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Spiritual Rhythms in the Time of Coronavirus

Here are two facts about me that have emerged since starting our COVID-19 distance learning experience:

  1. When I am stressed I get a single hive on my upper lip. It has popped up several times during the COVID-19 crisis, and I can only conclude that it's stress-related. There's also a two inch spot on my left leg that itches when this one hive comes up. Totally normal, right?
  2. I use my work to ignore relational stress. Now, I have always considered myself a conflict-approaching kind of person. I teach a course in conflict and negotiation, so generally, I am the person to hash things out. However, staying in my house with my son (7), daughter (4), and spouse (middle-aged), it appears I have some deeply entrenched habits of ducking out of challenges in relationships by escaping into work.

Having no physical boundary between my work and home life has meant that the two must merge. See, when parenting gets hard, I've always had the option to head to work for the day and silence my anxieties about how my child might develop into a rebellious teen or worse, a reality TV star. I can just answer a few emails when I'm frustrated with my spouse for not being an emotionally expressive male lead in a romantic comedy. I've never seen this escape as a coping mechanism until now, when my family and work coexist. For instance, I just stopped writing to have a serious conversation with my kids about why they need to either go outside or stop talking about flatulence and which species would win in a farting contest ("a hippo or the earth giants from Frozen 2?").
So, actually, I suppose I've learned exactly one thing since COVID-19 shut me out of my office on campus: I don't pay attention to my own stress. I block it out in whatever way I can. Eventually, my body spoils my game of pretend. Hives are a warning sign. One time my appendix ruptured, but that's for another day. The point is, this shouldn't be news. (My divisional dean is smirking right now because, well, we've discussed this before.) When stress rises, I begin to work so fast and with such immersion that nothing else matters until my body forces me to stop. I drive my body like I drive my car. I don't get gas until I'm nearly out of fuel, as though my car and I have a bet to see how far I can go without running out of gas (ask Dr. de los Santos about that one time). I'm busy.

Amaro Family

This escapism does not just affect my body. It reflects and maintains the hurried state of my soul. There is little slowness in my spirit—you'll agree if you listen to how fast I talk (I'm just excited, okay?). Dallas Willard once said, "Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day." Hurry leaves no room for prayer, reflection, or peace. A hurried person cannot respond to Jesus' simple call in Matthew 11: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." A hurried person cannot respond because, well, hurry suggests that you do not trust God's promise for rest. Hurry suggests that we respond more to inadequacy, fear, and guilt than to our actual needs, and the needs of others. Indeed, my own escape into productivity reflects a core delusion that if I can make [insert task] work, maybe that will ease the pain I refuse to feel. Across our world right now, emotional pain is acute: the pain of uncertainty, fear, isolation, irritation, and disappointment. When I most crave rest, as I do now in the midst of a global crisis, I have to fight the tyranny of the urgent to find it.
Over Spring Break (was that only four weeks ago?), I read a book called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, which I commend to you as a word for our times. He discusses the cultural background of hurry and offers a beautiful vision of the spiritual practices of silence and solitude, Sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. Suddenly, I'm taking these seriously. Specifically, we're taking Sabbath seriously. No work. No phone. And it's getting me through this crisis. When I think about the fact that I will teach online and homeschool my kids until mid-June and then have them home with no social outlets possibly all summer, I get a little panicky and want to, you know, rewrite my dissertation. But I can make it to Sunday. Here's what a COVID-19 Sabbath looks like in our home:

  • Prep on Saturday: have the house picked up and food prepped so that we're not cooking a lot. Phones off after dinner. Reasonable bedtime.
  • Sleep in on Sunday. (NB: That's 7 a.m. with kids.)
  • Pancakes and worship music.
  • Online church in jammies. No other screens for the day.
  • Hike, walk, bike, or play.
  • Extended time reading the Word.
  • More reading. Read a novel, read theology, read a cookbook, but read an actual, physical book.
  • Quiet. I use this time for journaling and prayer. (With kids, this could last for 10 minutes or an hour, depending on how many arguments they get in once they're ushered outside because they can't be quiet.)
  • Do puzzles, play board games, just talk.
  • Eat slow meals of delicious food and good wine (not the kids), lingering at the table. Paper plates only (we compost, calm down).

The first week was hard. I was twitchy with an inability to sit still. The second one—last week--was delicious, as though my soul needed it. Certainly, our historical moment requires a slower pace that is foreign to most in the United States. There's never been an easier time to take a Sabbath.
So, how are you responding? Are you resting or are you escaping into work or Netflix? Or are you choosing to believe the promises of a God who offers rest by accepting the slowness set out for you in this season?
Here's another fact: since stopping work on Sundays, my other days have been slower, more peaceful, and actually more productive. And my hive stopped. I can't wait for Sunday.

Lauren Amaro
Dr. Lauren Amaro is Associate Professor of Communication at Seaver College, with expertise in health and family communication. She is spouse to Carlos and mom to Caleb and Naomi. Read more of her writing at www.laurenamaro.com.