As the world adjusts to a “new normal”, I’ve awakened to the realization that COVID-19 has incubated a “new normal” of a different kind within me—one I’m not sure I should get used to.
While most people around me have spent the past few months shedding off all that extra weight and forming new, positive habits, I have, to my horror, also been subconsciously accumulating habits and practices of a different kind that pre-COVID-19 me would never have picked up.
Like everyone else, I started out determined to take on all the challenges of being in lockdown with gusto, but my resolve quickly faded away within the first few weeks of working from home, when I found myself feeling demotivated and sluggish from the lack of space and movement, and constantly annoyed when my attempts to work were interrupted by the vibrations and drilling from the never-ending road works being done in my area, the sound of pots clanging in the kitchen, or the washing machine trundling to life just as I was about to begin a video call.
In those moments when I needed a little pick-me-up to distract myself, I turned to social media to get me out of my boredom and that lull. And slowly, as I spent more time looking at photos and videos of other people’s haul, I began taking screenshots of items I never knew existed before this, but was absolutely convinced I needed now just to make my work-from-home experience that much more comfortable.
At first, I’d feel really happy after I carted out these things, and would excitedly look forward to delivery day (cue more staring at my phone to check updates!). But once those fleeting moments of happiness faded away, discontentment and envy would start floating up to the surface of my heart—and that kept me trapped in a vicious cycle of just wanting more.
And as I survey all that I’ve purchased over the past few months—including three back-ups of my favorite mug after a housemate accidentally broke it, the many cups of bubble tea and multiple bags of Famous Amos cookies I’ve consumed, and some nifty cleaning tools and workout gear that I’ve barely used—I’m starting to wonder why I really made those purchases.
In addition to my unsustainable shopping habit, I’ve also been slipping into anger and frustration pretty easily. With the changes that have come with COVID-19, and work-from-home arrangements forcing me to spend 24/7 in a tiny, cramped space, it was so easy to blame my crabbiness on the limitations that I was facing—rather than confronting what was really inside my heart.
Over time, what I thought were just minor distractions or temporary struggles have morphed into fully-formed habits and, I’ve begun to see what the root of the problem really is: my sense of security and stability hasn’t been rooted in God—but in the outward appearance of having control over my schedules, my space, and my sanity.
Overhauling My Spiritual Life
After many nights of replaying reels of negative thoughts in my head, and wondering why I didn’t just hold my tongue for a little bit longer, or display more patience and kindness towards someone I was interacting with, or scale back on those calorie-laden purchases, I’ve decided that what I need isn’t just a new haul of work-from-home friendly items to make my life that much better, but an overhaul of my inner life.
And that starts with:
1. Acknowledging that God is the Master of my life
As I reflected on the evolution of my “new normal” self, I realized that I had been attending to the shifts of my moods more than what God was trying to do in my heart in this season. Instead of keeping myself steady in the hands of the God who controls the winds and the waves, I had become like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)—or every new announcement about the latest social restrictions or shift in my circumstances.
So the first change I needed to make was to recognize that Jesus is the Lord and Master over my life, and that starts with handing each portion of my day to Him—every temptation to hit that snooze button for just 10 more minutes, every impulse to reach for my phone and start my day by scrolling through social media instead of inclining my heart towards God’s Word (Psalm 119:36), every distraction that pulls down my productivity levels, and even every choice of entertainment that I use to unwind as the day draws to an end.
It hasn’t been that easy to just change my habits overnight though—and each day’s failings is a reminder that I can’t overcome the fluctuations of my moods or my habits on my own. I need the Holy Spirit’s help to keep in step with Him, to learn to respond rightly to the changes and disruptions around me, and to crucify “the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24) so that I can redirect my course, and try again.
2. Letting every challenge and disruption turn my gaze towards Christ
During this time, I’ve been taking great comfort from the example of the Apostle Paul himself—who might not have lived through a pandemic—but was no stranger to suffering, being confined in a physical space (Acts 16:25-31), and coming face to face with trial after trial that went “far beyond [their] ability to endure, so that [they] despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
In spite of all that the apostle Paul and his companions had gone through, they didn’t swerve from their mission, but kept going because they could see a clear purpose behind their afflictions:
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. (2 Corinthians 1:9-10)
I may not be caught in any life-despairing challenges at the moment, but I’m learning that each challenge and discomfort I’m experiencing in this season is an opportunity to untether myself from my coping mechanisms, and to turn my gaze and reliance towards Christ.
Every time I’m tempted to make excuses for each tiny slip of anger or frustration, or to feed the growing buds of envy and discontentment—I’m learning to stop and pray (do I really need that shiny new item, or do I just want it because everyone else has it too?), process what I’m feeling before God, and be quicker to respond in obedience to Him and the Holy Spirit’s leading.
As I’ve spent less time on my phone escaping from my reality, and more time meditating on what is true, pure, lovely, and admirable in Scripture (Philippians 4:8), or reflecting on the highs and lows of my day by journalling, I’ve been finding it easier to be attuned to areas in my life that God wants to work in.
I’m just starting out, but I hope that as I look back on this time in the future, I will have shed off not just unwanted physical weight and clutter (which is still an extremely worthy goal!)—but the weights of envy, discontentment, mindless entertainment, and the cracks in my spiritual life that have been hindering me from placing my hope in Christ.
And in its place, I want to make space for God to shape me and build my spiritual muscles of perseverance and self-denial, so that like Paul, I too, can say that I’ve learned the secret of contentment in any and every situation (1 Corinthians 4:11), and can endure any circumstance, pandemic, or life-changing disruption with God’s strength (1 Corinthians 4:13).