This past Sunday, my church was the fullest it has been in over a year. Yesterday, I booked a vacation. And just a few minutes ago, my phone dinged with a text from a friend inviting us to dinner.
It’s happening: Life is beginning to feel almost … normal.
The world is starting to open. And for the most part, I am embracing it. I can visit my vaccinated parents without fear of infecting them. I don’t obsessively Google statistics of new COVID cases anymore. I long ago stopped washing my groceries (tell me I’m not the only one who did this for a while.)
I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. And I’ll bet you have too.
Yet, if you’re like me, there’s a part of you that is nervous about going back to “normal,” whatever normal is. We are asking ourselves, “What parts of ‘normal’ do we want to leave behind?” Because honestly, I don’t think any of us want the old normal of frenetic-paced living that defined us for so long.
If we aren’t intentional, we could end up where we were pre-pandemic: rushed, overworked, running from one thing to the next. I’ll bet your calendar is already filling up, and you’re starting to feel pinched for time.
Before we fall back into the old, unhealthy patterns of our pre-pandemic selves, we can take intentional steps to hold on to the surprising gifts of this past year.
Yes, I said gifts. Think back to the early days of lockdown in your home.
In my home, I was finishing a manuscript for my latest book, Growing Slow. Strangely, the whole world was getting a glimpse of what Growing Slow can mean – but not really by choice. We were given the opportunity—previously inconceivable—to see what it would look like if the world stopped. We were in a state of enforced slowness.
Do you remember how there was more time than ever before for rest and reflection? Do you recall how everyone recommitted themselves to game nights and home-cooked meals? Stores ran out of yeast because a new generation of bread-makers had been born. Amazon couldn’t keep puzzles in stock. People lit taper candles and thought it would be fun to use the fine china.
Maybe you shot hoops with the kids or caught up on favorite podcasts. Perhaps you took long, slow walks with your dogs and learned how to knit. Some of you taught Grandma how to do a Zoom call and dropped off groceries on the doorstep of your elderly neighbor. We learned the joy (and value!) of short naps while working from home.
Many of us found ourselves saying, “Things will never be the same after this.” And maybe that’s a good thing. Because do we really want more of the same? Do we want to go back to business as usual?
As we tiptoe back to “normal,” there are things each one of us can do to make sure we don’t return to old patterns of hurry. First, take an inventory of the good things that happened when your own calendar was whited out. Take a moment and name at least three things you want to keep that helped you slow down and embrace life. And then, write them down and tape them to your computer or calendar. Do what it takes to guard those things well.
I have a long list of those things, numbered on a notepad by my computer. Here are three of them:
Daily walks: I started walking a mile or two every day to keep me sane during the drudgery of lockdown. It was a good habit I want to keep. I’ve never yet come back from a walk and regretted leaving my work behind for a while.
Family time: We are continuing with longer family dinners, when we try fun new recipes and linger around the table to talk about what matters most.
Generosity toward others: During lockdown, I was more creative than ever before in figuring out how to love my neighbor well. I sent cards, participated in drive-by birthday parties, arranged surprise Zoom calls, shared extra toilet paper rolls, and went out of my way to check on the elderly. I don’t want to get so busy post-pandemic that I forget to do those things. After all, the little things we do for one another are the big things.
If we are honest, our pre-pandemic selves were so afraid of getting behind, that we refused to rest. Most of us were putting off the most important things until tomorrow. But we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Everything we treasure most can be gone in a moment, and the pandemic reminded us all of that.
We don’t have to throw the past year onto the Dumpster fire. This is an opportunity for us.
It’s time to make a change for good. None of us wants to go back to washing our groceries or counting our toilet paper rolls ever again. But we can all choose to live a slower life and focus on the things that matter most.