Written by Madeleine Grace, Australia
I’m sitting with my friends in a circle around the firepit, the smoke clinging to our hoodies and homemade pizzas filling our bellies. It’s our first time gathering together in what seems like forever, and it feels good. But it also feels scary.
How do I make conversation? I asked myself in the car on the way here. Do I still remember how to do this?
Thankfully, I find it isn’t as difficult as I’d feared. We chat, we laugh. We “oooh” and “ahhh” at friends’ haircuts and new outfits that are the product of our newfound online-shopping prowess.
But then, it gets quiet. A friend asks me through the flames, “So, Maddy. What have you been doing these last few months?”
The fire crackles. I feel the eyes on me. It’s my turn to share, and suddenly, socializing doesn’t seem so easy and pleasant.
What have I been doing?
I search for the words. I’d just been listening to each of my friends share their isolation accomplishments: another semester of uni ticked off, working even more hours at their jobs than usual, one friend has learned to make sourdough, and another has started an online business . . .
I think about my time in isolation. What did I achieve?
It’s been more than three months since I first heard the instruction to stay home, and yet, I am still overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed by possibilities. By ideas. By guilt.
I am so, so lucky. I am safe and well, and I have had all this time to myself. But instead of feeling grateful for this gift of time, I’m consumed by the weight of it—Why haven’t I used my time better?
There were letters to write and books to read. Plants to plant and paintings to paint. Dresses to sew and new recipes to try. There’s a Spanish dictionary sitting on my desk that I should have memorized. There are stories in my head that I didn’t write.
I should be fitter. More creative. Better connected. Doing more.
Instead, I binged my way through Netflix’s The Tiger King and let the weeds in the garden grow taller. I ate chocolate ice-cream in my pyjamas and watched You’ve Got Mail. My dishes piled up in the sink, because I knew they’d sit there patiently for another day. Another day. There’s always another. So what’s the point of doing anything today?
When I Stopped Being Busy
I used to be a busy person. I wore it like a badge of honor, as many of us do. I pretended that I hated juggling weeks filled with plans and events, but I relished the moments where I could laugh and boast loudly, “Oh, I’m just so busy.” My friends would nod and chuckle in understanding. I thought I mattered because I was in demand. My life was full. People knew that I was doing things.
So what happens to us when our calendars are empty, and our busy schedules grind to a halt? What happens when there’s no one around to see our achievements? For me, I felt useless. Unaccomplished. Lost.
I remember crying in frustration in the early weeks of isolation. I felt lazy and directionless, and I was ashamed to come to God with empty hands. I was no longer leading a small group, or welcoming people to church. I wasn’t serving in a ministry, or actively doing anything. I realized that without those things, I didn’t know my value to God.
But over the last few months, God has been revealing to me the lies I’d been believing about where my worth comes from. He’s been gently showing me that I need to surrender my pride and false understanding of achievement, and learn to rest in His presence. To understand that my worth comes from my identity as His daughter, not from my achievements and productivity.
When isolation first began, I drove myself crazy with daily to-do lists that never “got done”. I placed so much pressure on myself to do and be and make and achieve that I forgot to take a breath and ask God: “What do YOU have for me to do today?”
Simplifying My “To-Do” List
Now, God is teaching me the beauty of simplicity. He is showing me how to find focus, and to take each day as a new opportunity. Every night, I write a short to-do list for the next day. No matter what there is to do, I write these things at the top of each list:
- Have quiet time with Papa (God) (Psalm 16:8-9)
- Get outside/be active (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
- Love someone on purpose (1 John 4:7)
Even though they seem obvious, these three things are often the first to be left off my list when I feel busy and overwhelmed. The Bible says that we are mind, body, and spirit, and so to me, these three actions are a practical way that I can stay connected with God, keep physically and mentally healthy, and love those around me.
Some days, it looks like a walk along the beach and an afternoon writing letters. Others, it’s a morning of stillness with God, a run with a friend, and a chat with my elderly neighbor over the fence.
My “achievements” right now might not look big and significant and Instagram-worthy, and that’s okay. What I have gained is peace. I have learned that my value comes from my identity in God, and not from anything I can do or achieve. So if I can keep God at the center of my life, stay physically and emotionally well, and love the people around me—I will choose to be content.
I don’t believe that God expects me to have written a novel by the end of isolation. I probably won’t have learned a new instrument in a few weeks, or run a half-marathon and written letters to all the people that I want to.
There will always be more good things to do than we can ever hope to get done.
But we can make a start.
So hey. If, like me, you haven’t come out of isolation with abs, a thriving side hustle, and a new language on your lips . . .
That’s okay. Because our worth isn’t found in our achievements.
It’s found in the One who calls us His, and who loves us beyond our to-do lists.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the writer’s blog here. This version has been edited by YMI.