When normal changes suddenly, we flounder. Like a girl learning to swim who is suddenly required to jump in the deep end, our heart rates race, and all we learned before evaporates in the panic. We flail, our arms and legs somehow moving enough to get us to the side of the pool, though we know not how. The lessons aren’t over though, and to our dismay, the next day, the next lesson comes, and we are told to jump in again.
Living through this pandemic can feel like learning to swim in the deep end. It is easy to focus on what we don’t know, on the breadth and depth of the communal and personal tragedy, and on the fear itself that rises in our pulses. But we do know things that will help us, and we can help each other remember them. We can learn, we can adjust, and, most importantly, we can find God in these new circumstances. He is still here.
Simplifying is always helpful when overwhelmed. Not only does taking small actions and having small successes build our capacity, but it keeps us connected to the truth that our small and finite beings are held in the cherishing hands of the infinite and great God. We are children of God, and in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) Simply, it comes down to this relationship in our experiences now. What can we do to realize the fact that we are attached by love to our father? Here are the five, once-a-day practices that I have learned to be grounding and fruitful in my new normal.
1. Take Your Deep Breath: One Anchoring Spiritual Practice
For me this has been practicing centering prayer, sometimes known as contemplative prayer, for twenty minutes in the morning. This has been a profound encounter with Jesus in the heart of myself. For you it may be meditating on Scripture, walking in nature with God, worshiping with music, or lighting a candle and following the Book of Common Prayer. What is important is that it be a way that you can do every day that makes space for God and nourishes you. Don’t be afraid to choose something different than your norm. Go with the idea that shimmers with invitation for you, that seems intriguing. And choose ONE thing.
When I have piled on different ways of connecting with God, or tried too many different things, it contributes to the overwhelm. Social media has been especially unhelpful here. I have found myself scrolling social media for things to feed my soul. I keep hoping the next person’s angle will give me the hope I’m looking for, but instead it’s generally hitting my spirit as empty and tasteless.
This has nothing to do with the quality or guidance of what I’m finding: it has everything to do with the state of my soul. No one else can give me what only God can give. I cannot consume encouraging messages, prayer videos, even blog posts like this one, and expect my soul to grow. My soul needs quality, not quantity, in this time especially. We need to go deep, and we need it to be personal. Anchor yourself in a practice that brings you to encounter Jesus. This tends to work best at the beginning of the day.
2. Practice Envisioning: One Thing to Look Forward To
If you’re going to learn to swim well, you have to imagine what it will be like to achieve it. Along the way, your teachers give out stickers or ribbons with congratulations. Every lesson was garnished with praise.
Every day, we are confronted with challenge and change, and it helps our dopamine-hungry brains endure the struggle, by rewarding ourselves with something along the way. God knows how reward works for us children! Is it not the reward of his presence that has us seeking heaven, seeking the kingdom? Sometimes in our penchant to do things right, to be responsible and accountable, we forget that God is engaged in joy, in giving and receiving good gifts. Look for his invitation to encounter him in a simple enjoyment.
After all my work of homeschooling, my own schooling, housekeeping,etc., I have a small bowl of chocolate chips or jelly beans while I watch a fictional, fun show, often with my husband. I look forward to ending my day this way, and I feel released from the challenges of the day.
For my mom it’s a glass of wine, for my husband it’s watching our show together, for my daughter it’s coloring a picture while listening to a podcast, for my other daughter it’s drawing, and for my son it’s playing Minecraft. This tends to work best toward the end of the day.
3. Learn Together: Reach Out to One Person (outside your family)
I am a strong introvert, and I am now sheltering in place with my family of six. As you can imagine, that can get stressful for me. We have to be aware of each other’s needs, honest with each other, and working together so each is connected in the ways they need.
So I have been surprised to find how much I enjoy getting Marco Polo’s, texts, phone calls, and so on from friends. How much more valuable is it for an isolated extrovert to have this! Reaching out to those separated from you is good for our souls. Fight the downside of isolation by reaching out. Now is not the time to take offense at the friend who rarely calls, or the family member who waits for you to connect. For some of you, reaching out to one person is not enough, and you might be challenged more to engage the silence you find yourself in and not avoid it. Reach out to one person and tell them about this struggle, ask for their prayers and support as you try to find God in the silence. He is there, too.
4. Remember it’s not all struggle: Do Something Fun
My brother has worked for years in aid work, yet he has not given in to cynicism, depression, or defeatism. He has maintained his humor, purposely connecting with things that make him laugh and enjoy life. I am given to seriousness, and it’s taken me a long time to realize that he’s not being callous or fake or untrue to his calling. In fact, he is being wise and wholehearted by embracing all of life. God gifts us good, he brings us laughter and joy, and it becomes even more imperative when we are in the midst of difficulty to hold on to the fun.
What is fun for you? Is it playing a game, doing skits, drawing, watching a comedy? The possibilities are many—again pay attention to what stirs your curiosity when picking this. It may be a different or new activity than you would normally pick. Over the last few weeks for me, this has run the gamut from jumping on a trampoline, to doing Just Dance with my kids, playing Dutch Blitz, to coloring, gardening, and finding new recipes. In this I have found it better not to insist on one particular activity every day, rather, just making sure I choose one that appeals for that day is better.
5. Be informed, not invaded: Check on the news only once (and choose a time when you are grounded)
It’s important to be informed, but by what and whom? Check your sources. If your days are informed more by media than it is by God and the people in your house, your soul is under attack.
In our house you have to seek out the news to hear it. Our airwaves are filled with each other’s voices. We do not have a TV or radio on, and we have turned off our news notifications so that we engage with the world when we choose to. For me that means, either in the morning after I have prayed, or after dinner (after we have prayed), I read through the news. I find my heart is moved and I intercede for the world, for people I know, etc., but I am not haunted and overwhelmed by it all. Throughout the day I am thinking about various individuals and situations, but I am able to hold them in my heart with God, not succumb to despair. I am strengthened by my connections, not over-burdened.
Remember, our souls are housed in our bodies, so what affects our bodies affect our souls and likewise. Mind, heart, body, soul—however you compartmentalize yourself, they together make you unique, and are all ways to engage with our God who loves us and never leaves us. Wherever you find yourself, God is there. I pray these five ways will anchor you in him as you learn to swim in this new environment. Shalom!
Having been a burnt-out leader in the church, Kimberley Mulder discovered her pace with grace, and now writes to sustain your soul as you serve at www.KimberleyMulder.com. She loves to tend souls with a listening ear and a reflective heart, and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Ministry at Portland Seminary with the goal of becoming a Spiritual Director. The outdoors is always calling her name, so when not tethered to a computer, you can find her exploring, gardening, and taking pictures anywhere outside of four walls (some of which make their way on to Instagram @writerkimberleymulder). Her husband and three kids journey with her, adding purpose, delight, and depth to her one and precious life.