What Does “Restoration” Mean After COVID-19?

touching barb wire

What Does "Restoration" Mean After COVID-19?


Will life ever be normal again? Many of us yearn for a return to life before COVID – to something that seemed “normal,” yet when questioned, the shape of that normal is not always clear.

I don’t want restoration – a large part of my life and the world around me wasn’t doing well before the pandemic. I am convinced that we must all struggle to sort out what we really want and need to restore. Are we prepared to live differently in order to recover what matters?

Restoration implies a “fix it” mentality when in reality we are grasping at intangibles when we consider a return to an earlier place, a life as we remember it. I love the words of John Pavlovitz in his book If God is Love, Don’t be a Jerk: “There is nothing organized or neat or easy about this, so we should all invite the chaos in, make friends with it, learn to live with it, and see the imperfect process of coexisting with it as a holy act itself.” In other words, let’s take a deep breath and keep moving.

A simple mental image works as a metaphor for my own thinking into what is clearly a complex challenge – restoring an old but previously lovely, well-loved home.

What to restore vs. just repair?

Are there structural issues that impair its future?

Should the interior be changed to reflect current or future daily living patterns?

This metaphor, while imperfect, suggests that restoration of life pre-pandemic involves multiple, interrelated stages that include, at a minimum:

  • Institutions – Can their foundational values hold? Is it time for revision?
  • Systems – Who or what is served by the justice system or the education and public health systems, or even the supply system?
  • Relationships – What do we need from each other? What is the significance of seeing, touching, eye contact, and honest listening?

I recently asked several good friends to share their own response to the question “what do you hope to restore?” Their replies represented sentiments that seem broadly expressed today:

  • Civility – “Can’t we disagree without being disagreeable, and still like each other?”
  • Freedom – “I’m tired of being told what to do!”
  • Costly personal inconvenience – Expensive gas, empty store shelves, or delayed orders.

Perhaps the operative word is really TIRED! Our minds and hearts are working overtime seeking a firm footing in all areas of our lives at the same time. We want institutions that are solid, systems that work equally for all of us, and relationships that are supportive, loving, and encouraging. But it’s just too much. Many of us are saying loudly “just stop” or “I’m done!” Yet, that quiet voice within is whispering, “I don’t know what to do or who to trust and I can’t fix any of it.”

Fortunately, COVID exposed the reality of our need for restoration – the need to affirm what matters most in our life together.

In the years pre-pandemic, I had failed to notice that the house needed repair. My heart and mind haven’t always been open or welcoming. I can be cynical about systems including my own religious community. COVID quite literally exposed the wounds of our institutions, systems, and relationships – wounds that ran deep and of which we hadn’t yet fully recognized nor acknowledged the pain and damage they’ve caused.

While restoration is commonly understood as bringing back to a former place, station or condition, the more relevant synonyms are renewal, recovery, and reestablishment. We should not understand our earlier life – pre-COVID – as settled. It was not perfect; it already showed the cracks and strains of justice failures and neglected responsibilities. Institutions need to recover and regain trust, systems need revision and renewal to meet diverse life realities and requirements, and the nature of our relationships, both personal and collective, will depend upon a renewal of our own moral obligations to each other.

In a recent Religica Podcast conversation with Michael Trice, Brian Rubin suggested several steps that I’m using in my own pandemic recovery efforts:

  • Take time – It’s the little shifts I can make in my own lifetime that will move me forward
  • Recognize civility as much more than getting along or being nice. It’s learning to really see the humanity in each other
  • Explore the ways that my moral imagination is revealed in my behavior and actions for today and in the future – that HOPE needs to be invented every day.

To begin restoration, we must each take those small daily steps of recovery and renewal in our life together and believe HOPE will lead us and LOVE will sustain us.

The future is depending upon us to stop yearning for something undefined and begin doing the hard work of restoration!

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