I’ll never forget April of 2020. As a result of COVID-19, my employer cut their budget, and I lost my job. I was shocked, confused, and hurt. And I had to figure out the next step for our family. First, we sat the kids down to inform them I’d lost my job. I thought it was going to be this big teachable moment about trusting the Lord in all circumstances, but it wasn’t. After I broke the news, my eight-year-old daughter Liv, who absolutely loves animals, responded with hope and confidence, “Daddy, this is great! You can now be a zookeeper!” I wanted to teach, but instead my daughter taught me to smile at the days ahead.
Since then I’ve been learning how to lead my family through a job search and a move across the country from Kentucky to Arizona. I am no more of a teacher than I was the day we shared the news with our children, but I hope some of the lessons we’ve learned will encourage others who face a job change or move during these “challenging and unprecedented times.”
Limitations are invitations
It’s important to realize that leaving a place you love and have come to know well, a place where you’ve put down roots, a place you call “home,” is not easy. Then, when you add a global pandemic into the mix, you get a concoction of difficulties. How do you say goodbye to friends when you can’t have a big going away party? How do you find new friends in a new town when it’s still not fully normal to hang out? How do you find a new church when gathering in person and dropping off the kids at a children’s ministry is irregular? It’s hard! So be kind to yourself.
And be aware of yourself. Moving during a pandemic will confront you with your limitations. I’ve had to learn to be okay with what I can’t do and what doesn’t turn out the way I want. Losing my job, finding a new job, and even saying goodbye to friends in less-than-ideal circumstances were invitations to the good—to faith, humility, hope, and greater dependence on Christ. Without a growing awareness of my limits, my attempts to lead my family through our move would have come from an unresourceful place.
Grieve your losses and balance the scales
They aren’t the same as losing a loved one, but losing a job, changes in relationships, and leaving a place you call home are losses to be grieved. When we don’t learn to grieve appropriately, applying the Bible’s vision of life to our losses, then we create long-lasting wounds in ourselves and those around us.
It was important for me to make space, both for myself and for my wife and kids, to process this unexpected loss. This is especially important right now, because pandemic life tempts all of us to push away our emotions. I am no expert in grief care, but here are two principles I’ve learned: 1) Be known and 2) Balance the scales.
When I say, “be known,” I mean simply allowing yourself or your loved ones to share without the pressure of finding solutions. Surround yourself with people who will acknowledge the sadness and empathize with you. We were careful to do this with our kids, knowing their little minds would have trouble grasping such swift changes. We made certain to engage any comment like, “I’m going to miss my friend” or “I miss Kentucky.” We made sure to tell them it was okay to feel this way and that they weren’t alone. One great follow-up question to ask when you hear something like that from your kids is, “Can you tell me more about that?” Then, just listen and affirm. It’s important for our children to hear from us that their emotions are welcome. That doesn’t mean we’re affirming all their reactions to their emotions, but we want them to feel safe sharing their emotions with us. This makes room for the teachable moments and gospel conversations that balance the scales.
I’m indebted to Scott Swain for the “balance the scales” metaphor. As Swain explains, we aren’t seeking to remove difficult emotions, or “weights in our loved ones’ hearts, but we’re seeking to offer counterweights—consolations that enable their hearts (and our own) to bear the burden of sorrow, anxiety, and fear in this vale of tears (Ps. 84:6) “until we arrive at our destination of unmixed, unshakeable beatitude in the presence of the triune God (Ps. 84:4).” During our move, I saw my father-in-law model what this is like. As strange as it might sound, one of my wife’s biggest losses in moving from Kentucky to Arizona was leaving behind the changing seasons with their beautiful tree foliage, fall festivals, and spring showers. (If you’re scratching your head, try moving to Phoenix when it’s 115 degrees outside and then we’ll talk.) After listening to Juli talk abou this loss, my father-in-law—who knows his daughter well—offered a profound counterweight. He simply said, “This will be an opportunity for you to see the beauty of God’s creation from a different perspective.” The truth of his kind perspective is still bearing fruit.
