[Note: You can also listen to this article on my podcast. Simply search for Pondering Purple by name on your usual platform or listen online by clicking HERE.]
It feels like it’s been going on for a long time, doesn’t it? This sheltering-in-place. This waiting with insufficient evidence that this will truly end anytime soon.
What was so normal and life-giving a little over a year ago seems unthinkable today.
Is it any wonder that I had a dream, last night, that was a hybrid of “Born Free” and “Forrest Gump”? Me—with my fifty-two-year-old, not-quite-arthritic stride—jogging, no, sprinting across an African landscape, arms wide and head-uptilted à la Eric Liddell…with a herd (flock?) of gazelles straining to keep up with me.
It felt like freedom.
It felt like life untethered by restrictions.
It felt like the person I used to be eight short yet interminable weeks ago
We’ve likely all experienced this reality to some degree: the emotional and even physical bandwidth that used to get us through our days has shrunk. Our mental stamina has diminished. Even our spirituality might feel a bit withered.
So what can we do? How can we instill into the dailiness of daily days something light enough to revive our deplenished zest and meaningful enough to CPR our spirits back to a more buoyant breath?
I have a handful of suggestions. Four to be exact.
And contrary to some of the encouragement you’ll find in other places, they’re small. Tiny-small.
The goal here is to recover some sense of who we are on a scale adapted to our COVID reality, until our shelter-in-place lives and bandwidths expand again into a new normal.
These four questions and their tiny answers have illuminated my quarantine with flashes of hope–the lightning bug variety that flares just long enough to remind me that there’s more of the same out there if I’ll just watch for it with expectation and faith.
So grab a piece of paper or a journal and jot down your answers to the following questions. And remember: tiny questions get tiny answers. So don’t impose on your weary survivor-soul a challenge you won’t be able to meet.
Make your answers the equivalent of putting on a pair of shoes. Or looking out the window in search of lightning bugs.
1. What small thing can I do that will make me feel alive in this moment?
This is going to be different for each of us. What is it that in some small way would make you feel something different than you’ve been feeling since this all began? What would be life-giving in even a minuscule way?
Maybe it’s opening all the windows for a few minutes and letting fresh air wash over your home.
Maybe it’s lying on the ground in the back yard, arms out wide and feeling the soft solidity of the earth beneath you. Maybe it’s finding Grandma’s recipe for homemade biscuits or pulling out a coloring book and using bright hues to bring life to a page. Maybe it’s finding an untraveled spot as you walk around your neighborhood in the evening, taking off your mask and breathing deep as the sun turns golden. Maybe it’s FaceTiming someone you’ve missed or watching a cartoon you used to love as a child or putting on your favorite song and dancing like no one’s watching because you’re alive and it feels good to have another day.
2. What small thing can I do to take some sting out of this day?
In other words, what’s fueling the feelings that are getting you down? The anger, the fear, the helplessness, the frustration? I’m talking about boundaries here—and I know that establishing them and holding to them can be tough when we’ve been told all our lives to put ourselves last and give endlessly for the benefit of others. Yet boundaries are essential enough to the human condition that we see Jesus himself establishing them at overwhelming moments in his life and ministry.
Protecting oneself from toxic input isn’t selfish. It’s self-care.
And it frees up the energy we might expend on unnecessary nastiness so we can use it on more important things.
If your “sting” these days is too much news, pick one show you’ll watch and turn off the interminable flow of statistics and projections when it’s over. If it’s a pessimistic friend, limit the frequency and length of your contact—or suggest to him/her what topics you won’t discuss. If it’s conspiracy theories or incendiary comments, step away from their sources. The problem is that social media, right now, can be a form of connection as well as vitriol. So read what is good and unfollow those whose posts are toxic—at least for the moment. You can be friends and relatives in real life and not have to be exposed to what they share on Twitter every day if it’s sapping your optimism or stirring up your negative emotions.
