Westmont Magazine Moving Forward in the Midst of Uncertainty
An edited excerpt from the magazine of the Center for Applied Technology (CATLab) by Laura Joy Phillips ’21
What do you do when you feel like the whole world is unsettled? We interviewed three members of the Westmont community to learn how they’ve been dealing with the ever-changing circumstances during COVID-19.
GROW YOUR GRATITUDE
Although it’s important to acknowledge loss and pain, in a time when those things seem to dominate the world, it’s all the more crucial to appreciate blessings. For Chris Hoeckley, director of the Gaede Institute and assistant professor of philosophy, a blessing this summer was offering Trailhead, a Westmont summer program for high schoolers to explore God’s call and to connect their faith and learning. Dan Taylor, former assistant director of residence life, said the main change for him has been spending less time in his office and more time at home. Reflecting on these blessings has helped Taylor balance that sense of loss or uncertainty.
LEAN INTO LEARNING
Similar to practicing gratitude, making a list of lessons you’ve learned helps reorient you to focus on the positives. Taylor said that mitigation efforts like wearing masks and social distancing has helped him feel connected to the larger world. He says he wants to continue doing things that “take me outside myself.” Kelsey Feustel, the grant writer for CATLab who graduated from Westmont in 2020 with a double major in biology and chemistry, offered a slightly more philosophical perspective. “One of the big lessons that I’ve taken away from this time period is that it’s OK not to know exactly what’s coming next,” she said. She’s had to learn anew what it means to trust that God will guide her. “While I think that I can have complete control over my life, ultimately it’s going to be his purpose that prevails,” she said, alluding to Proverbs 19:21.
FOCUS ON FAITHFULNESS
The constant change of our current circumstances can cause frustration. Instead of focusing on outcomes (or the lack thereof), Taylor reframes work in the context of faithfulness. After laying out the two temptations on either extreme—trying to control everything or giving up responsibility—he finds a balance by asking himself how he can be faithful to his job. He has learned to acknowledge the uncertainty on one hand but still strive for his best on the other. “Faithfulness means doing this work that’s good work while I have it and seeing what I can accomplish,” he says.
STEP BACK FROM STRESS
As we continue to examine what it means to move forward and work well
in a world like ours, we should take advantage of the fact that this pandemic has jarred us out of our usual patterns of busyness. “Giving myself space from that stress of academic or work demands has just been so incredibly life-giving this summer,” Feustel said. “It’s something I want to carry forward. In today’s society, it’s so easy to fall prey to the belief that you have to be busy, that you have to be productive—and a lot of times, that leads to burn-out.” She reminds us to prioritize mental and emotional health and to give ourselves grace. While we might find ourselves forced to take breaks as things stand now, creating space to recharge is also something we should carry into the future.
Finally, now more than ever, we need to reach out to others and lean into our communities. Taylor shared a story of how he and his wife, Sarah, managed to hold a socially distanced Commencement ceremony for the graduating seniors who lived in the Ocean View apartments last semester. Hoeckley, meanwhile, was happy to report that he still saw great bonding among the Trailhead participants. “It’s important to take time to find unique ways to invest in people and relationships,” Feustel said. She warned against the temptation to stay isolated, arguing that we need to build community to create a support system that contributes to our own mental wellbeing because we were created as communal beings. Even after this pandemic abates, we will all face periods of uncertainty in our lives; and in those times, we will need practices and perspectives to help us move forward.