Refocus: When Your Routines Are Canceled
Over a month into this new era of COVID-19, many of our families are still trying to discover what the new normal should be. Spring Break, Easter, and the novelty of online learning all provided some anticipation, but now those are past, and an uncertain span of quarantine still lies ahead of us. With the days all blurring together, how do we find and hold on to a sense of stability and purpose in the midst of it all?
Amidst the frustration, having our routines so disorganized should be a great reminder of how we are made in the image of God. Our God is a God of order. Every aspect of our world shows His care and organization. From the sun, moon, and stars that give us time and seasons, to the physical laws that govern our abilities and limitations, to our body’s organs that all work in harmony for our survival, God’s word is not a system of chaos or randomness, but of order. And as we have been created in His image as a part of His world, it should not surprise us that order is a necessary part of our lives as well. Some of us love routine more than others, but right now even the most laid-back among us are finding out how much we value and need it, and how hard it is to adapt when our normal rhythms disappear.
Fortunately, even in uncertain times, we have a God who calls us out of a life of chaos to a life of meaning, making us part of his mission to bring his kingdom down into every part of the earth. Even when our normal pursuits, goals, and schedules are canceled, his purposes for us remain. Regardless of how limited our lives may seem right now, we know He is unlimited, and so we actively trust His power to work beyond our abilities by simply being faithful in the small things He has given us. Uncertainty is not an excuse to give up and coast for a while, but to refocus, refine, and grow in wisdom as we steward the lives he has given us.
Especially for those of us who are parents, a huge part of how we can be faithful to God’s calling is in how we structure our daily rhythms. Where we put our time and effort says a lot about what we truly value, so it is worth spending time to craft the rhythms of your family life to reflect what you believe is most important. Very often we fall into routines without thought, letting outside influences or ease determine how our days are shaped. But right now we are in a reset moment where our default habits have been thrown out the window. You may have more control over your family’s schedule now than you ever have before: no school bells, sports practices, playdates, or other commitments are dictating your time! This is a great moment to take a fresh look at your routines, or give them a total makeover.
The more we think and act intentionally with the building blocks of the days God has given us, the more we will see our families not just survive this time, but actively grow and uncover new blessings. While there are significant challenges, there are also amazing opportunities to be had if we fight the temptation to take the path of least resistance.
Wherever this season finds you and your household - just trying to stay afloat or business as usual - we invite you to join us in taking this time to consider together the rhythms that God is calling our families to pursue and how we can invest our best time and efforts in the things that matter. Not sure where to get started? Here are a some ideas to get you thinking:
1 Set your priorities.
Write out the things that you believe are most important, and then start thinking about how well your daily life actually reflects these priorities. What parts of your life point toward your priorities, and what parts are just deadweight or distractions that need to be pruned. This would be a great time to revisit the Vector 2020 series from January and February, especially if you wrote a Life Plan. Although many things may have changed since you originally drafted it, I’d be willing to bet that those areas you said needed attention then still need attention now. Your action steps may need to be tweaked, but the big ideas are still there, and perhaps this slowdown will allow you to focus even more sharply on those areas of your life that you want to see change. (Need a refresher? Access the Vector 2020 series here.)
2 Make time to read your Bible and pray.
There is no routine that will yield greater good in your life than soaking in God’s word and presence. Whether you are starting this habit or doubling down, you won’t be sorry. The Word of God truly is a lamp to our feet, and it guides us and directs us while giving us encouragement, hope, and joy. This is also a great time to make family devotions a part of your consistent daily routine.
3. What is that thing you always wish you had time to do?
Not everyone is in a situation with a lot of time on their hands, but if that’s where you find yourself, make the most of it by adding in some habit or activity you don’t have the time for in your normal schedule. What new skills could you come out of this time with? Bread baking? Sewing? A new language? More reading, with your kids or by yourself? Regular exercise or outside time? Make this a time of growth, not stagnation!
4. Where are your time thiefs?
If you’re finding you still don’t have as much time as you wish you had, try looking for places where you are regularly spending small amounts of time on things that you don’t really value. For me, I know my Facebook time has crept up over the past few weeks, and I’m realizing my habit of “just a few minutes” scrolling through my feed here and there is actually adding up into a sizable chunk of lost time, time that I really want to be devoting to more life-giving pursuits. Where are you allowing valuable time to slip away without realizing it?
Once you’ve had time to identify some big ideas and general areas to prioritize, here are some practical action steps for implementation:
1. Involve your family.
Especially if you have older kids, invite them into this process. Ask them some of the above questions, and create space for them to pursue interests and responsibilities of their own. Brainstorm together ways you can all invest well during this time, both as a family and as individuals.
2. Create a shape for your week.
One of the casualties of this quarantine is anticipation - when every day feels the very same, we miss out of the excitement of looking forward to events and special days. So where can you create rhythms within your weekly schedule that your family can look forward to? Try implementing a Friday movie night, Sunday morning pancakes, or Tuesday game night and see if that helps your weeks to feel a little less monotonous. (And obviously make it a habit to gather with the church online on Sundays and Wednesdays!)
3. Find some areas that you can automate.
Every day each of us make an unbelievable number of decisions (some researchers put it at 35,000 per day - no wonder you’re tired!). Some decisions do need your full attention, but many do not, and one way to free up mental space and smooth your family’s rhythms is to pre-make as many decisions as possible. For example, in our family we have a set breakfast rotation so that when we wake up in the morning, I don’t have to make a groggy decision about what to start cooking. It’s already been decided, and it has been one of the most helpful routines I’ve ever implemented. What areas of your life could you automate so that you don’t have to spend extra thought on them?
4. Write it down.
Every great plan is only as good as it’s implementation, and the first step to implementation is to have your plan written down where you and your family can remember it throughout your day. Writing a routine down also keeps you honest - if your hand is getting tired writing down all the things you think you are going to do on Monday morning, you’re probably not being realistic (not that that has ever happened to me…).
5. Be prepared to be flexible.
Whatever plan you come up with, it will probably wobble or outright fail at some point. But when that failure happens, don’t throw in the towel. Rather, use your rough days as data to help you troubleshoot and continue refining your routines. Why didn’t things go as you planned? Are you asking too much too fast? Do you need to organize tasks in a different order or on a different day? Keep tweaking things and learning more about yourself and the others in your family as you figure out what works for you. And remember, a routine is there to serve your family, not the other way around - don’t sacrifice your relationships by holding too tightly to control and schedule.
With all this time at home, a routine can enable you to be more productive and help you live into the values of your life-plan. The flesh tempts us to fall into laziness, but when we are faithful to do the small things God has called us to do, day after day, week after week, we honor him with the gifts of our time and effort. And in those small steps that we take, the little habits of godliness and self-discipline that we form, He is capable of working in huge ways. We will look back on this time and remember the difficulty and discomfort. But let’s pray we will also look back and remember it as the season in which we also flourished through intentionally pursuing things that matter.