Faith journey Rest

A new normal: life-giving rhythms in uncertain times

Everything has changed. Everything is changing. What was “normal” last week is impossible this week. Things we took for granted mere days ago seem out of reach today. One thing we can all agree on is adjusting to change is hard.

How are you coping?

If Facebook is to believed, we’ve got two camps: some who dismiss it all as overreaction and make light of the situation, and others who are in full panic mode, whether from the disruption of their lives (all you extroverts) or concern what the future may hold. I wrote about those extremes in light of the gospel last week.

We haven’t settled into a new normal yet, but we’re all looking for ways to cope as the world around us changes at an alarming pace.

Changing times in the Book of Exodus

Exodus is one of the most exciting books of the Bible – the burning bush, the 10 plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea – it’s the stuff of epic movies and rapid change. Can you imagine what it was like for those Israelites? I don’t know the timeline, but I do know it wasn’t long between Moses showing up with a message from God to the world around them changing forever.

We watch the Israelites adjust to the plagues. We read about their adjustment to the desert. We get a birds-eye view of adjusting to Moses’ leadership and the idea of God leading the way. So much change. So much adjustment.

And then…

Then we read chapter after chapter after boring chapter of rules.  How to treat your donkey.  What fair payment for an injured ox might be.  What kind of fabric to make temple curtains out of. How to celebrate different festivals.  Rule after rule after rule.

This is where I usually check out. I love reading about God’s miracles, I appreciate the stories in the Bible, but the never-ending litany of arcane rules bore me. BUT… since I believe all Scripture is God-breathed I follow a Bible reading plan and it just so happens I’m stuck in those never-ending chapters of rules – this new way of living.

Only… this time it all feels applicable, somehow.

No, not the instructions for terms of slavery (though my children may disagree).  Rather, the idea that a new way of living needs a new set of instructions.

Finding our new normal

The Israelites would have had rules for living they brought with them out of Egypt.  They could have continued with those, but God wanted them to make a new kind of normal – a normal that centred their lives around God.  A normal that loved justice. A normal that gave people a way out of slavery or poverty. A normal that promoted mercy. New kind of normal.

As our world changes rapidly around us, we’re all making a new kind of normal.

We can wait anxiously for the world to stabilize so we can go back to the way things were.

We can shut down and hide to wait it out.

Or we can find a new normal in the midst of it – maybe not a forever normal, but some standards to make life more God-centred, justice-oriented and life-giving even in this season.

We haven’t got it figured out, but here’s some of our family’s “rules” that are helping us in this season:

Rhythms breathe life

Rhythms are sanity savers. This isn’t news, but every summer we have to re-learn it so I’m trying to flatten the learning curve this time around.  We often have a week of the wild abandon of freedom when summer vacation begins, but it only takes a few days before “I’m bored,” begins.  Then sibling fights, grumbling, whining… it goes downhill pretty quickly. It’s taken me years to appreciate the structure of routine, even seasons like summer where it feels like it should be optional.

Now that I’m a fan, I actually race the other direction – the first day the kids were off school last week I had a full out schedule posted for us to follow: “8:00am – breakfast. 8:30am – make beds, empty dishwasher. 9:00am – homeschool starts.” Yeah, that kind of schedule. You can imagine how well that went.

We didn’t even make it past breakfast.

blank weekly calendar representing my need for schedules and routine

Here’s the truth of it: I don’t need a schedule, I need a rhythm.

I don’t need a schedule,

I need a rhythm.

I need to know what separates the morning from the afternoon, what makes weekends special and what a Sabbath looks like when I’m not going to work 5 days a week.  I need to know what I need to prepare for the next hour, day or week and when I can snag a break for myself. Rhythms help with this.

So my schedule is in the recycling bin, but rather than discarding the idea we just reworked it – removed time stamps and simplified the list. It looks more like a list of intentions than a to-do list now. And we’ve all agreed that all my lists and plans, schedules and ideas are not set in stone.  Write suggestions. Cross things off. Don’t worry about keeping to a schedule, but do embrace a rhythm.

Today, that meant when a friend facetimed the kids, we pressed pause to chat.  It also meant after an hour, when the conversation was becoming less helpful, I pulled the mom card, stepped in and told all 3 it was time to go and they could talk again after homeschooling was done.  It means lots of free time, but some structure to our lives as well. It’s not about rules, but it is about rhythm.

We find freedom in knowing “what’s next?” We find discipline in finishing one thing before the other. We mark time well.

Your rhythm is going to look different from mine. Not up for homeschooling? No big deal. Choosing screen time/play time/outdoor time may be the only rhythm you need – but some intentionality makes a big difference.

