Like most of the world, my life changed dramatically in March. I went into 2020 with new habits and structures in my life. I was rocking January and February. But as the pandemic unfolded during March, my new habits didn’t seem so important. Suddenly the whole world was coping with the pandemic. And when it became clear that this situation was going to last for a while, I realized it was time to go back to the basics. Our foundations are a solid place to rest when life as we know it shifts. So I thought I would share how we’re coping with the pandemic.
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The Basics of Coping with the Pandemic
The basics can mean a lot of different things for different people. But instead of rambling on about a dozen or more things, I decided to focus on faith, family, and finances. I’ll share a bit about what the basics look like for each of these categories.
But I’ll be the first to admit that these ideas aren’t some official teaching. Instead, they’re my attempt to maintain some sense of normalcy and order in our lives during a period when everything seems to be out of control and changing daily. For families who are essential workers, coping with the pandemic will look very different.
One of the things that struck me in mid-March when everything was being canceled was a passage from James 4:13-14. James writes, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
Whoa. This is getting a little too close to home. Generally speaking, we make plans, and they happen. Of course, there are occasionally times when we have to cancel plans due to sickness or other unforeseen circumstances. But this isn’t the norm for us in our culture. Then along comes a global pandemic, and suddenly we see just how little control we have. And if I’m honest, this terrifies me.
This loss of control, or the illusion of control, has caused me to be more prayerful. Our family is praying for the virus to stop spreading, for those who are sick, for those who are caring for the sick, and for those who have lost their jobs. But I’ve also started praying before I go grocery shopping, for protection from the virus, for protection from fear and worry, and that I’ll be able to find the items on my list. While it feels strange to pray for such a mundane thing, it is a reminder that we are to be people who give thanks and pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17-18, Eph 6:18, Phil 4:6).
So as I look around and see the situation, I go back to the basics of my faith. I believe God is sovereign. God is good. He is in control and is working things according to his purposes. He is our strength and rock, the one to whom we turn in times of trouble. We can’t always understand his ways, but we see evidence of his goodness.
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of coronavirus is the way it has cut off in-person connections. Right now we’re gathering for worship in our living rooms. And for many, we’re missing the opportunity to receive the sacrament. This is a deep loss. And I grieve this loss of community and fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Before the pandemic hit, we were a homeschool family. But even homeschool families have been dramatically impacted by social distancing. We used to go to church activities, choir, the Creative Discovery Museum, and the park. Now we stay home. We would play with friends in the neighborhood, but now we play in our yard.
This loss has been hard on our family, and the kids are grieving. They get tired of being at home all the time and not getting to play with their friends. And it could be a while before we can resume our normal activities.
Returning to the basics of family life, we have sought to be intentional about time together as a family and also time together as a couple. Since we’re all home all the time, we try to take a family walk most days. This is a chance to get some fresh air and exercise and a short break from the house. We also play family games, like Clue, Sorry, and SushiGo. (As many of you know, playing games as a family can be an intense form of sanctification.)
We’re not a family that is big on screens. Generally, we do a family movie night once a week, but some weeks we have also added in a second short movie night. The kids have enjoyed this bonus, and since their screen time hasn’t increased because of e-learning, it seems like a small concession.
On February 14, 2020, I made the last payment on my student loans. It was the best Valentine’s Day present ever. Considering that my husband and I both had graduate student loans and have been working toward this goal for a decade, this was momentous.
This means we are finally debt-free except for our mortgage. I thought it would be many more years before we were done with student loans, but given what is happening in the world, I am so glad that we drilled down a couple of years ago and focused our efforts on eliminating this debt.
The only way we were able to finish paying this off early was because we are one of those weird families with a budget. We’ve been a budgeting family since the recession of 2008-2009, but we stepped up our game a couple of years ago so we could reach our goal faster.
While being debt-free (except our mortgage) is a great feeling, there is still a lot of financial uncertainty around us. Given the dramatic rise in unemployment and the turbulent markets, we’ve decided this is a time to focus on budgeting basics like spending less than you earn, being conscientious about what we need, and growing our emergency fund.
I’ve been using a software program called You Need A Budget (YNAB, this is my referral link) since 2009. This program has been a game-changer for me over the years. It helped us save for a down payment on our house, attend a family wedding in NYC last summer without debt, and yes, to pay off both of our student loans. Now, it’s helping me plan for our expenses and set aside money for our emergency fund.
When a global crisis hits, we have to adapt. And for me, it has been about returning to the basics, the foundations. I’m not getting fancy. Instead of spending all my time dreaming about what I wish I could be doing, I’m taking care of what needs to be done. We’re clinging to our faith, nourishing our family life, and seeking to be wise with our finances. There’s no easy answer and only God knows what the future holds. However, I hope this post will encourage you as you and your family are coping with the pandemic.