Year 2020, Skill #2: Make Meaning of These Messy Times

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Anais Nin

 “Of course! The path to heaven
Doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive the world.”
The Swan, Mary Oliver


Everything Happens For A Reason: ( And Other Lies I Loved), is the title of Kate Bowler’s 2018 award-winning book written about her bout with stage IV cancer. Before I even read it, (it is worth a read) I loved the title. “Everything happens for a reason” has always felt like a phrase we utter to others, too often, and sometimes to ourselves to make the present moment seem more manageable. Similar to, “God has a better plan for you,” uttered to grief-stricken people in moments of horror and trauma, these clichés are mostly used to soothe ourselves and help us make meaning out of a crisis when we don’t know what to say to others. Like Bowler, I don’t believe these sentiments and I don’t say them.

Another Way To Think About It

What I do believe…and maybe not just believe but know deep in my bones…is that we make meaning out of the tragedies, traumas, and the terribleness of life.  Looking in the rearview mirror,  we see more clearly what happened, where we are now, and how we have managed to survive and expand despite the circumstances. We make meaning because that is what humans do. Humans are first and foremost story-tellers, and we tell stories as an attempt to make meaning of our lives. After a tragedy, when we slow down and get enough distance, we take stock and notice what has happened. We notice what is different.  What have we learned?  What matters?  How have we changed?

We make meaning out of the tragedies, traumas, and the terribleness of life.

Perhaps it is a little too early here in America to make meaning out of CoVid-19. We are too in the thick of it, the storm is raging and lurking all at the same time. We are hunkered and hunkering down– still in survival mode, still hyper-vigilant, still waiting to see what happens next, and we may stay this way for months. Hard to make meaning when we are in crisis and fear devastation.

Or is it?

Hard to make meaning when we are in crisis and fear devastation.

We Are All Connected

If nothing else has gotten through our thick-skulls and hardness-of-heart, certainly we can now all believe that we are global citizens. CoVid-19 has shattered any illusion that we can “close our border” and remain safe. The formidable little virus, however you believe it started, doesn’t care what continent you live on or what race, gender, sexual orientation, political persuasion, economic status, religion, or how special you are. Like other grave illnesses, it is a great equalizer. We are not God’s chosen people because we are Americans, and an America-first attitude will destroy us. We need the world and the world needs us.  If CoVid-19 has taught us anything, surely it has taught us that we are all in this together and are all connected. And yes, this is exactly the same message as climate change. We are citizens of this planet and climate change doesn’t care about the same things CoVid-19 doesn’t care about. Neither science nor mysticism cares about your opinion.

Creativity and Adaptability

We are witnessing anew that the human spirit is creative and adaptive. Did we need this reminder again? I am surprised daily and usually joyfully at the creative ways businesses and people are tackling issues. From curbside services from our favorite restaurants, to people sitting outside a family member’s hospital window and talking to each other on phones while they look at each other through a window, we are a creative species. Our teachers and professors created on-line lessons practically overnight and we now have a country of parents and grandparents home-schooling our children.  Churches are posting poignant meditations, worship experiences, and educational materials on more on-line platforms than I can remember. Artists, musicians, dancers, and performers of all kinds are offering video concerts and visual treats to help us make meaning. As a species we have always been creative and creating. This will continue in abundance. This determined little virus made me finally get HIPAA compliant video services. I could no longer drag my feet. It’s a small thing but it is adaptive. Thank God!

We are witnessing anew that the human spirit is creative and adaptive.

As of today, I have not encountered a single person who is not being affected by CoVid-19. Depending on your job, your age, your life circumstance, your family situation, your health, the city you live in, any factor you can think of, you are being invited to learn some new things. It might be simple lessons, like learning how to depend on others for food and travel or learning how to connect and comfort people without hugging or touching. I bumped into a friend at a drug store last Friday and we did a little foot tapping jig to say hello. It was satisfying and fun. Of course we are all experiencing the larger, more difficult lessons, like life changes course quickly, and control of anything is quite an illusion.

What are you learning? How are you expanding?

The Discomfort of The Liminal Space

One thing we are all squirmingly learning is how to sit in the liminal space of “no longer and not yet”. It is, I think for all of us, an uncomfortable space, and for Christians, we would consider this Holy Saturday. (damn—this is a LONG Holy Saturday.) This pandemic is a crisis.  People will be sick, people will die, people will lose their jobs, people will not have enough money, the stock market will plummet. We all know this is not life as usual, and it appears that the new normal will not settle in for a good while. This tectonic shift or crisis, which we will understand more clearly later, when we look in the rearview mirror, is for now giving us an opportunity. In this liminal space, (which is always uncomfortable and please know that discomfort is normal)  we can sit quietly and ask these four questions: What do I need to learn? How will I expand? Where do I need more courage? What does love look like right now?

Because we are at war with a virus and not each other, we can come together as human beings, with a communal effort for the common good. We can concentrate on aligning with deepest values: compassion, generosity, hospitality, prudence, forbearance, patience, kindness, and resourcefulness.

Because we are at war with a virus and not each other, we can come together as human beings, with a communal effort for the common good.

Danger AND Opportunity

When written in Chinese symbols, the word crisis has two components—danger and opportunity.  Right now we are being called to stand in both states of being at the same time. That is not a simple thing to do. It takes great emotional and spiritual maturity. But this is the chance we have to make meaning. And we will. Because that is what we do.

Blessings to you and all those you love. Deep peace to you. This is truly a messy time. Making meaning will help it be more marvelous.  Rhea and I would love to hear from you. How are you doing? How are you making meaning?


“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.”  –Thomas Merton

Amy Sander Montanez, D. Min., LPC, LMFT has a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. Her book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year.  Amy is passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, writing, traveling, and learning.

You can email Amy at [email protected]



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