I am writing this on Day 13 of self-quarantine after returning from Paris. It’s been an interesting and rewarding experience for all of us. I have gained a myriad of perspectives as this pandemic has descended upon us.
Some insights are obvious. Our family is together, in one place, and we are not able to go out. For me, at least there is yard work I can do, but primarily, we remain inside. Of course, we engaged each other as a family. The kids are homeschooled by their mom. I work from home. We are trying to make the most of the time – even sharing a few of our favorites while stuck at home. You can find much on social media or the news written about this: cultivating family time, disciplining yourself, staying active, & keeping fit.
Our self quarantine began with a bang. On day one, we instituted a schedule. What did that look like? It meant being up and around to have breakfast together at 8am. For me, knowing you’ll be home all day, there is the temptation to stay up late the night before. Why not start a movie….at 11pm? Why not keep reading late into the morning hours? Yet the alarm bell rings, the “reveille” is called, and we are up to win the day.
Less obvious are things you rely on in your day to day that suddenly are gone – things you feel you need. There is no longer a day to day routine of meetings, agendas, and goals. Suddenly there is time to rest – quite a bit of time. Rest is not something that comes naturally to me. Time without scheduled activities forces me to realize I am not in control. But rest has shown me I base my self-worth on activity: getting things done, nurturing a relationship over lunch, making a plan, or implementing the plan. Our identities are often synonymous with our careers & how we schedule our day to day activities build upon that. We want to get it done and get it done well. When the resources of interpersonal contact are taken away, and you are left in isolation, you see much of your work and your life is out of your control. I have been humbled when I am left with my thoughts. In this time, I am working on developing internal resources to help me grow and mature. Time in isolation gives me ample opportunity to do so.
Temptations for anxiety and falling prey to anxiety are also plenty. It’s hard to let go of my efforts to control. I now have permission to take time to rest my mind, body, and soul. This time of isolation is forcing me to live an unforced life. If I force myself to make a plan for everything & try to execute it, the worry and anxiety simply heightens.
There is time for reflection. There are so many examples of individuals who’ve been honed in isolation. I think of Nelson Mandela in a small prison cell with a lone window for twenty years. It forged his internal life to lead others well. I think of others in prison now. I think of those who are ill and confined to a room and bed. I think of the elderly, who simply long for a visit. These people are often alone left with their thoughts. What are those thoughts we get absorbed in and where do they take us? This is why growing a deep, internal reserve is so important.
There is time to read, and I recommend it. A mentor told me recently, “We may never have another time in our lies for such an extensive period to read and reflect. Use it wisely.” Not simply reading a lot, but reading deeply. It was Harry Truman who said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” I find myself drawn to history and theology. I like to read slowly, to think about what I just read, to even think about how it was written. I now have the time to do so.
There is time for the marriage. You can communicate with your spouse, listen to one another, and be thoughtful. You can serve one another. My wife will spend a lot of time each evening simply thinking, meditating, and reflecting. Where she is naturally internally focused, I am naturally externally based. This has caused misunderstanding and conflict. It has been a constant process of seeing one another for who we are and really considering the other’s point of view and emotion. Such intentionality allows us to seek out what compliments the other and how we can hone and grow one another. I’m so thankful for my wife. Marriage is intended for this lifelong growth and teaching. Each spouse is really teaching the other, often without him or her realizing it. We’ve experienced this in our quarantine.
I’ve learned what’s most important is not out there, whether in a strategic meeting or the wild blue yonder. It’s right in front of me – every day. My grandfather said to my family nearing the end of his fight with cancer, “I’ve spent my whole life searching for that pot of gold. It’s always been right here.” I hope that stays at the fore of my mind and life after self quarantine.
This is an opportune time and will continue to be so. People are more reflective, sensitive, and receptive to one another. Our opportunities begin in the home with those there who’ve been there all along. The ones right in front of us. In all of my own headlong ambitions for pioneering work, I’ve seen anew the greatest work of the home, to drill down deep, and to cultivate the life of a marriage, the life of a child, or the life of a close loved one.
We’ve all been given the time to do so, each day, regardless of what the day brings.
When we arrived back from Paris this spring break, I had no idea numerous cities in the United States would be slowly shutting down to essential services. As a recent visitor to a hotspot in Europe, we were mentally prepared for 14 days of self quarantine on the plane ride back. We knew our oldest might miss some school and have to make up assignments from home. As a family member and the Delta booking agent forewarned us when we departed France, we didn’t realize we were returning to a chaotic, unpredictable feel in the United States.
The first stunner for our family: no school for 2 weeks and possible distance learning the rest of the semester. My middle child with autism and I were rocking a nice rhythm in homeschooling. The emotional jolt of homeschooling all 3 boys took me over a week to recover from. How will I survive unending family time with my kids? The second stunner for my marriage: no live sports broadcasts and no formal gatherings of church services (my husband is a pastor). Seemingly from the sky, the two outlets for my husband were swooped away into quietness. The third stunner for our country: as we read the news, the timeline of COVID-19’s exponential spread gripped our hearts, as everyone else’s, that this season of social distancing may last more than a mere two weeks.
