Doing things for the first time again
Film critic Mark Kermode was recently heard joking about putting on his trademark black suit, which has hung safely in his wardrobe all through lockdown, only to discover it had “mysteriously shrunk”! This brought on some mild panic in me as it made me realise that I have not worn anything much smarter than jeans or shorts for 18 months and I was suddenly stressed about what it might involve to enter normal society again.
As we all begin to do things for the first time in a long time, we may make various discoveries which shine a light on just how different life has been. This is not limited to those of us who suddenly realise we have increased our waistline a little. It may raise all kinds of concerns about how we will manage once mundane tasks like our morning routine and commute. As life begins to return to something more familiar, we may need to re-examine not just our schedule, but our priorities.
A lesson from the Olympians
For many of us, the demands and routines of life have been completely unlike what we were used to, with different goals and focus of life. Many others, however, have had to work out how to manage the same life tasks under the most challenging circumstances. Families with two keyworkers trying to balance jobs that are more demanding than ever, with limited childcare. Business owners constantly having to adapt to survive. Young people working for qualifications while the rules seem to change repeatedly. Rather than being anxious about life becoming more normal, these people cannot wait.
Having the same goal but utterly different circumstances demands resourcefulness. You may have heard of Olympic athletes who found creative ways to prepare for Tokyo without the ability to do the critical training they would normally have done. This includes the runners who trained in the garden shed beside a steaming kettle to simulate humid conditions, the boxer breaking rocks with a sledgehammer, and the swimmer training in a Jacuzzi in their garden surrounded by snow! For these individuals, their goal remained the same, but they had to find new ways to equip themselves to reach the same ends. The reality is that those who kept focused on their goal and were most innovative about working towards it saw the results on the podium.
A post pandemic spiritual health check
For Christians, as we begin to find ourselves treading the more familiar stage of our lives again, it may not just be our clothes that do not fit as well. Our various roles and routines, once as comfortable as our favourite jeans, may feel restrictive and uncomfortable. What if, rather than continuing to train for the Christian race, we have become spiritual couch potatoes? Have we taken our eye off the things that really matter as disciples of Jesus, or have we adapted to keep the same life goals but found innovative ways to work towards them?
A spiritual health check may help to assess if circumstances have shaped our expectations and let us drift into unintentional habits, or if God has taught us how to reshape our priorities and keep on track. Are there spiritual practices we are better at than before, or are there important habits we need to rediscover? How much has watching online church affected our desire to return to Sunday worship in person? Will new interests and priorities make it difficult to work a church role back into our life? Have we lost important contacts with people outside the church or have new opportunities to witness opened up? What new practices in our personal and family life are right to keep, and what do we need to let go of? These kind of questions are not for being harshly self-critical but to allow us to refocus on what lies ahead.
Putting the big things in first
Clarifying our priorities may also help avoid the trap of unquestioningly stepping back into old familiar patterns that may not have been healthy. Now is a good time to decide not to get sucked back into a previously busy weekly routine with something in the diary every night and no space for the things to which we may be called. Instead, we have an opportunity to establish new routines and be more intentional about managing time, before someone else does that for us. This requires being honest and deliberate about how we reshape our lives and priorities before God who alone is Lord of our time, our talents and our resources.
The classic time management maxim “put the big things in first” is helpful as we anticipate entering a new phase of life, which will be anything but ‘normal’. Prayerfully seeking God about what those big things should be – in family, church, socially and perhaps even in our work life – is to be like the athlete, committed to the right goals, and finding creative ways to work towards those.
Pacing a planned return
Finally, this does not need to be stressful. It is totally fine to pace ourselves to get back into things, to avoid a head spin about piecing life together again. Others ought to be sensitive and understanding if we tell them we need to take time to work things out. We should make sure, however, that is not merely procrastination, but genuinely seeking to live in the spirit of Proverbs 16:9, ‘in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.’
As we find the creative ways to make life work towards the priorities God is guiding us to, hopefully it will not involve being in a Jacuzzi in the snow!
Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.
This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined: Fanning the Flame, an emphasis within the Refined initiative on gradually resuming more regular patterns of congregational activity.
Visit the Refined hub here.