It loomed as one of the biggest reasons not to take a brief home assignment: the government-mandated, highly supervised, two-week quarantine that we would have to undergo in a guarded hotel room upon return to Thailand. But we decided home assignment was needed for family health … and so there we eventually were, the five of us, living together in a suite for two weeks.
I didn’t think to give thanks for the quarantine ahead of time. Instead, I ran to the dollar store, grocery store, and bookstore, and filled a suitcase with activities and snacks to help my family get through two weeks of “hotel prison.”
Partway through our time, I got a big surprise: I realized I was thankful for quarantine.
Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t feel thankful the entire time! It’s hard to keep up with a three-year-old’s energy level when bound by limited space, it’s hard to confront your own selfishness and sinfulness when presented with so many opportunities to be patient and self-controlled. But here are some reasons I’m thankful for quarantine:
1. I got to feel like a leper
We were met at the airport by masked, glove-wearing, plastic-clad health officials who immediately took our temperatures. The amount of exposed skin we saw on each person was maybe four square inches total. Thick plastic plexiglass separated the van driver from the passenger seating. When we got to the hotel, we immediately stepped onto sanitizing foot mats. Our luggage was sprayed down before it was taken up to the room. We all had our temperatures taken again (and never mind all the forehead scanners we walked through at the airport). The bellboy was hesitant to take the tip I offered. All the carpet in the hotel had been covered by some sort of plastic-y substance. The way we knew our meals were being delivered each day was by hearing the swish, swish, swish of the plastic coverings over the hotel workers’ clothes.
Y’all! It’s definitely a case of “guilty until proven innocent” (by three negative Covid tests on Days 2, 6, and 12)!
When others act like you have a disease, you start to feel unclean. But this is not such a bad feeling. If you’ve spent most of your life as a socially “acceptable” person, an experience like this can create empathy and understanding for those whom others have labelled “unacceptable.” Hopefully made me a little more like Jesus.
And … bottom line … we are all unclean until washed by the blood of the Lamb.
2. Quarantine provided liminal space
So this was a new word for me a couple of years ago — “liminal.” It has to do with a transitional or initial stage of a process. When you are engaged, you are in a liminal space. You aren’t married yet, but you’re more than just dating. Being in college is being in liminal space — you’re mostly out of your parents’ home, but you’re not quite a full-fledged, working adult.
These days, we can shuttle back and forth from continent to continent, time zone to time zone, hemisphere to hemisphere, culture to culture, within the span of 24 hours or less. That’s fast! Really, really fast, to move from East to West, or from North to South, from pasta and potatoes to rice and noodles, from one way of doing life to completely another.
Early into quarantine, I suddenly realized that I was glad to have some breathing space, some time to adjust to the fact that I was no longer in my passport country, before being fully immersed back into life here. Time to reflect and pray, to plan and repent. Time to grieve and begin healing from the good-byes that had just been said.
Liminal space can be really uncomfortable. You’re neither here nor there. But it also makes room for growing in ways that might not happen otherwise. Quarantine gave my heart and mind time to catch up to where my body was now located.
3. Quarantine reminded me that I am not autonomous
For two weeks, we were almost completely at the mercy of others. Hungry? Hopefully, they’ll deliver our food on time! (They did, three times a day.) Some days we didn’t love the food, but we were reliably fed and cared for.
Jesus, thank you for sustaining my every breath. Thank you for being living water and my daily bread.
4. Quarantine fulfilled a life-long wish of one of my children
On the not-so-frequent occasions that we have stayed at a hotel, my middle child has always expressed a wish to “stay and play longer in the hotel room,” rather than enjoying the outside activities. She’s always been disappointed at checkout time. Well, sweetie, now we have, indeed, stayed and played longer! Check that one off the bucket list.
5. I got a re-set on my thankfulness monitor
Leaning over the bathtub, washing my family’s underclothes, birthed in me a new thankfulness for my washing machine. Boredom with hotel food (they repeated the menu choices after one week) made me thankful for all the choices I have in menu planning and grocery shopping. Being confined to our suite grew a thankfulness for all the freedom we would have once quarantine ended — in spite of all the current restrictions.
For me, two of the hardest commands in the Bible are “In everything, give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18) and “Do everything without complaining” (Phil. 2:14). I find obedience to these instructions excruciating. They expose my self-idolatry, self-absorption, desire to control, and pride. Surely I know the best way that situation should have worked out!
I end up giving thanks only much later, when God’s (always) beautiful plan begins to unfold enough that I can finally see the beauty in it. Lord, help my unbelief!
**I would like to add a “p.s.” Because we live in a broken world, there are some things that happen that are 100% maniacal, sinful, horrifying, etc. These things deeply grieve and anger the Lord, as well, and in them, I don’t think he asks you to directly give thanks. I don’t have the space here to deeply explore this topic, but if you have experienced something like that, I hear you and grieve with you.