anything you’ve recently been through?

We were captives of COVID-19.

Most of us assumed that once the vaccinations became available, that we’d all just pick up and continue from where we left off in March 2020, but that hasn’t happened.

Why?

Because the pandemic changed us and changed the world in ways we’re just trying to figure out.

Forbes Magazine ran a story last week called “How Professionals and Organizations Should Prepare for the ‘Great Resignation’” which discusses the mass exodus of employees after a year of working in isolation.

About 40% of employees are planning to leave their jobs.

Restaurants are closing because they can’t get workers.

Meanwhile, rates of depression and rage are going through the roof.

We’ve been traumatized on a world scale, and traumatized in our own hearts and minds as well.

You’re not the same person after a trauma that you were before.

Last week we talked about “ambiguous loss” where we are grieving losses we can’t quite define, and that we can’t find a “new normal” because “normal” keeps shifting beneath our feet.

How do we constructively reenter life after the pandemic?

Well, in many ways, God is now giving us an opportunity to reset our lives.

So, instead of bemoaning how things have changed, and instead of just returning to the same old behaviors, let’s see how God is giving us a moment where we can build a better, stronger, and healthier life.

It turns out that the Bible has a lot of encouragement and advice about re-entering life after captivity, especially when the Hebrew people returned to Judea after their seventy years of captivity in Babylon.

Remember that King Nebuchadnezzar had defeated the Hebrew people and forced most of them into captivity in Babylon.

Many of the people adjusted to their new life, some even became civil servants in the government.

But they longed to return home, and after seventy years, they were allowed to do so.

But what they returned to was not what they had left.

Farms had been neglected, the Temple had been destroyed, and the walls around Jerusalem were mere rubble.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah recount how Jerusalem was rebuilt, starting with the city walls and the temple.

Ezra says that because so much had changed, the new Temple was going to look a bit different from what some of the old-timers remembered, so while there was joy in rebuilding the temple, there were also mixed emotions.

Ezra 3:11-13  And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.  No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.

Do you hear that?

There was a mixture of gladness and sorrow.

Can you hold more than one emotion at the same time?

Yes – you may be glad to get back to life, but just like the former captives, you may feel happy, relieved, confused, frustrated, and grieved all at the same time.

You may also feel excited but exhausted.

It can take a while to sort out your mixed emotions, but they are to be expected after fifteen months of captivity, so take it easy on yourself.

Our country lost as many as ¾-million lives within a few months, so we’re immersed in a sea of grief.

And even if you were fortunate enough not to have lost a loved one to COVID, you still have a long list of losses – graduations, birthdays parties, memorial services, anniversary celebrations – the milestones of life and the touchstones of community.

So, take it easy on yourself.

Give yourself space to grieve and rest and to make sense of things.

And show grace to others who are going through the same things.

Paul says that as Christians we are to Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

That’s empathy.

You’ve had a full year to adjust to new patterns of living, new behaviors, and new habits.

Most of us adjusted to those new ways of doing things – many of us found aspects of it that we liked – but now it’s all being disrupted as well.

So, let’s say that lesson #1 for us reentering life after captivity is to recognize our trauma and be empathetic with our own and others’ mixed emotions.

Be tender with yourself and show empathy toward others who had a different pandemic experience than you, and show grace to others who may not always act as you’d like.

What we make of our pandemic experience will shape a lot of what our life will look like going forward.

The Bible teaches that before we rush to resume life, we need to take time to reflect on what we learned through this life-changing event.

That’s the second lesson: reflect on and then record what you learned in your captivity.

In Galatians 3:4 Paul writes, You have experienced many things. Were all those experiences wasted? I hope not.

If we don’t record the lessons we got from the past year, we’ll forget them.

Have you ever gotten an insight that you thought would make a big change in your life, but a year later forgot all about it?

Of course.

Beyond that, we need to take the time to clarify them by writing them down, otherwise, they’ll remain vague and amorphous – so you’ll have wasted the past year.