Our kids especially are used to structure and routine, and while there’s no need for the same structures they have in school, a sense of purpose and intention can go a long way in easing their anxieties as well. And it can make space for the much-needed self-care for us as well. “Leave me alone,” isn’t going to go over well when we feel like saying it every fifteen minutes. “One hour in your bedrooms after lunch where you can’t disturb me” (whether nap time for littles or enforced quiet time for older kids) means I can wait until after lunch to snag some sanity, and they know in an hour they can access me again.

What rhythm is giving your family life right now?

It’s not about me

Whether you’re inconvenienced or in crisis, we’re all focused on how we’re going to get through this time.  What do I need to survive homeschooling – something I swore up and down I would never do?  What do I need to stay sane, given my last attempts at being a stay at home mom made me miserable?  Where can I get the supplies I need? How can I get a break?

We’re all just trying to cope in this changing world, and I’ve needed to stop myself in my cycle of preparing and remember: it’s not just about me.

I’m not taking risks or going on playdates even though I’m pretty comfortable with that idea because it’s not about me.  

I’m also making myself get out of my comfort zone to reach out to people because it’s not about me. 

I lean more towards the introverted side on the personality scale, so I’m not really suffering much from social isolation. I get plenty of social interaction through what’s forced on me, and now that my family is home 24/7 there’s nothing I crave more than complete silence.

Left on my own, I would 100% retreat… and be happy doing so.

But… it’s not about me.  So I added something else to my new normal: actually initiate connection every day.  

Honestly, I hate the phone.  I don’t even go on Facebook naturally. Even as a teenager, my mom had to threaten to take away my books to force me to call a friend. 

But these days, I am making the promise: I will call one friend every day. Because it’s not about me.

black old fashioned rotary telephone - call a friend every day.

Here’s where I beg you extroverts: get on the phone yourselves.  Enjoy each other’s company. Have conference video chats and be social.  You need each other! Don’t rely on your introverted friends to meet all your social needs because we can’t.  But my promise to you is that I won’t hide, either. Because it’s not about me.

Who needs you today? You probably can’t go and give a hug, but you can call. You can send a card. You can do something.

I’m seeing beautiful expressions of this lately:

Our church offering a “Hello Neighbour” service where if you don’t have someone checking in on you, we’ll do it: someone will call you every day or two just to see how you are and remind you that you are not alone and not forgotten. You may not have anything so formal, but maybe there’s a neighbour or a relative who could use a daily call just to say “you are not alone.”

I’m hearing of people calling nursing homes and asking for names of people who are isolated right now and sending home made cards and letters.

We can do this.

Instead of being so focused on ourselves – the natural response to any crisis – take a look around and see who needs you today.

#onegoodthing challenge

Even in good times, negativity can be overwhelming. And as one day blurs into another, I needed some way to mark time that was beautiful. It started with a personal challenge to take one beautiful picture per day.  One day this will all be over and I want to be able to look back at this season and remember not only the fear, panic and crisis, but the gifts in this time.

As my daughters watched me (because lets face it, I am being watched 24/7 these days) and asked what I was doing, they wanted in on it.

So we’re making it a family event, finishing each day with choosing one good thing about the day to share.

#onegoodthing - bouquet of flowers, watercolour bookmarks art project, The Beattitudes in fancy script and a laughing child on a trampoline - a montage of good things that have happened as a result of staying home.

I love what we’re coming up with:  Playing board games together was my favourite.  Painting – when was the last time I painted? – was my good thing today.

But my 8 year old said it best:

“Having time,” was her good thing of the day.  

Yes, we have time now.

And in that time, we’re choosing to focus on the good.

Wouldn’t that be a gift, if our social media feeds were full of #onegoodthing pictures of the bird outside your window, the card you mailed to a stranger today, the worship song that touched your soul? Spread some positivity in the midst of the darkness!

Finding your new normal

I know the longer we stay in social distancing, the more structure we’ll need for our new normal, but for now this is what’s spurring us along.

It’s not much and it’s a lot.  It’s nothing and it’s everything.  But it’s giving us grace with each other, stopping the 1000 questions of “what’s next” and “I’m bored,” complaints and reminding us that we’re not just stuck in a waiting zone, we’re living a new normal.

The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.  They had to create a new normal just for life in the desert. Those lessons weren’t wasted on them when they moved to the Promised Land – they formed the basis of what that new normal would look like.

I’m confident that this too shall pass, but I suspect life on the other side of this season will have some long-lasting changes.  And we’ll face that when it comes trusting God then, too. Still, I’m hoping that some of these new normals – spreading positivity, leaning into life-giving rhythms and of remembering it’s not just about me will last through the next season as well.

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

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