The dangers of going back to the workplace
The Shawshank Redemption is one of the greatest movies of all time (well, at least in my opinion!). It tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne, who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary, and the friendship he develops with fellow prisoner Ellis "Red" Redding.
But it's the storyline of one of the other characters of the film I’ve been reflecting on recently, namely that of Brooks Hatlen. Brooks is a loveable, gentle, elderly man who has been in prison for most of his life. Eventually he is paroled, and set free to begin life again on the outside.
But very quickly it becomes apparent that Brooks is struggling to adjust to his new found freedom. After years locked up he has become institutionalised and re-entry is a real struggle. The world has changed dramatically during his time behind bars; for example he laments how everyone has “got themselves in such a hurry”. So much so, Brooks dreams of breaking his parole so that he’ll be sent back inside. In the end, unable to cope with his new life on the outside, Brooks tragically takes his life.*
For the last 18 months all of us to varying degrees have known the experience of being locked up. Now not for a minute do I think the lockdowns we have endured are the equivalent to life in prison. But the challenge of re-entry from lockdown is a real issue many are (or will) grapple with. Globally, many psychologists are reporting it is a common issue that they are addressing with patients. And like Brooks’ experience after leaving prison, what we are, and will be, returning to is not the, “normal as we’ve known it before and so there’s a lot of anxiety about what the new normal will look like”.
This is driving another form of anxiety in other parts of the country where people are not currently in lockdown. As I talk to my colleagues in those states there is a hesitancy to return to the workplace (even though they can) because of fear of another COVID outbreak.
But whether you currently can or can’t return to the workplace, nevertheless the working world has changed and that is leading to much anxiety around re-entry (whenever that might be and whatever that might look like).
Managing re-entry syndrome for yourself
A quick search online will provide you with a wealth of great resources for how to manage re-entry syndrome for yourself, including taking things slowly, and speaking up if you are struggling. Also knowing that you’re very likely not the only person in your workplace feeling this can be a great help too! But most of all, if you need to, seek professional help, and the support of your Christian community.
Caring for your colleagues who are struggling
However, regardless of how this issue is impacting you, I want to encourage you in being aware of it so that you might care for those colleagues of yours who are (or will) experience challenges with re-entry from lockdown. Because as we do so we create opportunities to both demonstrate and declare something of the hope, peace, and love that we have in Christ. Here are a few suggestions how:
1. Listen and show love
One secular article offers this helpful advice: “Everyone is dealing with the easing of restrictions in their own way and while most people are excited, others may feel anxious about readjusting to how life was before lockdown. Be mindful of other people and remember that they may be feeling more anxious or cautious than you feel”. This is especially important for those of us to hear who may be enthusiastic to return to the workplace. A way we can show Christ’s love towards our colleagues in this season is to be sensitive to the range of ways that they may be feeling about any return to the workplace. Asking sensitive, thoughtful questions, and being quick to listen is always important, but particularly with regard to this issue. Because as we do so it provides us with another opportunity to demonstrate our love and concern for our colleagues.
2. Be vulnerable about your own struggles
Further, if this is something we are struggling with ourselves then can I encourage you to not be quiet about it. In safe and careful ways, share your anxieties about re-entry with your colleagues. Such vulnerability will give them permission to be equally vulnerable. But vulnerability also demonstrates confidence - there is something about you that is secure enough to be able to admit weakness. That confidence of course doesn’t come from yourself, but the confidence that you have in your identity in Christ; that you are loved and treasured by Him irrespective of how people might respond when we reveal weakness. Your vulnerability can demonstrate that.
3. Point to the God who cares about our worries
But more than that, your vulnerability can also provide you with an opportunity to not simply demonstrate your confidence in God, but declare it also! Take the opportunity that sharing your weaknesses brings to not simply share those, but also a key way that you handle your anxieties, namely by entrusting them to your Heavenly Father who knows all your needs and cares for you (Matthew 6:25-34). Embrace the opportunity that re-entry syndrome presents us to speak of the wonderful, deep, all-knowing love of our Heavenly Father, who knows our needs intimately and cares for us. Perhaps even share how a passage like Matthew 6:25-34 is so helpful for you in the anxieties of life. Because it (and many, many other parts of God’s word) contain a message of comfort that we all could do with hearing again and again in this season!
* It’s important to acknowledge at this point that if this illustration, or any of the other material which follows in this article, causes distress for you please reach out to any number of the mental health services available, for example Lifeline on 13 11 14. City Bible Forum staff are also always available for a chat.
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