What do you do when you can’t see the ones you love, hug buddies you suddenly realize are an integral part of your life, grab coffee with that person who always has just the right words, eat birthday cake and sing songs out of harmony together, joyfully exclaim over a mom-to-be opening sweet gifts, grab a quick dinner with children climbing over furniture and smearing pizza everywhere, or ritually mourn en masse the passing of a family member? It’s unsettling. It’s just not LIFE. Let’s just say it.
How do you cope when you are isolated & disconnected from everyday life? For some parts of the world, it’s a luxury to be in a nice home & enjoy quiet time. I am thankful we finished our home renovation before COVID-19. But more so, I see how challenging sacrifice is in times of fear. After people or families have exhausted every homemade craft, binged on the best of Netflix and Amazon Prime, cooked enough home-cooked meals, and organized their closets for a 4th time, the reality will sit in.
We are giving up a lot of freedoms to flatten the curve. We are giving up a lot of joys to save other people’s lives. For many of us, we have been sedentary, trying to patch together our days at home. Those who are busy – healthcare workers, government leaders, nursing home staff, warehouse workers – are undeterred and needing our prayers. Our natural inclination is selfishness – a Christian worldview that is hard to deny. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we can focus on what we don’t have, what fears tomorrow may bring, what milestones are being missed. They are real.
Being in self quarantine with the whole world screeching to a halt, I have learned the “productiveness of my day” is really based on emotional highs. Why does it take a pandemic for us to have time for an honest conversation with a spouse, a heart-to-heart with a child, a Zoom conference with old friends we never see? We all want to feel connected and be seen. This is a basic human desire – regardless of age, gender, intellectual ability, nationality, race, or religion.
Being alone at home with no agenda, I have sat with my emotions. For many of us, we have been more still than we ever had. My day no longer swirls around a “to-do” list. I wake up asking myself how can I bring purpose to today? Yes, you might have unexpected financial burdens or emotional anxiety (homeschooling!), but in the long scheme of life, your most basic need is to feel connected and be seen today. Facebook and social media exploded to meet this very need.
Perhaps it’s being over 40, but I no longer desire to have my life dictated by fear. We can let our lives be run by “what if” or “fear of missing out” or the “silent constant dread” of death’s finality. You have today. Today is a gift. What are you going to do with it? What are you running from? For many of us, fear is a deeper issue than worrying about good grades for our kids, desiring financial security, finding the perfect soulmate, or advocating for a signature cause.
We are running from being still. It scares us. It scares us to be alone. It scares us to watch our creature comforts fall to the wayside as the world grapples with a global invisible enemy. What will the new normal be? Will we return to life as before? It scares us to be alone with our thoughts. We can’t get off social media or off our phones because life feels more alive when we are connected and seen. It’s true. We have that basic need. We just can’t connect the dots and see our need for connection will never be satisfied by staying busy or distracted or occupied.
The greatest gift I have given to myself in self quarantine is to examine all my thoughts and how they are connected to emotional highs. I am the ultimate procrastinator, but it has nothing to do with a poor work ethic. It has to do with unresolved emotions I don’t want to face. When I engage in an action that is self determining (I am going to get up today and take care of my body) and not just let life happen (how did I run out of time?), I am taking a risk. What if I don’t follow through? If I fail, will I be able to get up and try again? Will I trust myself tomorrow? It’s easier to find friends on Facebook to commiserate with and laugh off my nagging feeling of failure than to try again tomorrow.
When you are still, you face your failures and unmet dreams. It’s the hardest thing in life to face. Ask any struggling teenager about their failures and unmet dreams, and you have found their heart. To avoid that feeling, we find emotional highs that keep us in auto pilot. We should be unmoved by fear. We should be fearless. Our human spirit and, as a Christian, our hope in a risen One who has overcome, is indomitable.
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). This has changed me. As John Hugh mentioned, some of our greatest leaders have been forged in isolation. Being still excavates your soul. Don’t miss the opportunity. Don’t fall back into busyness, distraction, and rushing around to avoid the deep truth waiting inside you. You are seen and you are connected. You don’t need to run away from failures. You don’t have to let your day be gripped by fear. You have great courage. It starts with being still and quiet. It starts with seeking a presence greater than your own.
ARE YOU STILL MOVING? YES…
Yes, we are still planning on moving to Paris to start an international English speaking church. Yes, we hope to move this summer 2020. There are so many unknowns. We want our children to enroll for school this fall. We cannot leave until we raise 80% of our support. We are committed to this mission, regardless of a pandemic or other deterrents. If you are interested in partnering, please join us in our journey today.
THANKS FOR READING!
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