It’s OK to Miss Your People!

6 min. to read.

Both my daughter and wife had birthdays this week. In normal years, this week overflows with events and gatherings celebrating these two wondrous humans. This year? Not so much.

As I’m writing this, our county and state are no longer in full shelter-in-place mode, but also not fully into the first stage of slowly re-opening. So my daughter, the most extroverted soul in our house, wasn’t able to have a party with all her friends over. My wife, who loves travel and fine dining, can’t take a trip or eat out. Then there’s me, the most introverted of our family. I’ve discovered I don’t love working from home quite as much when everyone else is there. All the time. With no other option. Ugh…

COVID-19 has done a number on our expectations and desires, hasn’t it?

People in my community are tired. Most of us see social distancing as necessary, and yet we’re running on fumes. We want to be with our people. Our church, like so many others, is making do with digital worship, but without hugs, and sharing the table, and singing in the same room, it’s not the same.

Driving by to wave at friends and family is a nice gesture, but without belly laughs in the living room and a shared meal, it’s not the same.

There’s complexity here, no doubt. Small businesses need to open to survive. The unemployment system is buckling under the stress. And yet real people are getting sick. Some are dying. We’re discovering that COVID-19 leaves behind long-term damage in some people. 

There are difficult consequences whether we stay quarantined or whether we quickly re-open. Every solution is a compromise, and there is no quick-fix on the horizon.

You’re not alone in your feelings!

As we struggle through this, I want to tell you something simple but important.

It’s OK to miss your people.

It’s OK that you miss being with them and hugging them and sitting around a table chatting. It’s OK that you miss catching up in the church lobby and singing together. It’s OK that you miss walking through the mall (I don’t miss that. I’ve never enjoyed it, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

With the complexity of the decisions we’re all having to make, we can feel guilty for having feelings. That’s not helpful. It’s OK to believe social distancing is the right thing AND feel sad that you can’t be with your friends. Those feelings are real and worth noting.

I was reading in 1st Thessalonians recently and came across an episode in the life of the Apostle Paul. In light of the Pandemic, I saw these verses in a whole new way. Early in this letter, written to the Christian community in Thessaloniki, he told them how much he missed them. Something had impeded his travel, making it impossible for him to see them. He wanted them to know how he felt about that. Here it is: 

1st Thess. 2:17-10 “But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”

Here’s the apostle Paul, writing to his friends. He can’t be with them, but he wishes he were. This distance is not his choice. He doesn’t like the feeling of it. He hates it so much that the only way he can express the depth of his feeling is to say that the distance makes him feel “orphaned.” This obstacle keeping them apart is so offensive to Paul, it feels like it’s actually Satan’s work.

Paul writes that he’s holding out hope for the moment when he can be with them again. He loves them. He experiences Jesus through them. Thinking of being together with them reminds him of the ultimate gathering when they will all be together in Jesus’ presence.

Don’t beat yourself up over your feelings.

So dang relatable! Paul’s words are something many could write during these long weeks of social distancing. The virus has separated us from those we love, and we don’t like it! The steps we’re taking to slow the spread and protect the vulnerable may be necessary, but having to keep distant from people we want to see is a Gods-honest pain. (And for some, the virus itself, and the health, and economic consequences are a literal crisis.)  Thinking about being together is both life-giving (Won’t that day be great!) and sad (It feels like we’re missing so much.)

If you’re feeling this kind of loss, I want to encourage you. Your need for social connection isn’t trivial. It’s a part of how you’re wired. Being with people is one of the ways we experience the Divine. It’s one of the main avenues through which we find healing, growth, encouragement, and hope. We are made for each other.  This experience we’re living through where we are not able to be in each other’s presence is painful — and that’s coming from an introvert! 

Please don’t beat up on yourself for wanting to be with others. Don’t feel like a failure if you’re a bit bitter about the virus, or how you see government officials responding, or when you see others not taking the crisis seriously. You’re right to feel an aversion to what’s happening. Of course, we can still be responsible, take proper measures, and play our supportive part in managing the epidemic — even while feeling deeply in the desire to get rid of all these obstructions so we can be together again.

If you’re struggling with these feelings, remember this:  Even the Apostle Paul got frustrated when he couldn’t be with the people he wanted to visit. Maybe he was getting a little dramatic when he said the whole thing was leaving him “orphaned,” and it was all Satan’s fault. But I get that. I’m feeling dramatic these days too.

I miss my people; I know you miss yours. I miss game nights and singing with my church family. I miss dinners with friends at great restaurants. I miss the freedom to see others at times and in places we choose. I know you’ve got your own list.

I am looking forward to being able to do those things again. If you feel the same way, know you are in good company. That feeling is expressing a core part of who God made you to be.

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