Honestly, some of the sting in my own days right now is telling myself that I should be doing more. That I should be able to push beyond my COVID-constricted energy level and complete three days’ worth of tasks in one—because what else do I have to do, right? Wrong. It’s a self-defeating message that leads me directly into question #3.
3. What small thing can I do to make today feel purposeful?
With our bandwidths diminished by the toll of a changed life and unpredictable future, we might need to focus on bite-sized, achievable goals rather than the sky-high ideals that used to motivate us.
What kind of tiny task would feed a sense of accomplishment in you today—beyond those things you HAVE to do for your job or as a parent? Something that might have felt trivial a few weeks ago, but would feel really good to check off your list?
Deciding to bring order back to your life might be too big for now. But determining to make your bed when you crawl out of it could be a tiny habit that will satisfy and soothe in these quarantine days. Or…
- Doing one thing on your personal to-do list versus checking all the boxes.
- Writing that one email you’ve been putting off for weeks.
- Wiping the fingerprints off the fridge’s handle.
- Putting on real clothes before 10 am.
- Changing the litter box.
- Deleting old shows off your DVR.
Note that I didn’t say cleaning all the cupboards in the house. Answering all the emails in your inbox. Planting a whole garden or finishing an entire puzzle.
In our hyper-achieving world, what I’m suggesting may feel counterintuitive. Just cleaning out one cupboard? Just answering one email? Just putting together the first corner of a puzzle? Yes–because if there’s one thing a pandemic and a quarantine do, it’s sap the motivation to see the big things through.
What I’m suggesting isn’t stunted ambitions. They’re pandemic-adjusted intentions.
This season has been brutal in so many ways and we need to learn to give ourselves a bit of grace.
4. What small thing can I do today that will connect me with God?
Again, this odd new reality we’re living in has rewired parts of our brain. Even our spirituality might feel out of sorts right now—for good reason. Less present. More synthetic. Dissatisfied.
So the daily habits that used to feed our souls—like devotions, attending church or listening to religious podcasts—might feel savorless today. So disembodied and impersonal despite our church’s best intentions.
If you’re anything like me, what your soul needs right now is more than well-executed streamed worship services, a book on fortitude or Zoom-altered community. All still good—all still worthy—but maybe not the right nourishment for our weary, hope-sapped spirits.
“Tiny-small” might be just what you need to feel connected again—in a divine, life-quenching way. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite praise song first thing in the morning, arms up and eyes closed. Maybe its praying on your knees in only groans. Maybe it’s thanking God for one thing you’re grateful for. Maybe it’s just saying, “This stinks. It’s overwhelming. Help me to see you”…and sitting in silence, sensing that he’s near.
These small things—these tiny choices—have the power to soothe that distraught little voice inside that’s been saying things like:
And replacing that voice with another one that has seen and heard your authentic spirit and responds in love.
You’re scared – I get that.
You’re destabilized—rightfully so.
You’re missing all the “normal” you’ve lost and you’re doing small things because the big ones feel too huge. I know. I understand. It’s enough. Now exhale, give yourself grace and rest.
There’s a good chance that gentle voice is God’s.
That’s it. These are the four questions that are getting me through these discombobulated days. Sometimes my answers change. Sometimes they’re the same as yesterday. And sometimes I berate myself for thinking in such tiny-small ways. But this is a new world. A world that on really bad days can feel disquieting, community-depriving, routine-dismantling, inspiration-robbing and spirit-depleting world.
For right now. Not forever.
If narrowing the demands I put on myself—in as much as circumstances allow—will soothe my spirit with understanding and grace, until this is over… It seems not only good, but right for this time.
So my encouragement as we muddle through this crisis—with few certainties or predictable outcomes—to try those small things that brighten your outlook with a lightning bug version of hope. That fleeting spark that will feed your sense of self, of purpose, of accomplishment…and maybe even create an appetite for more.
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