If You Want to Put a Smile on God’s Face: Taking a Moment to Pause in the Era of COVID-19

By William D. Parham, Ph.D., ABPP

There is hope that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. And, daily reminders that we may be in this situation longer than we first imagined keep us focused on the reality that much work remains to be done to get us to the other side of this unparalleled global event. Our systems of economics, business, education, health care, athletics, entertainment, and politics have been tested tremendously.

Untold levels of anxiety, uncertainty, depression, and other markers of emotional distress continue to profoundly impact individuals, families, and communities. The still-accumulating emotional burdens on everyone are difficult to fully comprehend and appreciate. Heretofore, our lives have been planned, plotted, mapped out, laid out, and scripted. And, now our lives have been seriously interrupted, and some would argue, put on hold. This global and dramatic pause to “life as it used to be” triggered a recollection of an ole’ school “What’s Going On” album penned by legendary singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye where he reflected on social conditions at that time and proclaims forthrightly, it “makes me wanna holler!”

It has been said that if you want to put a smile on God’s face, tell Him what you have planned. How He must be chuckling and hoping that we see the many gifts hidden in His pandemic pause. The first gift reminds us to ask ourselves, other than our abilities to make choices, how much actual control do we have over our lives? To what degree have we tethered our lives to things and objects believing falsely that those connections truly nourish our self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and will power? When the dust finally settles and COVID-19 becomes manageable, will we realize just how very little we actually need, how much we actually have and take for granted, how all life experiences are transitory, and the true value of human connection? What if what we are going through now is preparing us for what we asked for?

As restrictions on our social mobility begin to ease, our individual and collective excitement to shed lives of confinement and containment will lead us down one of two roads. Some people will be so extremely happy to be released from prolonged forced confinement that they will rush quickly to make up for lost time and reconnect anew with the daily grind. The quest to get back quickly fuels vulnerability to overlook lessons learned for the COVID-19 experience. This reentry strategy is real and akin to an injured athlete returning to the field of play prematurely. Heightened eagerness to escape downtime due to injury and to return too hastily, hoping to recapture past glory, clouds judgment and broad-based decision-making. It also positions athletes for reinjury, likely more serious the second time around. Similarly, returning to post-COVID-19 conditions under the illusion that we can pick up right where we left off is a recipe for a more challenging adjustment and heightened frustrations should a stay-at-home order be reinstated.

Many others won’t be so quick to forget the abrupt annihilation of their formerly compacted schedules and will proceed with intentional caution as they enter a post-COVID-19 era. The measured pace of returning to some semblance of accustomed convention positions this group to see and appreciate both the short- and longer-term picture of what lies ahead. This group will also be primed to implement lifestyle changes that are consistent with light bulb, aha moments they experienced during their time in self-protective retreat and relative isolation. Their post-COVID-19 adjustment will feel more present-centered and rooted in realizing that worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles: It takes away today’s peace. They might also realize that people, places, things, and situations thought heretofore to be a major part of their story are, in a new reality, only a chapter whose last page is about to be turned. Last, they might also find the emotional strength to cancel their subscriptions to other people’s issues.

In his book, “Russell’s Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner,” the 11-time NBA champion and Boston Celtic legend Bill Russell invites his readers to consider that while abilities, talents, and experiences are important in executing high-caliber performance, curiosity is the oxygen of all success and accomplishments. Entering the post-COVID-19 era with fresh insights, renewed perspectives, and curiosity about how to stay on course and embrace odds-on opportunities and challenges is, perhaps, one of the best gifts to come out of a global pause.