Once again, we are looking at the beginning of a school year in the middle of a pandemic. We are facing the return of fall schedules and activities while cases of Covid climb and spread across the country and around the world. For someone like me who perfers to have a plan in place before doing most anything, having more questions than answers can lead to feelings of anxiety or a sense of a loss of control. During round one of pandemic protocol and concern, I learned that control is an idol for me. I toppled it from its pedestal. And somehow, it found its way back up there again. Funny how idols have a way of doing that.
In some ways, this approaching school year has me feeling like I’m experience déjà vu. Didn’t we do all of this last year? How is this happening yet again? But, in other ways, things are different this time. We have more information about Covid than we did before. We have more tools at our disposal for treatments and prevention. And beyond that, we’re different this time around. Many of us have crashed and burned as we experienced exhaustion unlike any we had ever known before. Many of us discovered things we love, things that bring joy and lessen our anxiety and fear. I have a backyard chicken flock and a sourdough starter to prove that. I’ve also made a lot of things out of yarn. We’re both wearier and more prepared this time around.
After eighteen months of hypervigilance, concern, prayer, worry, joy, sadness, grief, etc. I have learned a few small things that have helped me infuse my days with peace. As we prepare for another school year, I wanted to offer these small things to you. Take from them what works for you. Discard what doesn’t. Feel free to share in the comments things that have worked for you that you’d like to commend to others.
Find Space Every Day
When stress hits, I organize my activities, my hours, and my moments, and as I do this, I feel all of the air and the space get sucked out of my life. Anxiety is like that. Anxiety is like being stuck inside one of those rooms on an old superhero or spy TV show where the door gets locked and the walls start pressing in on the main character. The only difference is that the walls aren’t actually closing in on the stressed out or anxious person. It just feels like they are.
One of the most powerful rituals I have discovered over the last eighteen months is the ritual of making space. I begin many mornings on my back patio. I sit at a table with my cup of coffee and I listen to the sounds of the world around me. Sometimes I bring a book or my notebook to write, but most of the time I sit and listen with no agenda other than being present.
Finding space – even five minutes of space – is an act of resisting over-scheduling and stress-induced tunnel vision. We may not be able to control the avalanche of things around us, but we can find space, and in that space, we can breathe, we can listen, we can receive peace.
Do Something Tactile
Worry and stress can make us feel like we aren’t even in our own bodies. That might sound strange, but perhaps you have experienced this in your own life. Doing something tactile helps us come back to ourselves. Not only that, working with our hands occupies the mind in a way that keeps all the other stuff out. When you build something, crochet, or engage in another tactile activity, the mind does not allow the stress and the worry to participate. Working with our hands is like holding all the positive things in a sieve and allowing all of the worries to be filtered out.
When I’m struggling during a stressful time, crocheting helps me. I have talked about crocheting as a spiritual discipline, and it truly is that for me. Growing research shows that knitting and crocheting are stress relievers, and Olympic diver Tom Daley recently made headlines for sitting in the stands knitting while in Tokyo. The tactile work of crocheting and knitting helps a lot of people.
For those who aren’t knitters or crocheters (or those for whom the yarn arts are more stressful than helpful), other tactile activities might help. My husband has taken up woodworking. My daughter has discovered the joy of painting. And my son has delighted in making Sharpie art. I have also found tactile prayer to be beneficial. A woman gave me a wooden palm cross, and I have found that the act of holding the cross while praying helps me to clear my mind of distractions and focus on the words I am praying.
Pray Simple Prayers
During stressful times, our prayer practices don’t need to be stressful too. I have found peace and comfort in simple prayers that ground and center me again. One of my favorites is from Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God!”
When I pray this verse, I slowly take away part of the verse as I pray, leaving space between each prayer.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” <pause>
“Be still, and know that I am.” <pause>
“Be still, and know.” <pause>
“Be still.” <pause>
Another simple prayer I like to pray is:
“Lord, you are here with me, and I am your child.”
You can repeat these prayers as often as it is helpful. The repetition of the prayer helps the words sink deep into our hearts. Sometimes simple prayers are just what we need when life gets complicated.
Engage in Morning and Evening Rituals
The pandemic turned me into someone who makes her bed every morning. (My mom would be so pleased.) I don’t know why, but the simple action of making my bed helps me feel ready to take on a new day. I breathe deeply while I’m making my bed, and I try to allow anything that might be weighing me down to slip away.
If you drop children off at school, or when you are headed to work, take a moment to express your love and care for each person in your car, or for the people you will encounter at work.
At the end of the day, take some time to think of things you are grateful for about the day.
Infuse Mundane Tasks with Intentionality
Whatever your personal feelings are about masks, I think we can all agree that needing to wear masks daily makes for extra laundry. Small intentional steps can make these mundane drudgeries feel a little less frustrating. When I toss my masks into the dirty clothes hamper, sometimes I think to myself, “Thank you, Lord, for all the ways I can show love to my neighbors and to myself.” These kinds of prayers can help with lots of life’s routine tasks – making meals, buying groceries, etc.
As a new school year approaches, and with it whatever feelings of dread, excitement, nervousness, or worries, may God open for us small ways to find space, to center ourselves spiritually, and to fill our moments with the whispers of the Spirit. A new school year is before us, Lord. Help us, guide us, and draw near to us. Amen.