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Spiritual diary of self-isolation: God's grace as a lifeline

Lynne Baab • Thursday March 19 2020

Spiritual diary of self-isolation: God's grace as a lifeline

A lifeline is the line or rope used to keep contact with someone in a dangerous situation, such as a diver or astronaut. What is the danger in the covid-19 pandemic? Obviously the virus itself, but for Christians an additional major danger is that we will lose hope in God, that we will let our anxieties obliterate Christ’s “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Two weeks ago my husband and I chose almost total self-isolation because my husband has a chronic lung disease. In my post two days ago, I wrote about two lifelines for me in the past two weeks:

1. Nature
2. Kindness to the people we are isolated with

I found a lovely website with lots of practical ideas for nurturing well-being in this pandemic. Many of the ideas on the list are exactly what I want to write about in these posts:

3. Connect with people
4. Decide on your routine
5. Try to keep active
6. Find ways to relax and be creative
7. Keep your mind stimulated
8. Put some limits around your consumption of news
9. Do whatever has worked in the past to help you cope with feelings of claustrophobia or anxiety

All of those things matter, but it won’t be easy to figure out the routines that work in this pandemic because so much is new, and so much is unknown. In some ways, #1 on the list needs to be this: Go easy on yourself as you try to establish new routines. Accept God’s grace for yourself and others as you blunder around trying to figure out how to make this work.

All of us who are doing any form of social distancing, sheltering in place, or self-isolation really don’t know how to do this in a spiritually healthy way. We are learning a new thing. We will experiment, get it wrong, need to make adjustments, and try again.

I can’t believe how often I have fallen into self-critical thoughts in the past two weeks. I want impress on my brain this truth: There is absolutely no way you will get self-isolation “right” the first time. You have never done this before. God’s grace is real for you in this situation as you try to do your best to cope.

I’ll give an example. Monday is my Sabbath. Often on Mondays I spend a half hour or hour online first thing in the morning in order to clear my email for the day. Every second Monday night, my women’s prayer group meets. My husband and I pray together in a leisurely way on Mondays, usually for about 40 minutes. I cook a little bit on Monday. Otherwise I go “down, down, down,” reading some news and lots of magazines and novels.

Monday of last week I ordered food online for the first time in my life. I ordered at 8 am, and it was delivered at noon. Monday of this week, I sat at my laptop with my shopping list, tried to set up the order, and kept getting a notice that certain foods were not available. Finally, after wrestling with the grocery list for way too long, I placed the order only to find out the first available delivery spot was Wednesday. I had felt led by God to post my blog post about self-isolation on Monday instead of Tuesday or Wednesday, so next I did that, but there were tweaks I wanted to make before posting. A kind friend had texted the day before to say she could get me some groceries, and I had asked her to get frozen vegetables, which I didn’t want to order online. I figured out some other things I’d like her to get, based on the fact the groceries weren’t going to arrive for a few days, so I texted her. Then I had to look around the kitchen to see what we might eat for the two days until the rest of the groceries arrived.

By the time I finished all this in the late morning, my husband was ready to pray together, always a lovely time. But normally by the time we pray, I have been reading for a couple of hours. I did read in the afternoon, but I never really went “down, down, down” as I normally do. The day had already been too complicated, and like so many other people, I have a lot of free-floating anxiety about this virus.

In the evening, my women’s group met by zoom for the first time. Again, a lovely time. But I was the one who had set up the zoom room for us to use, and there were complications that I had to figure out.

I had a really hard time getting to sleep that night, and my inner voices were saying this: What’s wrong with you? You’re an expert on Sabbath keeping. You’ve been doing it for 40 years. You’ve written a book, a Bible study guide, and numerous articles about it. You should be able to do it well, and just look at the mucked-up day you just had. Now you’re not sleeping well, and you have things to write tomorrow. This catastrophe is your fault!

No, it’s not a catastrophe, and no, it’s not my fault. This is a normal learning curve. I’ve never kept a Sabbath in the middle of a pandemic. Obviously I need to order food on another day. I need to figure out meals for Monday ahead of time. If I’m going to post something on this blog on Monday, it needs to be completely ready ahead of time. I also need to think more about spiritual practices that help me access God’s peace, and I need to engage in them every day including my Sabbath. I can make these changes to my long-established routine. But I want to do them in an attitude of extending grace to myself and letting myself rest in God’s peace that passes all understanding.

I’ll keep writing about lifelines. Right now my biggest lifeline is living into God’s grace for me in this extremely weird time. May God help you rest in grace and peace today, too.

Next post (later this week or early next week): more lifelines. Illustration by Dave Baab: me on a typical Sabbath day. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, I would be delighted. Sign up below.

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