When the Challenges We Face Aren’t the Ones We Prepared For
By Naomi Boonstra
Walla Walla University’s students are finding that the pandemic poses brand new circumstances for their spirituality. From on-campus life with new restrictions, to online classes, to quarantining, things have changed.
Grace Lawrence, a freshman nursing major who was quarantining because of a possible exposure, says that it’s been difficult to not be able to go out to Bible studies, vespers, or church as she normally would. On the other hand, she says, “It gave me a lot more time alone, and there’s only so much schoolwork you can do before you need something else. I ended up spending a lot more time with God.” 
Mental health can be a major factor in spirituality. Lawrence goes on to say, “Quarantine definitely impacted my mental health. I lost a lot of motivation, and it’s easier to be anxious when you’re not around people.”  When isolation creates a strain on mental health, it’s important to tend to spirituality, but it also becomes more difficult.
Abigail Alcantara, a junior religion major, says, “I saw other people hurting and I would hurt with them.” She’s found, however, that this impact on her mental health has not affected her spirituality negatively, but rather has helped her to grow: “It helped me to be more in tune to talk to God and to trust Him and to be more vulnerable with people.” The challenges posed to Alcantara’s spiritual life gave her a chance to see her trust in God pay off rather than dwindle. 
For online students, the pandemic often means isolation, and it’s difficult to foster spirituality with a lack of social support. Isabela Cinco, a freshman psychology and pre-med major who is currently fully remote, says that being at home has made her feel trapped. Cinco says, “I have been away from people who have the same relationship with God as I do, who have the same deep understanding of God that I do.” 
Lawrence is experiencing a similar feeling of isolation while quarantining on campus. She says, “To not be able to see anyone makes the days go by a little slower. I didn’t have anyone to share things with. It kind of made you not want to do things like vespers and devotions because you couldn’t really share it with anyone.” She emphasized how important the social aspect of spirituality is and how much is lost without it. 
Although these uncertain times have made things challenging in new ways, Cinco is finding small ways to commune with God. She says, “I’ve been learning a lot about Jesus and the gospels as that’s what I’m studying in my Bible class. Although my relationship with God is not very strong, I’m learning a lot that I didn’t know before.” Even just seeing God in an academic light is helpful when spirituality becomes difficult. 
Help and support have come in all different ways, but what Alcantara has found particularly helpful is actually reaching out to others in pursuit of their help. “Asking advice and feeling validated by people around you is very helpful,” she says. “Knowing that what actions I’m taking and what I’m feeling is valid. We haven’t faced a pandemic in our lifetime, so we don’t know how to react to it. So being able to be validated and to know that we’re struggling through it together is a big help.” 
Lawrence has found a big refuge in reaching out to people as well. She says, “I would say that FaceTiming friends has been a huge help for me.” She goes on to say, though, that it’s also been beneficial to find time away from screens altogether. She says that finding things to do that don’t involve her phone or computer have helped her to slow down and connect with God in a more genuine way. 
Throughout the difficulties faced by these students in various situations, they all feel that God is teaching them something valuable. Cinco says that God is teaching her how to take a step back and resign herself to His will. She’s learning that while things happen for a reason, that reason isn’t always for her to know just yet. 
Alcantara says that she is learning a similar thing: patience, “And to trust,” she says, “a big thing is trusting God.” 
Lawrence says that while in quarantine, she’s learning to take time to be still and to know God in a calmer setting. “You don’t have to be going, going, going 24/7,” she says. “It’s okay to tell someone that you can’t hang out with them because you need time to recharge.” These things, she says, God is teaching her through this unprecedented challenge. 
1. FaceTime interview with Grace Lawrence, 11/12/20.
3. Teams interview with Abigail Alacantara, 11/11/20.
4. FaceTime interview with Isabela Cinco, 11/11/20.
5. FaceTime interview with Grace Lawrence, 11/12/20.
6. FaceTime interview with Isabela Cinco, 11/11/20.
7. Teams interview with Abigail Alacantara, 11/11/20.
8. FaceTime interview with Grace Lawrence, 11/12/20.
9. FaceTime interview with Isabela Cinco, 11/11/20.
10. Teams interview with Abigail Alacantara, 11/11/20.
11. FaceTime interview with Grace Lawrence, 11/12/20.