Apr 30, 2021
Six Lessons from a Season:
Teaching, Learning and Living in a Pandemic
During this year, many people (including me) have experienced uncertainty and turbulence in the midst of navigating the global pandemic. As I've persevered, I've stopped and reflected on what I've learned through this season of life. Here are my six most important lessons.
1. Connect to community.
Relationships are what matter at the end of life. People do not sit at their deathbed and worry about their finances, their house, or their jobs. If they do, they are trivial and passing thoughts that only appear for moment. Instead, they think of the people they know, and the people that knew them. They think of the regrets that weighed them down and the impact they wish they had made in the world. They think of the missed opportunities for relationships because they were simply too busy. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.
All of us will live with regret and look back at our lives with areas for self-improvement, but that does not have to define us. Like all of us, I’ve lived through one of the most unique times in history. The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our world, both in its impact of taking lives but also in influencing the social and emotional health of people. It has caused many of us, even those who are not extroverted like me, to see their need for others. Community has been limited in many ways, and while there are many viewpoints on lockdowns, vaccines, and every thing else this pandemic has created, I believe that this truth should be universally accepted: we need people. We were not made to be alone - to go about working alone, thinking alone, or even eating alone.
I implore you, in whatever way you can, to cultivate community. Find people you need and that need you, and then hold closely to them. We need others to process our world, experience our lives, and process what is important.
2. Create a time cushion.
At the beginning of the year, I made a decision wake up at 4 a.m. Every weekday, I devoted to spend time unrushed, solely focused on my personal goals at the earliest hour I could imagine being awake. Here’s why.
It came from a book by Jay Shetty called, “Think Like a Monk.” Through it, he shares many lessons and practices from being a monk for several years. The topic that stuck out the most was one that has always been a value in my life: routine. In this chapter, he said, “create a time cushion at the beginning of your day or you’ll spend the rest of the day searching for one.” I realized that the reason I was so rushed throughout the day was because I had never planned for unplanned time. There was no space to breathe, to slow down, and to think. Since I was already a morning person, I considered his challenge in the book, which was to wake up an hour earlier than you do currently. At the time I was waking up at 5 a.m., so my first thought was, “are you kidding me?” But I did it.
I thought it might only last a few weeks, but over four months later I’m still going strong. It’s because I needed what I think we all need: time and space to process what is going on around us. Life is busy, and many of our over-planned schedules make life pass by too quickly. If we don’t stop regularly to process, life moves so fast that we lose track of what we are learning, why we are doing things, and who we are. It doesn’t have to be at 4 a.m., but we all need a time cushion.
3. Life has eternal value - prioritize what’s important.
Everything you are doing, from reading this to the way you start your day tomorrow, has eternal value. Every choice you make builds into something else, so it’s important to realize what you are doing, and whether or not it matters.
One of the best ways I’ve heard this idea summarized comes from a pastor named Andy Stanley. Stanley has written over 27 books, and he says that when he’s asked how he has been able to write so many books he answers with this: “while you were watching TV.” Wow. It’s a response that might sound arrogant, but what he’s getting at is that if you want your life to count, if you want to look back with less regret, you have to prioritize what is important today. He decided that TV was something that would get in the way of what is important for him, and there is something like that for all of us. This does not mean your life must be constantly productive, but you should realize that it all has eternal value, and it all builds.
Take a moment to envision what you would like your life to look like in several decades, or if you are elderly, in a few years time. Now think through what kind of character qualities, disciplines, and choices you need to develop in order to become that person. What would you like to be doing, or have done? Whatever it is, it starts with a choice today.
4. Be fully present.
One of the most terrible distractions in our world today may be sitting in your pocket right now. Or it may be the television screen in the other room. Either way, it is a piece of technology, and these devices distract us from a meaningful life if we let them. The reason is simple: technology, while a gift, can take us away from an important relational skill - being fully present.
Being present is a skill and a behavior that is becoming lost in our society. People are always distracted, always running from one thing to the next or looking at screens when they should be looking at people. But again, relationships are what matter at the end of life, so it’s important to be present with those you love. Often times, we do not decompress our brains enough to be present in the moment, to see the world for what it is in that split second. It worries me, because I know that when I do this, I lose the gratitude of what is in front of me. If we are too worried about what is going to happen later or fretting about what already happened, then we completely miss what is happening now. Then, by the time we come to the future moment we are anxious for, we are not prepared or rested for it because we spent so much time out of the moment.
The strange irony is that preparing for the future often begins with experiencing the present. If we do not stop to realize what we are doing now, then what we are doing later will not be worth it. Everything begins with what is front of you.
5. Love is wild. Love is wild. It’s exhilarating, unpredictable, and completely vulnerable. It fans the flame of confidence and community, building a person to be more fully aware of who they are where they’re going.
In the past, I must admit that I’ve viewed committed relationships as more of a burden to bear rather than a joy to be held. Now I view it with new glasses, because I’ve experienced love in a new way. I’ve fallen in love with a woman who has transcended my life in many ways, and become a blessing to me. But more than that, it’s elevated my thoughts of love throughout the rest of the world, too. For at the heart of things love is a choice, to put someone else before you as a sacrifice. To do this, though, there must be affection. There must be compassion. For to love someone completely absent of emotion is still love, but just like love must be learned, so must affection.
Love has no margins or compromises. It’s not a checklist, it’s a choice. It’s not a compromise, it’s an imitation of Christ. It’s a commitment to love extravagantly and unhindered towards another person. No matter where you come from, where you are, or where you’re going, love has a place in your life.
6. Learn to slow down.
You may notice that many of these lessons are intertwined, but there is most certainly nuance. The reason I end with this is because I realized that in order to apply any life lesson, you must be able to slow down. Of course, we can be present in an exciting conversation or a roller coaster ride, but there is also an important practice to lengthen our patience and push back our pace. To just be.
What is most interesting about slowing down is that the point is not inaction, since it is a discipline. Especially for high-adrenaline, type A personalities, it takes focus to set aside time for slowness. We don’t do it automatically, and we must cultivate time in our schedules to be at peace with what is around us. In fact, it might not mean planning time in our schedule, it might mean cutting priorities out of our schedule. Slowing down means to avoid the hustle, the hurry, and the busyness that life brings when you always feel rushed. There is value in cutting things out to simply understand our lives. To slow down, think, and feel.
I leave you with this lesson because it may take a moment to slow down to put any life lesson into practice. We are more peaceful and productive when are unrushed, so to consider applying new behaviors in our lives we must slow down enough to realize why we need them. Take a breath and consider what life you want to live, and then put your life into action, and you may just find that what you do is one of the very same lessons I’ve learned. Choose a life you believe will not be a waste, and then maybe it will begin to appear that way.