Finding Happiness in a Pandemic

“The key to happiness: a pandemic. Now isn’t that the most backward thing you’ve ever heard? I almost feel ashamed writing that, but it’s sadly true for me.

Before I dive into my revelations during COVID-19, I want to state that I am so incredibly grateful for all of our medical professionals, service industry workers, moms and dads, grandparents, teachers, environmental service professionals, government workers, grocery workers, and every single part of this community. I understand that this is a scary time for most. My father was laid off from his job without pay after 37 years so I understand the frustration and anxiety that many are facing. People have families to feed, businesses to keep open, and homes to sustain. I am not making light of a very scary situation for our country.

I don’t know when it happened but sometime in the past few years, I grew numb to happiness. At the surface, my life looks pretty stellar. I travel a substantial amount, seek out adventure after adventure, achieved “financial success”, have a fantastic social circle, run hardcore races, live in a snazzy apartment, and the list goes on. There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t have been “happy”.

I grew up knowing God, talking to him hourly, and I have always been actively involved in the church. Since I can remember, I was always chasing out the next thing to fulfill a void in my life and to impress others and God. If I join a small group and volunteer, God will love me more and I will be a better and happier person. If I train extremely hard for a marathon, people and God will think I’m a motivated person and an achiever and will love me more. If I pay off all of my student loans and am featured on Good Morning America, I will be a happier, more balanced person and God will love me more as he will see me as fiscally responsible. If I work 60 hours per week, God will see me as hardworking and will reward me more in the future. If I eat super healthy, avoid gluten and dairy, get in 5 workout classes per week, save x amount per week for a log cabin, tire myself out with additional babysitting shifts, and read my daily Jesus Calling journal, then the world and God will love me more.

I didn’t realize how out of control my “controlled life” was until a few weeks ago. I was doing everything right but was so incredibly sad. I was dreading waking up in the morning which caused me to dread going to sleep at night. I no longer enjoyed traveling because I knew it would have to end and the thing I had been looking forward to and working so hard for would be over.

I began looking at new careers. Maybe a second masters or a Ph.D would make me happy? I know, I’ll work 60 hours per week and save super fast for a log cabin and wedding because once I’m married and have a comfortable home I’ll be so happy and God will be so proud of everything I’ve accomplished. I will be such a good person. Better yet, I’ll pick up skiing. I’ve already run 7 marathons and set a PR by over an hour so maybe a new sport or hobby will bring me happiness.

Can you see how out of control my life was? Fast forward to COVID-19; Gyms are closed. Small groups were canceled, and work hours reduced. We were sent home from work at the hospital and told to work from home until we are called back and needed. Suddenly, my entire heart and mind began to change. It didn’t happen all at once but more hour by hour. I had time. I had space. I watched as lives unfolded around me and fear and anxiety shook our world. We needed God more than ever now and I felt his love and presence right where I was.

I felt him telling me to slow down and use this time to get my life back. I had been praying and praying for peace and rest and was frustrated that God wasn’t giving me it.  I am sorry that it took an epidemic for me to feel God’s love but I’m so grateful for it. I surrendered. I no longer had all of these obligations distracting me from God. I had myself, my thoughts, and my God. My goodness, it felt so awesome!

I was grateful to have a job but didn’t have a guarantee that I would be paid after the end of the week. And you know what? I felt so happy about that. I felt a sense of security surrendering the control over my life to God. I no longer had control of my schedule as fitness classes, small groups, and work shifts were canceled and all of my “priorities” came to a hard stop.

My boyfriend is a small business owner and for some selfish reason that has always stressed me out. For a person who thrives off of control, a small business brings a lot of uncertainty. Sadly, my insecurities about this always came out in our relationship and more often than not, I was not a supportive partner. Now, I want to help. I feel so confident that God will provide in whatever way that may look like.

Watching the news, I feel like I should be more overwhelmed but I’m not. I picture God sitting right next to me on my couch helping me with my puzzle (haven’t done one of those since childhood), worship music in the background, with a warm coffee with cream (cream…I haven’t had that in years) in hand. I picture him saying, “I’m here. Do not worry. I’m here.” Nothing more, nothing less.

He does not tell me when we’ll be able to afford to have a wedding, when I’ll find that log cabin that I want, or whether all the training I’ve put into a marathon that may or may not happen will matter. He simply assures me, “I am here. Do not worry.” And you know what? I am so happy.

I feel God in this time more than I ever have. I drink a warm cup of coffee in the morning and feel God’s presence. I stop and I thank him right there in that moment for the ability to afford coffee in a time that many cannot. I don’t know the last time I’ve thanked God for my coffee. I feel God’s presence on a walk in nature. It wasn’t a 10-mile run and that’s okay. In fact, it’s amazing! I heard the birds chirp and witnessed the sunbeams glistening through the trees and I felt God. This is all his creation that he’s provided for us, wow. I feel God’s presence at night when I lay my head down on my pillow. I thank him that I have a bed and safety. I feel him saying, “I am here. Do not worry.”

I had time to volunteer at the food shelf this week without the stress of needing to get home to get to bed. I feel God when I connect with friends over Facetime and call my grandparents. I feel God when I’m vacuuming my apartment for over an hour in every nook and cranny and thanking him that I have so many nooks and crannies to vacuum because that means I have a place to live. I feel God when I’m planning new therapy activities for my patients, something that I haven’t had time to do. I thank God for my patients and send them extra love. I pray over them. I don’t know if I’ve ever prayed over my patients. I feel God when I take the time to make a smoothie. The kind with seeds, berries, milk, yogurts, all the special things. Something that I often “don’t have time for”. I thank him for access to nourishing food.

I feel God when I put on my slippers and feel the wool and thank God for something as small as slippers. I feel God when I see a homeless gentleman outside the grocery store and God pushes me to go make him a bag of groceries and walk up to him and say “here you go”. That felt so good but would have felt so uncomfortable in the past and shouldn’t I be saving my money with job uncertainty? God says, “I am here. Do not worry.”

All along there were blessings around me but I just didn’t see them. I focused on the things I didn’t have yet and tried to chase them down. A daily prayer looked like this “Thank you God for this beautiful day and help me to get x, y, z.”

When you surrender and put your belief and well being in God, not in a world, not in a government, not in a CDC worker, but in God, you will have peace and the worry will wash away. We need the CDC and the government and the news but we don’t need to worship them and those things don’t control our future. God does. He is here.

There is a lot of uncertainty, darkness, and fear in our world right now but God hasn’t left us. In fact, He’s showing up in ways we never knew were possible. I pray that it doesn’t take another epidemic for me to surrender. I am thankful for the lessons that I’ve learned and am excited to continue life on this path that I stepped off of. I am thankful for the blessings around me right here and now and pray to continue that focus once the shops, gyms, and commitments open back up. Once life returns to what is what. My changed heart doesn’t have to return to what it once was.”

—Sarah McGowan