Don’t go it alone
Friendships are perhaps the most meaningful of relationships in the Christian life. In Christ, friendships can have a profound impact on our souls that anchor us to our true north. Though one loses friendships in the physical sense when moving to a new place, there is consolation in the hope of new friendships that await in the new home. The hardest part of moving for our family was the way COVID-19 robbed us of a rightful goodbye and has slowed the creation of new friendships in Phoenix. But we’re not letting this stop us from pressing into our friendships, both old and new. In fact, our friends have been a sustaining grace in this transition. Here are five thoughts on how to approach friendships during a move.
- Close the loop with old friends the best you can. Make it a priority to see your closest friends and say goodbye face to face before you leave town. You won’t regret it. Even in a pandemic, when you or your friends may be following strict social distancing guidelines, find a way to have a distanced air hug, or schedule a multiple-day drive-by event and sit in your yard while your friends wave goodbye. You might feel vain, but do it anyway. They need it, and you do too.
- Keep the community you have until you find the new one you need. I don’t mean you’ll ditch your old friends when you establish new relationships (we cherish our Louisville friends!). But there is a depth of friendship that is best maintained in proximity. But until new friendships can be established, you’ll need to lean on your existing friendships back home. Allow those friends to edify your soul while you wait—perhaps longer than usual during a pandemic—to establish new ones. Schools and other institutions are relying on not-so-ideal ways of maintaining human connection in this season, and that should be true for a family who moves during the pandemic as well. Juli and I have made time regularly to text, call, or video chat with friends from Louisville to cry, confess sin, repent, and rejoice. Embodied friendship is essential and ideal, but in the midst of such abnormal change God’s common grace has allowed us creative ways to move forward by looking back to the relationships that have carried us this far.
- Say yes to everything when you get to the new place. Well, maybe not everything, but my point is get out and meet people. Embrace the awkwardness of wearing your mask out to events with your new job or school parent functions—even if your child’s emotions from moving come out sideways at times and embarrass you. It’s important to move forward and discover the new, sweet friendships God has prepared for you.
- Try to visit churches in person if it is safe. Singing spiritual songs and hymns and hearing the Word preached in person is the greatest balm your family needs in what may be your loneliest hour together. Plus, it’s a great way to make new friends. You’ll breathe life into a local congregation by your ability to visit during this season, and they’ll breath life into you as you impart spiritual gifts to one another (Rom. 1:11–12).
- Enjoy extended family time. One of the great surprises for us during our pandemic move was that our schedules opened strangely wide. Because we didn’t know many people and didn’t have many places to be, our family tasted a sweet time of togetherness, the kind we’ve only reached previously during family vacations. Our family has noticed a renewed sense of our identity as the Gibson’s since we’ve moved to Phoenix. It’s come through braving mountain passes, running errands, and through just being together at the house. If you find yourself in the midst of a move during COVID-19, let me encourage you to be present with your family and see your limited social life as a gift and blessing.
Longing for our abiding city
As I close, think back with me to Scott Swain’s analogy of “balancing of the scales.” One go-to counterweight I’ve tried to put before myself and my family is the hope that we’ll someday live in an eternal city with our family in Christ. Augustine says it so beautifully: “Who would not long for that City whence no friend goes out, whither no enemy enters?” (Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 85).
As our family has experienced the highs and lows of moving to a new city during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve sought to press into the grace upon grace offered to us by our good Father. We press in, we process, we share, we cry, we laugh, we confess, we repent, and we struggle forward. We do so hoping for that better city—a real place where all our friends in Christ will be. It will exist without any evil or enemies; pandemics will be no more. And we trust that any homesickness we’re experiencing now while we get used to this new earthly city is a tool in God’s hand to make us ready for that perfect and eternal home.