Finding new ways to nurture friendships during a pandemic

Written by Cindy Palin

It was the spring of 2020. I felt led to make plans with friends—in coffee shops, picnics in the park, and homemade dinners in our cozy kitchen. I was just beginning to feel the rhythm of a beautiful dance, the ebb and flow of work and play, sleep and activity, give and take. But then the world stopped turning, and I stopped twirling.

The music had stopped, like the time a piano tuner dropped his fork on my shiny black Kawai. I cringe every time I rub my finger over the rough edge of the scar.

In the stillness of the early pandemic, I opened my hands and let my plans go like dandelion seeds on the wind. I waited in silence, aside from the lonely howl through my windowpane. Would gravity lose its hold?

I waited. We all waited for a long time. The world is still waiting. Last summer, my hope was for a melody like “Claire de lune” by Debussy. But this year has sounded more like a frenzied noise, a grinding out of zillions of computers, clicking and clacking “connection.”

But was life any different than it had been before? We still need each other. Could we find new ways to dance, new ways to sing, new ways to say, “I love you?”

Though maintaining genuine, intentional friendships hasn’t been easy this year, I’ve found new ways to reach across the distance. Here are some of the new rhythms I’ve formed to nurture my relationships.

I had picnics in the park with friends, sitting six feet apart. We saw each other’s breath on wintery days, our laughter muffled behind our masks. I thought I could hear the sound of a new melody beginning in the distance.

I reached out to strangers. I dialed a number, a name in the church directory. I’d seen her sitting in a pew on the right side of the sanctuary for years. I had waved to her one not-so-long-ago summer’s day from the sidewalk. I was determined to get to know her better, even if it was over the phone. I listened. She had been alone for a long while.

My mom and I began a new habit. Friday mornings became our time, alternating between FaceTime and phone calls. When December arrived, I wrote letters to friends and family. I had time. I could smell the paper and feel my tongue pressed to the side of my cheek as I tried to stick the stamps on straight. I smiled at those long-forgotten handwriting cramps.

Inch by inch and note by note, a new rhythm formed: a slow waltz. There has been more ebb than flow. More sleeping than waking. But I keep feeling the nudge to try new ways to simply show up.

I cannot allow the void to suck away my availability. Sickness and silence won’t get the last word.

So, I leaned on Jesus some more. I laid my head on His shoulder and let my dance partner lead. This crisis has been a new opportunity to trust Him.

This new rhythm is different. Navigating unknown territory is scary, but it can also be a gift, an opportunity to breathe deeper, look closer. Sometimes a slower pace is the difference between living and thriving.

As life changes and the very earth shakes beneath your feet, what plans have you had to let go of? What has the waiting looked like? Ask God questions and listen for His direction. If He’s calling you to form new relationship habits, He’ll show you how.