So, if you’re willing to invest a half-hour on reflecting on what you got out of this tough experience, I listed a few questions on your sermon notes to get you started.

Find a quiet place, think them over, and write your ideas.

Writing is important.

Thoughts clarify themselves as they pass through your fingertips.

So, first, recognize your mixed emotions and be empathetic; second, reflect and record what you learned.

Third, reevaluate before trying to return to normal life.

As Kerstynn packed her luggage to return to Hawaii, she let go of some clothes and toys that she and Wyatt didn’t need anymore.

For example, Wyatt had outgrown some items and Kerstynn had some clothes that she didn’t like anymore… she didn’t want to just drag them around with her.

How useless it would have been for her to wheel around a heavy, overpacked suitcase, unload all the extra stuff in Hawaii, and then repeat the cycle when she returned here.

Maybe there are some things that you don’t want to drag into your future.

Don’t automatically say, “I’m just going to continue doing everything I did before the stay-at-home months.”

There are some things you didn’t do because you didn’t have the time before, and some things you did that might be harmful to you, so now’s the time for you to reset your life.

God’s giving you the opportunity to establish new patterns and habits that will better serve you in the years ahead.

Haggai was a prophet who brought God’s encouragement and direction to the Hebrews freed from Babylonian captivity.

Haggai 1:5-6 Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

Where do you keep running around doing the same thing but never feeling fulfilled?

If what I was doing before the pandemic was so unfulfilling, then why would I repeat it now just because I have the freedom to do so?

Instead of trying to jump back into life as it was, determine one or two things you learned from your time in isolation that you need to change and use this opportunity to do so.

We’re seeing a lot of people so excited about getting their freedom back that they’re rushing into some impulsive but unwise decisions.

Proverbs 19:2, “Zeal, without knowledge is not a good thing. And a person who moves too quickly may go the wrong way.”

Take some time, some prayer, some consideration of what you want to leave behind as you reset your life.

And one more lesson: Reenter slowly.

As I’ve spoken to many of you, I’ve heard over and over that you feel drained and in a fog.

That’s normal for someone who’s been through a trauma.

You are not the only person feeling this way … it is everywhere and it is to be expected.

You don’t have the same energy you had before the pandemic – accept that and go easy on yourself.

You know, sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.

Now this also requires some trust in God because He has a timetable that doesn’t always match ours.

Have you ever pushed forward with some project and nothing would quite come together?

The contractor isn’t available; products are on backorder; other people aren’t excited by your idea?

Well, sometimes it just isn’t what God wants you to do right now … and from my experience when I push to make it happen, it doesn’t turn out so well.

I remember about fifteen years ago, right after those big houses were built next to us, that Vivienne worked day after day planting flowers on the hillside.

Back then, the hillsides behind the houses were part of our property.

She kind of felt that God was saying to let it go, but she pushed on anyway.

She was sunburned and exhausted from days of backbreaking work in the summer sun.

Then, right after she finished, an error was found in the original survey of the property line.

It turned out that the hillsides actually belong to the homeowners.

Frankly, we were glad that we would not have to maintain those hillsides, but the property owners had their own ideas about what to do with their backyards.

They built patios and did landscaping, and none of Vivienne’s flowers remained.

God has his own timing that can’t be forced.

God’s timing is perfect, and sometimes we just have to wait on God.

At the end of a different captivity, God had led His people from Egypt and was preparing them to enter the Promised Land.

Of course, they were all anxious to get going, but God understood that they were not ready.

So, in Exodus 23:29-30 He says, But I will not force all those people out in only one year.

Apply that to your life: all your problems and projects aren’t going to be done in a year.

Why?

First, God sees the whole picture.

He said, If I did, the land would become a desert and the wild animals would become too many for you. 

Second, God has a better plan: Instead, I will force those people out slowly, until there are enough of you to take over the land.

You can trust to reenter slowly and give yourself the rest you need.

You can trust to reenter slowly and allow space to become aware of God’s guidance and support.

God doesn’t make promises He won’t keep, and here’s one you can carry with you this week:

Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”