DEAR SOPHIA: Post-Pandemic Disconnect

Feeling disconnected, disoriented, and unmoored from God and community

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Dear Sophia:

I was really active in my faith community before the pandemic. I even tried to stay connected throughout by watching our Livestream and attending Zoom Bible study. Currently, we’ve been in person for awhile now and I don’t have the energy I did before. I feel distanced from God because I’m not doing as much at church. Sometimes I worry that God is mad at me and that I’m failing God and my community because I just can’t do what I used to.

What can I do to feel more connected?

Sincerely,

Feeling Distant

Dear Feeling Distant:

The COVID-19 global pandemic created a ripple effect on people’s lives and continues to do so, as you are experiencing. The pandemic created ambiguous loss (we are not what we were and we do not know what we will be afterward), decision fatigue (Do I mask? Can I see my loved one? When can I get a vaccine? How do I do my job from home?), and many personal losses (loved ones died, can no longer do regular routines, friends and family moved, having everyone at home all the time). Of course, all of these affected how we experienced our faith communities. Some were able to pivot better than others and some will never be what they were or have closed altogether. I hear the grief from these losses in your letter, Feeling Distant, and my heart aches for you.

When we are moving through the landscape of grief, we often feel disconnected, unmoored, and disoriented. While it sounds like you are doing the things that used to make you feel connected in your faith, because the pandemic’s losses were large—collectively and personally—it makes sense that you are still moving through the fog of grief. Grief affects the body, as well as the emotional state of being, so not having as much energy also makes sense. You may also have been sick with COVID-19 or another illness yourself, which your body is still recovering from. While we are going through the motions of doing things we did with ease pre-pandemic, our bodies and emotions are still catching up. Grief has its own timeline. Things do not feel “back to normal” because we can never go back, we can only move forward and there is grief in this, too.

Finding God in disconnection

Now that we have named the grief in the context of your situation, we can look at where God is in the midst of it. First, and foremost, I want to assure you that God is not mad at you and you have not failed God by having a normal grief response to surviving a global pandemic and dealing with the aftermath. As Paul reminds us in the letter to the Romans 8:35-38: 

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long;
   we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I believe these words, Feeling Distant. No matter if we feel it or not, God loves us and has suffered with us. This is the reason that Jesus came to be among us—to be truly human and understand us fully. Unfortunately, the church makes us forget this sometimes. We are shown that faith is expressed through feeling (emotional highs in worship or other ministries) and doing (volunteering for many ministries) and not by being. We quickly equate the doing with a measurement of God’s love for us and disregard that we do good works out of the love God has for us and our joy in that relationship—the being. 

So, while I hear the grief and worry in your situation, Feeling Distant, I also see an opportunity for you to discern where God is calling you in this time and this place, not what was in the past. God is faithful and I see that you are, too. Being a disciple means following Jesus with one’s whole self, not just on Sunday mornings. It is like being in any relationship—a marriage, a deep friendship, a business partnership—you may not feel like being in it all the time, but the commitment to the day-to-day things will bring about faithfulness and fruitfulness. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. God is calling you to something else. Now is the time to take stock, pull back, and slow down to figure out what following Jesus looks like now. Do a spiritual gifts assessment. Take a look at a core values worksheet. Pray. Consider what comes out of those things and how it connects with what the world needs. Maybe you need to continue in ministries at church, but maybe you don’t. Maybe you need to engage in ministries beyond your faith community. This is for you and God to figure out together. 
  2. Simplify. When we are feeling disconnected in any relationship, whether it is with God or with another person, our instinct is to try to connect more. I encourage you to slow down and simplify right now, Feeling Distant. If someone asks you to do a new ministry simply say, “Let me pray about it” or “Not yet” and give yourself time to truly pray before deciding. This way, you can connect with things that you actually feel a deep call to instead of things you don’t. 
  3. Be honest. Be honest with yourself and your faith community about what you can or cannot do. It may be that you have long COVID symptoms, are caring for a young child, or had a hip replacement during the pandemic and do not have the physical energy that you used to. That is OK. Recognize this loss and remember that God is always doing a new thing and is inviting you into discernment. Who knows? You may end up creating a ministry out of the support you are longing for.

There are many studies going on about the effects of the pandemic on our society and we will be unpacking them for decades in the future. Just know, Feeling Distant, that your faithfulness as a disciple is not about all the things you do for the Church, but how you are listening to and responding to God. You are loved beyond measure, no matter what.

Faithfully,

Sophia

  • Danáe Ashley

    The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, MDiv, MA, LMFT is an Episcopal priest and marriage and family therapist who has ministered with parishes in North Carolina, New York, Minnesota, and is currently a priest in Seattle and a therapist at Soul Spa Seattle, LLC (www.soulspaseattle.com). Danae uses art, music, drama, poetry, and movement in counseling, spiritual direction, and creation of ritual. Her interfaith Clergy Care Circles for therapeutic group spiritual direction directly supports diverse clergy in varied circumstances across the country. Danae's favorite past times include reading, gardening, traveling, dancing with wild abandon to Celtic music, and serious karaoke.

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