This is Part 1 of a series that looks at the research-based solutions to navigating this trying time in our lives and marriages—and emerging stronger. Feel free to share this with those who might benefit!
All of us are caught up in a natural disaster, aren’t we? Unlike a hurricane, earthquake, or flood, this natural disaster is hitting everyone worldwide, all at the same time—and with no clear end point when we know cleanup will begin. Yet even though this season may hurt our economy and even our health, it doesn’t have to hurt our hearts. It doesn’t have to hurt our marriages.
Instead of shaking apart, I want to know how we can come through this season better and stronger than we were before; the very practical steps we can take.
So as those of you who know me might suspect, I’ve been doing a lot of new research during the last few weeks (I can’t help myself!) to investigate how people are responding to this time. I’ve also been digging into past research and the best practices emerging now. And whether I’m interviewing random people in the grocery store (from the appropriate social distance!), talking to pastors and leaders via Zoom, or reading old studies about responses to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, I am seeing a crucial truth very strongly: Whether each of us emerge stronger or weaker in our hearts and relationships will be our choice.
Over the last few years, our family has binge-watched many survival shows like Alone or Out of the Wild, in which people must survive very harsh, very remote wilderness environments. The goals are all different—in one show participants must find their way to civilization, in another they must outlast everyone else while being completely isolated, in another they have to work as teams to survive, and so on. And yet, it turns out that the biggest challenge they face is exactly the same. It isn’t the lack of food or the blistered feet or the feuds with teammates. It is the open-endedness of the pain. It is not knowing how long it will be until things get better. Nearly all of them could hang on if someone could only whisper in their ear, “You only have one more week of this.” But since no one can do that for them, many give in to the pain.
It is an illustration of what the whole world is facing today: vast, unprecedented uncertainty. Will we be crammed into a small apartment with a critical spouse or squabbling children for another few weeks or is it going to be many months? Is it safe to go to the grocery store, or is the person next to me unknowingly infected with the virus? Will my company cut my hours and my income even further? Is my industry going to survive this?
The people that do the best in the survival shows have something to teach us during this time. Because by far the most important factor for survival and success isn’t their ability to build a fire or find food or any other technical survival skill. The most important factor is their mindset—their choice of attitude. The ones who survive and thrive make a choice to accept the uncertainty. They say: “I’m okay with however long this lasts, and I am going to choose to look on the bright side in every situation. I am going to be grateful for what I do have, and embrace the challenge set before me as an opportunity to grow.”
Those caught in more “traditional” natural disasters have found the same thing. The people who do well set aside the temptation to rage at their loss of control, or to say, “It shouldn’t be this way.” Instead, they say, “I am going to do the best that I can with what I have been given. Both to help me and to help others.”
And down through the ages, those who have confronted far more horrendous pandemics have found the importance of something else: of recognizing that even when we truly lack control, we can trust the God who has all things in His control.
So when you find yourself penned inside with a household of messy, noisy people or, alternatively, lonely and isolated; when you find yourself resenting decisions being made or feeling pessimistic about the future; when you catch yourself fuming at your spouse or snapping at your kids; when you recognize that fear is spiraling or your loved one’s health is at risk . . . in those moments look for what you can be grateful for, and do something about it. For example, yes, this is a household of messy, noisy people, but they are my messy, noisy people, and I need to give them grace instead of getting irritated! Or yes, I’m so worried about my elderly father’s health—but I’m so grateful for the many ways he has poured into my life and I think I’ll pick up the phone and tell him so.
Or yes, I’m fearful for the economy, my job, or my loved one’s income, but I choose to remember the way God provided in the past . . . and thank Him for how He will provide in the future.
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Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained social researcher and best-selling author who is sheltering-in-place in Atlanta with her husband and co-author Jeff, two teenagers who are figuring out how to do college and high school online, and two cats who are thrilled to have even more video meetings to walk in front of each day.
Shameless plug: The Feldhahn’s newest book, Thriving in Love & Money, about how to have a great relationship around money (even in a time of trial), was published right before the National Emergency was declared, and is even more essential now. You can support Shaunti’s research and team during this time by purchasing a copy for someone who needs it.