It didn’t take him long. A few days after moving in to our new home, my almost-5-years-old extrovert introduced himself (and then the whole family by name) by shouting “Hello!” over the wall and waiting rather impatiently for a response. Finally, his persistence was rewarded when a friendly voice replied just as enthusiastically: “Hello!”. My son’s day was made and he had a beaming smile to prove it. Now he (and we) are on a first name basis with the neighbours behind us and to the right of us. As regards the neighbour to the left of us, my son thinks they are away on holiday. I know better.
To be honest, if it were up to me, I would probably still not know any of my neighbours a month after moving into our new home. But don’t get me wrong, I am friendly and ready to engage when the opportunity presents itself however, my more introverted self does not actively seek out interaction with others or intentionally forge new relationships. For the most part, I allow relationships to develop organically over time.
But the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had a significant impact on the way we all do relationships, both at work and socially, whether we realise it or not.
While I welcome the quiet moments lockdown has afforded me, I miss spending time with others face to face. I miss spontaneous coffee dates and long lazy lunches with family and friends at home. I dislike the fact that I have to wear a mask everywhere I go, particularly to church and that it is no longer appropriate to touch someone on the shoulder when we pray for them or to give someone a hug when they need it. Perhaps it is just my cautious self but I now think twice before I go anywhere and silently assess the risk to myself and others before making a decision about whether to accept an invitation or not.
Paradoxically, it is now when it is arguably the hardest to build strong relationships that we need them the most. As people, we were created to be in relationships with others, whether a romantic relationship, friendships or as family.
There have been numerous studies conducted around the world which provide compelling evidence that healthy relationships are an important component of general good health and wellbeing and that a lack of social connections has health consequences too, including depression, decreased immune function as well as higher blood pressure.
As believers living during a global crisis, we have an opportunity to be like the children of Issachar, one of the 12 tribes of Israel, who were wise and understood the times they lived in, not only the chronological times but the political and spiritual times as well. They knew what to do and when to do it, and acted accordingly, even to the benefit of the entire nation of Israel (1 Chronicles 12:32).
For me personally, this means that I need to guard my heart from fear yet be wise and quick to adapt my habits and behaviours, when required so that as far as possible I continue to live my life, including connecting and building with others, even if it means our relationships go virtual for a time until it is safe (or safer) to meet in person (likely with some level of restrictions still in operation) once again.
Now more than ever, we need to reach out to others and allow others to reach out to us.