Having just read the good news, here's the bad news.
In these early days of 2021, we are still only in the early days of the pandemic.
There is far more of this road ahead of us than behind us.
This is not a popular perspective, I know, especially with a turn of the calendar and
vaccines and political transitions on the way.
We are so tired of face coverings and social distance and business closures and body counts.
We tuned into worship for a word of hope, not the announcement that this year will suck
too; c'mon pastor, please do better.
There is indeed hope, but it is not immediate or magical or easy.
Settle in for a long slog.
The Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth has mapped out four phases of "collective trauma response"—what happens to a large group of people after a life-changing disaster.
After sudden impact—hurricane landfall, burning towers, lockdown with no sports—there is a collective rush of adrenaline to meet the challenge.
This is called the heroic phase, and can last anywhere from several days to more than a year.
It is not sustainable, however, and it crashes down into phase two, Disillusionment.
This phase tends to be marked by a pervasive feeling of exhaustion, the Institute reports.
As people experience adrenaline waning, they often describe feeling achy and lethargic. It also can be a time when survivors describe an overall sense that nothing they physically do can change what has happened.
Many report feeling a lot of emotions in this phase, emotions that may have been held at bay during the hero phase due to so many tasks requiring attention.
Emotions may include grief, sadness, sorrow, mourning, guilt, loneliness, gratitude, appreciation, peace, and much more.
This is the part we prefer to avoid or hurry ourselves and others through.
Many communities make attempts to jump right to rebuilding during the hero phase, the
Some communities see the downward slope of disillusionment as a "negative" or as
"depression" rather than a general loss of energy, which is normal following an adrenaline rush. Instead, some survivors hope to "stay up".
However, many times, these attempts prove unsustainable.
The more lasting attempts to rebuild and restore [the third phase] tend to occur after survivors have had a chance to rest and recoup following the adrenaline rush that commonly occurs following a disaster.
We find communities tend to know they've reached the end of the disillusionment phase when most people in their group honestly feel a sense of two truths: they can acknowledge the loss that has occurred, and they sense there still is good in the world.
Coming to a sense of those two truths often takes time, and is most genuine when not rushed or forced.
Phase three, rebuilding and restoring, is when we hear from Jeremiah.
The unpopular prophet of doom and gloom who was hated and hunted and right now tries
to sell a shell-shocked people on hope.
God has ransomed them and will shepherd them home from their long exile.
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
But getting there will not be a smooth, seamless ride on a luxury glitter unicorn.
Jeremiah knows better:
With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back...among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together...
Have you ever taken a trip with a child?
Have you ever moved with a woman who is nine months pregnant?
Have you ever marched in a parade with the blind and the lame?
All of these take longer than Google Maps calculates.
Grief always does.
Rebuilding and restoring regularly runs over budget, time as well as money as well as energy.
It is not a straight line.
Sometimes you have to stop and cry.
Sometimes you have to stop and let someone else cry.
First responders need rest.
Burnout means the fire won't rekindle immediately.
And others move at different speeds than you, some too fast, others too slow.
It requires patience and persistence, which require strength, which has been sapped.
We're all going through this together, but experiencing it differently.
2020 devastated countless people, and was also one of the happiest years of my life; both
those opposites are simultaneously true.
So recovery is often bumpy and slow: while survivors tend to feel a general momentum toward progressing forward during this phase, survivors also report experiencing ups and downs throughout this time when they may feel occasional bouts of sadness or experience sudden memories of grief.
Still, in most cases, survivors tend not to feel these moments as lasting or debilitating.
Unsteady and uneven though it is, people make progress.
Hope is messy, and hope is real.
The loss hurts, and life is still good.
The institute names the fourth and final phase "wiser living":
This phase has many names, including "new normal."
It generally refers to an acknowledgment that what has occurred has changed the community in a lasting way.
Though healing can happen, there may be scars.
Reaching this end of the journey takes 24-60 months: anywhere from 2-5 years.
Given the scale of this pandemic and the wide, deep reach of its many ripple effects, I would
suspect longer rather than shorter.
We have a long way to go.
That's why our partners at Lutheran Disaster Response stay on the ground in places struck by tragedy for years, not days: rebuilding homes and souls and lives takes listening and time.
Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint, especially because God refuses to leave the children and blind and lame behind; the slow and the vulnerable are invaluably precious too.
Salvation is a long term project.
There is no magic, instant rapture up to heaven, but a child who comes down, spends
nine months growing in a dark womb, then years growing imperceptibly, day after day,
from a baby in a manger to a corpse on a cross.
His church is a motley mix of fast and slow, impatient and demanding, joyful and jaded, excited and exhausted, helpful and hurtful, strong and stumbling, hurting and hoping and human and oh so maddeningly and reassuringly real.
So we are both as patient and as persistent as we can be while God keeps leading us, slowly and circuitously and steadily, somewhere new we can't yet see.
That somewhere, Jeremiah and Jesus promise, is joy.
It will be our new home.