At times in the past year it seemed like we would all be here in this house, occasionally seeing other people in the yard, forever, and that didn’t seem like an entirely bad thing. Life had a peculiar slowed-down quality. I worried about having enough activities to keep my kids busy. I worried about everything they were missing. But over time, I got used to the slower pace of things, to everyone being home together all the time.
And then, just a couple of weeks ago, restrictions here loosened, and everything started back at once. Fall soccer league and spring baseball league are suddenly happening at the same time, both with packed schedules to make up for lost time. Last week both my boys went back to school for the first time in a year. All of a sudden, I’ve got piles of baseball and soccer uniforms to wash and we are not only booked with kid activities every weeknight and weekend, my husband and I are now running in different directions. All of those years of being so careful to preserve family time and sanity by allowing the boys to play only sport a season are suddenly moot, as all the sports are NOW! My iPhone calendar went from a whole lot of blank space to so many appointments and activities I have to scroll down to see all of them each day.
It feels like our family was driving along a scenic country road with no particular destination in mind and then accidentally merged onto the Autobahn.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted to be moving back to a more normal life and especially, with cases going down here and vaccinations on the rise, to be freed from some of the anxiety and worry I had about getting sick or someone in my family getting sick, but at the same time, it is A LOT. As much as I love watching all three of my kids play their various sports, it was nice having all those weekends and evenings free. I am already mourning the loss of those unoccupied three- hour stretches at home in the afternoon when I baked all that bread.
I hate it when things change. Just when I started getting used to pandemic life, now we’re back in (sorta) pre-pandemic life. And my anxiety about the virus and all the missing out has neatly transferred itself to anxiety about double-booked game schedules, prioritizing correctly, getting everyone where they need to go with all the correct gear and supplies, and figuring out what we need to make up and where we are behind.
I’m not quite ready yet, I tell God. I just need a little more time to prepare. Of course, this is what I have told God at just about every transition in my life. (Baby 1, Baby 2, and Baby 3, for example.) A few months ago, when Covid levels were rising and vaccines seemed a very distant possibility on the horizon, I texted a friend that I wanted to crawl under my bed and hide for the rest of the pandemic, and now I kind of want to crawl under there and hide from this suddenly frenetic level of activity.
I know, of course, that this is not what God wants me to do. And I believe too, that God is not against activity and excitement. This week I was preparing for our MOPS Bible study about Mary and Martha, that famous story of the two sisters, one who sits at Jesus’ feet and the other who is “worried and distracted” by her many tasks and asks Jesus if he can’t get her sister to help her. This story has often been interpreted as Jesus advocating Mary’s sitting as his feet over Martha’s performing of domestic duties, but as I read and studied I found the consensus among commentators was that Martha’s problem was not what she was doing; it was the fact that she was “worried and distracted” by it. This interpretation fits beautifully to me with Jesus’ repeated exhortation in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not worry” (Matt 6). And, of course, Philippians 4:6: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be known to God.”
My problem is not my family’s activity level but my reaction to it. There is no less opportunity to meet God at the side of a soccer field than in my kitchen kneading dough. . . if I don’t let my worry and distraction get in the way.
I know I’m not alone in this. According to the Wall Street Journal, anxiety levels increased sharply among U.S. adults during 2020. And I would guess many more struggle as I do with adjusting to change.
Parenting is all about change, though, isn’t it? One second ago my oldest son despaired of ever reaching the height of five feet, and all of a sudden he’s 5’9″. I swear it was just yesterday my younger son was building wooden train tracks on the floor, and now he’s instructing me on the proper usage of Google Docs. My daughter, who honestly was JUST BORN, is writing words.
Yet one thing is constant: God is with us–in the worries, under the bed, in the kitchen baking bread and also in the car driving to an away game. Remember Jesus’ last words to his disciples in Matthew 28:20: “I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
I wish that I could wholeheartedly welcome these outside changes, that I could celebrate them without a trace of anxiety. Maybe I’ll get there one day. But for now, I’ve found one technique that has helped me see God’s presence and quell the anxiety when it rises up, and if you are anxious like I am, I encourage you to try it too. It’s deceptively simple. Just notice what is going on around you. I mean, really notice it. What do you see? What color do you notice? Try to access all five of your senses. What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? What do you feel?
That’s it. Honestly, I usually only get through one or two senses before I feel myself calm down. It just gives my brain something else to think about other than the anxiety. It also helps me to see God in my surroundings–in the pattern on the head of the little bird in the yard, in the chatter of my daughter about her day at preschool, even in the perfect symmetry of a street sign.
I am here, God tells me in all these details. You are safe. Do not worry. Amen.