Christmas this year offers a different proposition than last year to the relief of many of us. The usual mix of heady expectations, heartwarming nostalgia, and emotional complexity surrounding the holiday season was upturned by the necessity of pandemic survival. We managed the challenges of family separation, being more alone than we’d choose in most cases. It was a survival year, and many of us will be grateful that we’re no longer in that space. While life has improved immensely for many of us in the West, the rest of the world continues to be heavily impacted. We may be out of the eye of the storm, but life still feels tentative for many of us, and certain patterns of life have gone.
As I’ve explored this topic with others, I’ve reflected on the impact of disrupted rhythms over the course of time. Throughout the pandemic, our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms have been overturned. If you’d kept a list of every disruption that occurred over the course of the last months, it would probably be lengthy. And though some of those disruptions may have appeared insignificant, the cumulative effect can be destabilizing. These disruptions have left a lingering impact on our mental health as well. One study has found that the mental wellbeing of people living in the UK has declined since the onset of the pandemic due to changes in employment situations, social interactions, and parental responsibilities. 
Nevertheless, disruption and difficulty can bring about good things. While our losses have been real and profound, we have been fully engaged in the challenges. In seeking one another out, finding ways to support each other, and implementing various ways to survive, we have made it work—together.
For me, this feels resonant with Advent this year. It’s no longer a survival year that we’re relieved to have gotten through. We’re at the next stage of looking, but allowing ourselves to have hope and to long for restoration brings great vulnerability.
Advent is also a time when God invites us into that longing as we look forward with hope and consider the vulnerability of the child in a manger.
As we recall the disrupted rhythms of the year, I’d like to invite you to enter into a moment of reflection. Please join me as I offer some questions to explore our wellbeing this Advent season:
1. As you consider the rhythms of the year, what were you most grateful for? What held you together? Perhaps there was something you were able to keep doing or a new activity which offered a new pattern for you. Spend a moment celebrating that specific gift and dwell on what it offered you. Offer God a moment of thanks.
2. Next, reflect on something that felt disruptive which was less welcome. Take care to pick a topic you’re ready to engage with. We can easily bury emotions in survival mode. This can serve us well. It can also mean that when we revisit these experiences, we may find ourselves encountering more difficult emotions afresh, so take care. Once again, offer what you experience to God.
3. Finally, consider your deepest need at this time. Where do you long for the restoration of a disrupted rhythm? Does it feel within your power to achieve this, or is it presently beyond your ability? What feelings arise? What are you most looking forward to as you look ahead? Allow this to be a prayerful moment. You may choose to draw on Isaiah 30:18: “Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore He rises to show you compassion, for the LORD is a just God. Blessed are all who wait for Him” (BSB).
May we all know the blessing of waiting as we continue to recover, both in vulnerability and strength, knowing we are never alone. “Study shows sustained deterioration of mental health in UK across COVID pandemic,” News Medical, accessed November 25, 2021, https://www.news-medical.net/news/20211027/Study-shows-sustained-deterioration-of-mental-health-in-UK-across-COVID-pandemic.aspx.
Corin joined Sanctuary after having spent the majority of his career working with people experiencing homelessness, leading Livability’s work with churches, and developing training and resources to build an inclusive church. Corin is delighted to build on an existing partnership with Sanctuary to support the UK church in its growing response to mental health.