Metaphors to Describe the COVID Experience


For church & society

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In 2020, the world was presented with an unprecedented lived-out experience. With the advent of COVID-19, millions around the world had restrictions imposed on movement. We have been subject to confinement conditions of varying degrees.

I spent some time talking to people and thinking about metaphors which appropriately describe experiences under confinement conditions. Here, I will share five:

The Prison Cell

There are two versions of the prison cell experience. One is solitary confinement, while the other is where you are thrown into a crowded cell with multiple cell-mates. In the former, you experience prolonged isolation, loneliness, and anxiety which spawn emotional distress. In the latter, the lack of personal space as well as differences in needs, habits, and preferences create friction, tension, and stress.

The Maze

Whereas the road previously travelled was straightforward and familiar, being in the maze introduces new complexity and perplexity. The unknown and unfamiliar make each day’s journey much more difficult. Encounters with regular roadblocks and dead ends bring much uncertainty and sow daily seeds of dread. The pace of work slows down and daily efforts now become unproductive and joyless.

The Moving Train

Looking out of the window of your empty train carriage, you wave goodbye to a loved one who is standing on the platform. She waves back, smiles, but suddenly slumps over and collapses. You don’t see anyone else on the platform and no one hears your cries for help. Helpless and desperate, you watch her lifeless body on the platform as the moving train picks up speed toward the next destination 12 hours away.

The Submarine

Newly posted on a submarine, you discover that the tight, cramped living conditions onboard are extremely challenging. Everyone is on high alert all the time. Sleep is also interrupted due to the constant movements of bunkmates who operate different shifts from you. There is, however, a fixed routine. More importantly, you know you are on a strategic mission which makes the inconveniences meaningful.

The Creative’s Cave

In the blink of an eye, your life’s dream is now a reality. Whereas others are struggling to cope with confinement conditions, you are actually thriving and experiencing a cultural renaissance. The long hours of isolation from people fit you to a tee as you work on the creative projects you have always wanted to do. Current conditions give you time and space to pick up new skills, hone old skills, and scratch that creative itch you suppressed for many years.

The five metaphors presented above capture different slices of COVID-19 confinement experiences. They remind us that not all forms of confinement are necessarily bad. Whether positive or negative, however, they are all opportunities to seek, trust, and find God through all of life’s experiences. Otherwise, they are opportunities to hold up the light of hope to those in need of God.



 For Discussion

  1. What other metaphors describe confinement situations for you?
  2. How have you experienced God in and through situations of confinement?
  3. In what ways have you extended God’s light and love over the past months?