finding the gifts

How are you today?

I suspect most of us are reeling — for days, now, we have been trying to make plans, put things in place, protect those who are most in need. And suddenly we are told to stop.

We will, of course, keep doing those things — but first we must stop. Re-think how. Go out as seldom as possible, and as purposefully as possible, so that we don’t carelessly throw away life.

I believe deep in my bones that this is not a day for doing, but for stoping. Be still. Notice what you are feeling. Hear the deep longing of your heart and the whisper of God. This is a day for breathing.

And as we breathe, we can begin to choose: how will you use this time?

I know that I am one of the lucky ones right now: I like solitude. I like silence. I have done this before. Once before in my life, I took a year out — after a bruising time — to heal and to think and to be. It was one of the happiest years of my life, despite all the worry of my extroverted friends who couldn’t imagine how I was coping.

So, what follows is plan for coping — for finding the gifts of this unexpected time.

Step one: just be

This week, whatever happens is fine. Experiment. Figure out what time your body wakes up naturally. When you need to go to bed. Notice the ups and the downs, the worries and the possibilities. We are grieving right now, and grief takes a lot of energy. Go gently with yourself.

Step two: decide on patterns

Most of us rely on external prompts to structure our days, our weeks, our years. Suddenly, we must create these things ourselves.

It is worth thinking about rhythms for the week, as well as rhythms for the day. If you know that Tuesday is the day you will do shopping, it will help you realise that that thing you think you need on Saturday can wait. If you know that Friday is the day you will cook a proper meal and make dessert, it will help you be sensible on Tuesday when you really want to make cookies, but know that you only have a few eggs left.

Step three: give yourself permission

Part of the gift of a set pattern is that it helps you give yourself permission for those things that bring joy. If Thursday is your big house-cleaning day, then Wednesday is free for something else. Decide what. Then know, all day Wednesday, that it is OK that you are not hoovering, bleaching, dusting, digging, or even going out to help someone (unless there is sudden need). This is your day for joy. You are free to read, write, paint, sew — do whatever you have chosen. It’s OK.

Step four: stay connected

When I took a year out, I was extraordinarily lucky. I had the week days to myself, and the weekends with people I loved. This time there will be no delightful dinner parties or long walks in beautiful places. But we still need our friends.

For introverts, it’s worth taking the unexpected blessing of this time for deep solitude and silence. Take a day — or two — each week when you speak to no one. But the other days, be intentional about talking with the people who make you who you are.  All those friends you have lost track of — the ones there is never time to see? This is the time. Call them. Don’t worry if it’s been five months, or five years. Call them. We simply do not know, right now, which of our friends we have seen for the last time: it is time, now, to reach out and give thanks for the ones you love.

But also: this is a time when it would be easy to draw your circle too small. I have heard so many say, ‘I’m fine. I have my family.’ Yes. But down the street there is someone who has no family, or whose family is ill, and whose phone does not ring all day. At least twice a week, reach out to someone who isn’t your close friend, and just see how they are. Take the initiative. Ring a neighbour, a colleague you wouldn’t normally talk to outside of work, someone you vaguely know through a shared activity.  They will tell you if they’d rather not speak — but more likely, they will be grateful to know that someone cares.

For extroverts: you know what to do. Ring. Ring. Ring.

step five: even grief has rhythms

As time goes on, you will have good days and bad. Some weeks will fly by, and you will be at peace — happy even. At other times, your mood will drop, and everything will be hard, and all the loss will rise up and overwhelm you. You just need to ride the waves, and know that light and laughter will come again.

But also: notice the patterns. Sundays were my bad days. I would start off hopeful enough — and with the gift of public worship, which will be denied us for a while. But by afternoon, I was impossible to be around: sad, angry, tearful as I stood at the edge of the huge gaping hole in my life. That very misery was part of how God worked, part of what taught me that I wasn’t going to be able to escape priesthood, that I was being called home.

For you it will be different — but there will we something that you miss disproportionately, that makes you cross and sad, and that will teach you the shape of your deepest longing. What is the thing you cannot live without? That is where you will one day put your energy when this time of exile is done.

We are being given a chance to reinvent our world.

The grief and pain will be beyond our imagining, and we will have no where to hide from it. But God will not abandon us. We are being given a gift of time, to learn ever more deeply: we are loved.

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