Here in Colorado, our shelter-in-place has yielded to the reduced-prevention measures of “safer-in-place.” Like the rest of us, I’ve been wondering what life will look like in the post-apocalyptic days after quarantine.
Somehow, it felt appropriate for the end of quarantine to coincide with the tail end of winter in the mountains. We’ve emerged squinting, mole-like, wondering what’s kept us inside with so much beauty to be had.
Like many, I’m savoring the (albeit slow) exhale of life after quarantine. I consider my friend waiting to finally grieve in community her husband’s passing. My extroverted son begging to hang out with friends. I long for worship services in person. For fear to subside.
But seasons of darkness make us treasure hunters. And despite some tough stuff—I’ve mined some serious quarantine gifts, if not quarantine happiness.
Five gifts I want to keep after quarantine
Through murky, shadowed years of my own, I’ve developed a habit. I compile “gift lists.” Not like the one on Prime—but lists of gratitude, of all I don’t want to forget.
I scrawled life lessons Africa folded into my hands from my family’s years in Uganda. At the encouragement of my son—in the midst of his own cancer scare—I scrawled on a Day-Glo yellow index card all the ways we were seeing God’s kindness.
But I’m realizing my gift lists aren’t confined to dark days. I found a four-page list compiled during a vacation my husband and I drank in like a glass of iced tea in August.
So I guess it makes sense that after quarantine, these gifts get their own list too.
1. Parents at home and families together.
I relish the long family dinners, simplified by food shortages, and evenings where absolutely nothing is scheduled. I love my husband working from home, even his presence changing the atmosphere. He’s made memorable lunch breaks with the kids and picks up a football to toss with them after zero commute.
I love my daughter’s sudden lack of school-related anxiety. My son’s mellowed attitude away from his peers and his self-disciplined workouts and schoolwork.
Of course, all this love hovers around a smushed-together family with more time to bicker and pick at each other, who’ve disobeyed, and whose disrespect continues to rear its ugly head.
But there’s some good stuff when families come together. My husband is now contemplating working more regularly from home. Some families (admittedly all!) are wondering what it would be like to have a child schooled virtually next year.
In Luke 1, the prophecies about John the Baptist spoke of turning the hearts of fathers back to their children (verse 17)—to prepare the way for Jesus.
So I’m wondering how this could translate to life after quarantine. Could a bit of non-doing, a fast from our schedules and commitments, bring our families and communities a bit closer to where we belong?
Which brings me to …
2. Simplicity of schedule and stuff.
Studies are showing the coronavirus is changing the way we spend our money. We’re reducing our discretionary spending.
So along with less activity, most of us are buying less—prioritizing our spending and even our groceries to the essentials. (The candy aisles here have remained well-stocked, but it was a little touch-and-go there for a while on TP, bread, and eggs.)
And yes, I know massive economic fallout from this threatens on the horizon. But there’s also something to be said for a season of living with less, of being able to teach our kids simplicity.
In His parable of seeds sewn in various soils, Jesus articulates, ”And as for what [seeds] fell among the thorns, they are those who hear [God’s Word], but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
Here at the end of quarantine, let’s revel in less of the possessions and activities that sometimes choke what’s real and breathing—and far more precious.
3. Our need for community.
I’ve read the good old-fashioned telephone call is back in popularity. We’ve all realized the internet isn’t enough to make us feel “connected.”
We can’t wait to throw our arms around each other, share a cup of coffee, have friends for dinner. (My family’s making a list of people to invite for cookouts.)
The God who came and dwelled among us (John 1:14) is not a God who social distances. He liked walks with his image-bearers in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). And even before people, our triune God was a God in tight-knit community.
He made us for each other. After all, it’s not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). As much as we love our independence, life without true friendship is spiritual dysfunction: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21).
In life after quarantine, I hope my family presses in further to real community, reveling in our need for each other. And our ability to show up.
4. An eye for the most vulnerable.
In a world that values moneymaking, a nonstop lifestyle, activity—we as a collective people have valued the vulnerable among us during quarantine. This was despite a profound toll on employment, despite canceled weddings and graduations, despite the need for our kids to be well educated.
And we did it for the elderly, for those with medical conditions, for sometimes-marginalized people groups. Yeah, there were a lot of other factors, like medical system capacity and government mandates. But these are also decisions driven by a high value of human life. (Isaiah 58 has a lot of great things to say about “fasting” for the sake of the powerless.)
5. The nearness of our own mortality.
In a recent podcast with FamilyLife, John Piper reflected on God’s possible purposes in COVID-19. Piper, always unflinching, points out the proximity of death and how it opens conversations for our need for God—how disaster flays open simplistic, vacuous worldviews.
His thoughts lassoed me back to my years as a college student, when I opted to jog outside rather than on the indoor track. The nearest flat path looped the town cemetery. So day after day, my healthy, teenaged legs powered past hyphenated dates, lives mysteriously packed beneath polished stone. For me to breathe, so alive, past death every day?
Those stones murmured their own wisdom.
Ecclesiastes points out, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (7:2).
It’s barely tolerable to consider our mutual end. But as all of us reconsider the frailty of our bodies—felled at any moment by microbes—this, too, is a gift.
Times like these beg of us to reevaluate not only how we’re spending our lives—but on what we bank our hopes.
Paul writes, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Because we don’t buy into YOLO (you only live once), into a white-knuckled grip on living the now, on fearfully protecting every asset.
For us, to live is Christ. To die is … (wait for it) … gain (Philippians 1:21).
We can live fully in times when the faucet of life is gushing or dripping (Philippians 4:12-13). Because our lives extend beyond the hyphen on a headstone.
Life after Quarantine: Grief, and Goodness, Have Been Here
This latest gift list is just the beginning of the richness I’m unearthing at the end of quarantine.
Tragedy has been here. But also God’s kindness.
Copyright © 2020 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, on spiritual life skills for messy families (Zondervan), releases March 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.