by Rev. Margaret Marcuson for The Christian Citiizen

I’m tired of talking about the pandemic. I know there’s still so much to consider, decisions to make, adaptations to develop, attention to pay to matters like getting the vaccine. However, I feel like I’m having the same conversations over and over. It’s easy to fall into the same old patterns: When will I/we get a vaccine? Is the government (at whatever level) doing enough? What should we do about church gatherings?

One of my teachers, Dave Ellis, suggests a helpful strategy he calls, “Choose your conversations.” He suggests, “Enter conversations by choice. Instead of falling into conversations by accident, we can choose them. Knowing that different ways of talking, listening, and thinking lead to different results in our lives, we can start taking charge.”[i] I’ve been thinking about ways to choose different conversations now.

Here are a few questions to generate some different conversations now. Some of these will still be about the pandemic, but it is possible to shift into talking about something richer and deeper in relation to it.

What can I appreciate? I’ve talked all year to people who are able to do this, who recognize the blessing and privilege of their situation. I recently watched a piece on the PBS Newshour about the struggles of people in Beirut amid the fallout of an explosion at the city’s major port, and the ongoing economic and public health effects of the pandemic. It helped me see anew that any struggles I may have are nothing compared to people in a city where even food stores closed.

Despite Zoom fatigue, the platform itself is a great blessing. Last weekend, my husband and I spent an hour on Zoom with some college friends we’ve traveled with, dreaming about a possible future trip when the world opens up again.  It lifted my spirits.

Try this: Make a list, ideally with paper and pencil, of the aspects of your life you can appreciate right now.

What am I grieving? While I like to focus on the positive, it’s also important to acknowledge the losses. My own father died in October at age 97. It’s a huge loss. Hundreds of thousands of families in the U.S. alone are grieving deaths from COVID. Families have lost connections. Children have lost ground in school. You may have lost a job or income. We have our individual losses, and we are part of a global process of grief. Less significant losses are also in our attention—I notice my own grief about a missed 40th anniversary trip to Hawaii.

It may help to name as grief the low-grade exhaustion so many experience now. This time may also bring up older losses that have not yet been fully grieved. The conversation you may need to have (even with yourself) may be about those past losses that are coming into your awareness now.

Try this: Jot down some of what you have lost in the last year. Sit in silence or take a walk with the list. Breathe, and notice what happens in your body (muscle tightness, shallower breathing, tears).

How do I want to be? I came up a few years ago with the phrase “love, sufficiency, freedom and grace.” I want to live each day each day with an awareness of those qualities. Can I show love to everyone I come in contact with (including those I think about or hear about via the news)? Can I have a sense of sufficiency—enough time, enough money, enough support? Can I be free in the choices I make each day instead of being driven by compulsion or guilt? Can I receive grace from God and others, and show it to them? I don’t live these out fully every day, but I know I experience more of them because I’m more aware.

Try this: Write down a few words that express how you want to be. A few examples might be grateful, healthy, grounded, or active. Tomorrow morning, look at the words, and imagine yourself living them out that day.

What do I want to do? It’s easy to live in a reactive mode now. What does the boss want? What does the congregation want or what do I think they need? What do the kids want or need? What does my spouse or elderly parent want or need? What’s the next Netflix episode coming up automatically?

It’s not selfish to ask yourself what you want to do. You probably can’t do some of the things you want to do right now. But of what’s available, what do you want to do? And is there some way to get to do at least a little of what you want to do? I can’t sing in a choir right now, but I recently came up with a habit of a little after-dinner singing practice. It makes me happy every day.

Try this: Make a list of things you want to do. Pick one you could do now, at least a little. Try it out.

Who do I want to connect with? How do I want to connect with them?

As I mentioned, my husband and I recently talked with some college friends. They reached out to us, and I’m grateful. It made me think about other people from the past I could connect with. I’ve also talked by phone with some of my extended family members. I’ve found it valuable to talk to my two uncles and one aunt who are still living. Their resilience in their 80s and 90s has been inspiring.

Try this: Jot down some names of people you haven’t talked to for a while, both friends and extended family. Look over the list. Circle the name that makes your heart leap a bit. Find a way to get in touch with them and say thank you for what you received from them.

Remember: If you don’t like the internal or external conversations you are having about the pandemic, you can choose to change them.

The Rev. Margaret Marcuson helps ministers do their work without wearing out or burning out, through ministry coaching, presentations and online resources.

[i] Dave Ellis, Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams. Rapid City, SD: Breakthrough Enterprises, 2002, p. 189.