Sheltering in place has left us all feeling out of place. So how should we live in a world of frightened, exposed people?

These days, it’s as if we’re all walking around naked. Stripped of many of those things we covered ourselves with—our jobs, our people, our accomplishments—there is a raw vulnerability in the air. So many pieces of our usual identity have been shed, replaced with an empty, humming anxiety. I see it in the faces I pass when I walk my neighborhood. We smile and say “hello,” as we do the COVID do-si-do, one of us stepping off the sidewalk to provide that safe six-foot “bubble” as we pass. But our eyes don’t meet for more than a second before we shift our gaze away, back inside, behind our invisible masks.


There is a small ceramic plaque I have tucked into the top shelf of the bookcase in my counseling office. It’s engraved with Paul’s words from I Corinthians: “Love is patient, Love is kind.” It’s not just there as a reminder to the sparring couples I see in my counseling practice, but also to remind all of us to extend that kind of loving attitude toward ourselves. Because healing requires grace. 

I sit at a small desk in my home to carry out my “virtual” work as a therapist these days. I’m feeling grateful I can still “see” some of my clients—albeit through the hard, glass window of my computer screen. And one refrain I’m noticing in most of us (myself included) is a chronic sense of frustration—especially with ourselves.

A woman living alone and finding it hard to sleep at night complains to me, “I have all of this time, and there are so many things I should be doing. But I just can’t seem to focus.” 

“I’ve been yelling at my kids a lot,” confesses a mother of two active preschoolers.

A father struggling to work from home with a wife and children sharing the same small space says, “I’m worried about my job. I’m not keeping up with my assignments, so I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s wrong with me!”


We have expectations of ourselves based on our pre-COVID lives. Remember those? Those busy lives, with tidy schedules, errands, and social events. They were generally well-ordered and somewhat predictable. We knew how to do those lives. But those lives weren’t colored by the disorientation and psychological distress this kind of global crisis plunges us into. That’s the reality. That’s our reality.

Difficulty focusing, sleep disruption, exhaustion, and irritability are the natural by-products of crisis and grief. And while we’re not surrounded by a wildfire or finding our homes pummeled by an earthquake, this virus has created an invisible tsunami of sorts, with the crisis cresting at different times in different parts of the country. And the stress is palpable. Yes, this would qualify as real, certifiable shared “trauma.”

Then there are the losses. They make up a “perfect” trifecta of grief: 

  • Specific grief over lost jobs, canceled events, and sick friends.
  • Cumulative grief as each loss gets stacked on previous ones, creating a multiplicative, amplified effect.
  • Anticipatory grief over all of the losses yet to come.

Trauma and grief stress our bodies and minds to the max. And since our responsibility to shelter in place seems to be shaping up as more of a marathon than a sprint, we will need to shift our attitudes toward ourselves and others if we’re going to be able to sustain this for the long haul. 


If we continue to measure our performance and that of those around us by the yardstick of a month ago, we will all fall short. And then chronic disappointment and bitterness will take up residence in our hearts and minds.

The antidote to unrealistic expectations is the regular, liberal application of grace: a generosity of spirit toward ourselves and others that recognizes we’re all beginners at this thing and feeling the strain that goes along with that state.

Most of us haven’t felt this disempowered and vulnerable since we were children. Remember the first day of kindergarten? Your first visit to a doctor? The first time you lined up, hoping to get chosen to play dodgeball? And what did you need most at those times? Compassion, kindness, understanding. Grace.

So what would that kind of grace look like today? I believe it would take a commitment to refuse to chew over mistakes. It would mean creating just enough structure to ensure some healthy balance in our days, without getting rigid about it. To make sure we get outside and exercise—even if that means we get less done inside. It would mean letting ourselves and others move a little more slowly. To rest when exhaustion floods us. I’m not advocating laziness or irresponsibility—just a little gentleness toward ourselves and others. 

And when we feel especially irritated with friends or strangers, it would mean remembering we don’t know their story. Maybe they “lost it” at the check-out line because they’re overwhelmed with caring for a sick family member back at home. Or perhaps they didn’t respond to your email because they’re struggling with a mind that feels full of sludge. Or maybe they lost their temper because their particular job responsibilities are exploding at a time when yours look more like a trickle.


It feels as though the earth has shifted on its very axis, and we are all displaced—displaced from any semblance of normal, from what we know, from a sense of security. And in this fragile state, shaken by trauma and grief, our humanity is laid bare. We can’t function up to our old standards, so we have a choice to make: let our minds and hearts get stuck there, steeping in frustration and disappointment, or accept our very human limitations and make the adjustments we need to, applying liberal doses of grace toward ourselves and others.

At the end of all of this, we are going to want to look back at how we lived this season and conclude that we loved ourselves and others as well as we could. I pray we can all say we learned the pure, hard meaning of the teaching, “Love is patient, love is kind.”

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