2020 has not gone according to plan.

For some of you, the virus-that-shall-not-be-named has caused you to delay weddings, honeymoons, vacations and other major life events. You may have celebrated a graduation online or given birth without any family by your side. Maybe certain plans of yours got cancelled altogether, instead of being postponed or moved to a virtual format.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2–3

If you’re like me, you’ve had some moments of major impatience. In February, when we cancelled our Easter trip to Italy, I was upset and immediately started looking into September 2020 dates to reschedule. Shortly thereafter, I realized that not only would we not be traveling anywhere, but we probably wouldn’t be leaving our front door for a while, either. (By the way, the tour operator laughed at my husband for wanting to cancel our trip to Italy, which goes to show that even as recently as early February, many thought that the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named couldn’t become THIS disruptive.)

And so, the natural consequences of this have been to lower my expectations for 2020 dramatically. I’m not talking about lowering my expectations of others (though I could work on that, too); I’m talking about lowering my expectations on myself to be productive during quarantine/social distancing – and beyond.

Lowering Expectations

When quarantine first started in early-ish March, I was excited by the idea that staying inside would not only be socially acceptable, but also socially expected. Immediately, all of my goals seemed more attainable with these new indoor restrictions: becoming fluent in French, finishing my novel, taking virtual dance classes everyday, and learning new recipes.

I figured the quarantine would only last for a few months and we’d be right back to 2020 as it was “supposed to be”: our year as a newlywed couple to travel, enjoy city living and, maybe, buy a house!

However, just a few weeks into sheltering-in-place, on March 30th, I received BeAHeart’s email newsletter, which sort of stopped me in tracks from becoming a quarantine super-productive super-woman. The newsletter asked me something I wasn’t asking myself. Had I given myself permission to NOT be productive? Had I given myself permission to do less? To be less efficient?

Um, no. Wait, that’s an option?

I even took this attitude with my spiritual life.

I very much wanted and still want to deepen my relationship with Jesus, knowing intellectually that He is the answer to all of my heart’s desires. So I hopped on the virtual Catholic conferences bandwagon to flood my heart and mind. Again, this was objectively a good pursuit, but it left me feeling anxious to make sure I watched Every. Single. Video. of every Catholic conference, not wanting to miss a morsel. (By the way, I still haven’t.)

Even as I type this, I feel my body tensing at the thought to know it all, to do it all.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

From “Leisure” by W.H. Davies

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been conscious not to waste a moment of the time God has blessed me with. I’ve told myself I need to fill my days with working, reading, writing, exercising, striving, etc to help me grow into the best person I could be. I thought the idea of “play” would be a waste of my God-given time.

But I’m wrong. I’m learning that there is value, there is goodness in just playing.

Play & Pray

When all of this ends — whatever that means and looks like — I don’t want to go back to life as it was before. I don’t want to run late for almost everything, or shove food in my mouth as I run out the door to the gym. I don’t want to jam pack so many meetings into my work day. I don’t want to play a podcast every time I cook, clean, walk, or drive just so I can feel like I’m being productive during that time.

There is so much I want to do. I do want to play more, to waste time with God. I do want to be able to lay in bed all day and feel loved for doing absolutely nothing. I do want to spend as much time as possible with my husband, my family and my friends because I know their love for me is greater and more fulfilling than any amount of adulation I’ll get from “the world” or social media.

All of my goals/plans for 2020 were inherently good, including regular trips to visit my parents and extended family. And yet, God is allowing almost none of these good things to happen. In their place, other good things are happening: more time with my husband during our first year of marriage, a reawakened love for reading and painting, and moving closer to my in-laws in the suburbs.

It’s nice to lower my expectations on myself. Here are some of my non-accomplishments I’m proud of:

  • I haven’t worn jeans in months
  • Sometimes I eat sugary cereal for dinner
  • I quit the online French class I was taking during Week 2
  • Several times, I’ve spent the entire day in pajamas
  • What’s a razor?
  • I’ve quit several exercise or dance classes part-way through because I got bored (normally, I make it all the way through, but I think it’s OK to not finish it when I don’t feel like it)
  • I paused on writing my novel, realizing it wasn’t where I wanted to focus my energy right now

I’m a big believer that we are given not only time, but also gifts from God to use to glorify Him and bring others to Him. I’m not talking about squandering those gifts. Rather, I’m looking for an integration of developing and using those gifts (like we’re called to in the Parable of the Talents) and taking part in leisure or play.

This is an evolution for me. If you read my posts from a couple years back, you’ll see that I was trying to slow down then, too. I don’t expect that this is some bridge I’m crossing into never-hustle-again land.

In fact, I think my struggle to want/feel the need to be productive may be ongoing, maybe for my entire life. I’m OK with that – because maybe it’s exactly what God allows because He knows that the exhaustion I feel from trying to do more, more, more brings me back to Him every time.

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