I’m not handling this quarantine like I want to. I tend to adapt to change quickly and easily. Early on, I was really productive and had a long list of projects I wanted to work on. But, instead of my super-productive-norm I’m feeling lethargic and unmotivated. Some of that has to do with it being allergy season, but it’s more than that, so much more!
I belong to several artist groups and have seen others post questions that sound like this: “I want to take advantage of this time, I have so many creative projects I’d love to be working on…but I can’t quite bring myself to do anything. I have no ambition, no enthusiasm. I see so many others digging into their creativity so freely, so deeply right now, but I just can’t seem to get motivated.”
I can so sympathize. I have friends posting on their feeds the DIY home projects they’re finishing, and I can’t even seem to get the laundry off my bedroom floor. I can barely focus on putting two words together, much less writing anything of substance. I have art pieces begging to be finished and I can only look at them helplessly as I curl up in a chair and watch the rainfall. Again.
I’m full of advice for myself. There are so many things I can tell myself or share with you that would be helpful, useful, or actionable. But, all the advice in the world isn’t going to solve anything right now. Believe me, I’ve tried it on myself.
As the list of things I should be doing grows. As the projects pile up. As the comparisons with my social feed begin to bury me. As I run low on energy and ambition. As I munch another cookie and see my hair color disappear. I’m driven not to the need for advice. I’m driven toward grace.
I’m driven toward understanding how I can be so far from perfect in this season and yet be better than ever. I’m drawn to curiosity about what God wants of me during this time. Maybe it’s not production. Maybe it’s rest. Maybe it’s stillness. Maybe it’s depth rather than speed. Maybe it’s living in grace.
Maybe God wants me to realize that I’ve been operating in a culture of performance rather than a culture of grace. A culture of performance sneaks into so many parts of my life, no matter how hard I’m trying to dismantle it. It shows up when I’m worried about how my growing-out-gray hair is showing on my live prayer segments when I bow my head to pray. It leaks out when I think of all the things that should be getting done…what will I have to show for this “downtime”? It appears when comparison rears its ugly head. It says I need to earn my keep. It says I need to be a good example. It says breaking down is weak, and I should be able to adapt to anything.
A culture of grace exists when my weakness is evident so that Christ can flourish. The important thing is my bowed head, not my gray hair. The important thing is the time I’m spending with Jesus, not the unrealized projects. Living in grace means I’m not going to do this perfectly. My church isn’t going to do this perfectly. My friends aren’t going to do this perfectly. My son isn’t going to do this perfectly.
Perfectly is a terrible goal.
Christ isn’t evident in our lives when we do things perfectly. He’s evident when we do things obediently. Lovingly. Submissively. Jesus doesn’t need me to do quarantine well. He needs me to quarantine obediently. Lovingly. Submitting to his direction, correction, and guidance. Hungering for his presence. He needs me living in grace.
Maybe it appears online like your friends are killin’ it in this strange time. Their house was decorated for Easter, they and their kids were all dressed up for online services, they post game nights, finished DIY projects, and happy family photos in their sunshiney and manicured yard. Maybe that actually is their story or maybe it’s not the real story. But, even if it is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all.
Stop comparing your journey to others.
You are totally unique. Your personality, your journey, your family, your skills, emotions, sins, and your spiritual maturity combine to make your situation totally one of a kind. God has specific things for you in this life. Why should your particular unique story look like anyone else’s?
The story, the journey, the plans God has for other people are between them and God. God hand-crafted you to be a specific person. He has specific things in mind for you. Your focus should be on growing into those things. So, when you think about someone else’s story, remember that God has chosen you for your journey, for his own purposes and lean into trusting him with that.
Stop comparing your journey to your own or others’ expectations.
We compare ourselves to others, but just as damaging is comparing ourselves to expectations. We set up our own expectations based on our past, our ambitions, our plans, or our desires. At the same time, we often live in the shadow of the expectations of family, friends, and society at large.
Expectations aren’t all bad, but when we’re buried under the weight of expectations that don’t originate with God, they’re killers. God does have expectations of us, and they usually have nothing to do with the expectations that we or others place on ourselves.
Stop judging your journey or others’ journeys.
Right after we compare, we judge. That what comparison does, it sets the stage for judgment. If I compare my story with someone else’s and they seem to be handling quarantine better than I do, I immediately judge myself harshly. Or, the opposite can happen as well. We see someone else’s story and decide we’re doing better than they are, so we judge them harshly.
In either case, we’re using the wrong measuring stick. We’re holding ourselves to a standard, comparing ourselves to a measurement that’s completely useless. Actually, it’s worse than useless, it’s sinful.
We aren’t even supposed to be measuring, but we’ve picked up the wrong measuring tool and jumped right in. It’s a bit like judging whether your shirt needs washing by looking in the dishwasher. You’ll never figure out how dirty your own clothes are by looking at the dishes. Making a judgment about your clothes by looking at the dishes will never get you to an answer that matters.
In the same way, making a judgment about our life, our heart, our response to the crisis by looking anywhere other than at ourselves, by any measuring stick other than God and his Word will only get you to an answer that’s useless at best. More often it will be downright damaging.
So, what should we do instead?
Let grace saturate your heart.
We know that the things that come from our mouth stem from what’s in our hearts. In the same way, our actions generally stem from our internal attitudes and beliefs. If we want to be living in grace, if we want grace to overflow in our words and actions, we need to saturate our hearts and minds in grace.
If we start to slip into comparison and our hearts are filled with grace, the comparison/judgment cycle will be interrupted. Imagine instead that your reaction to comparing yourself to your friends was grace. Imagine if your reaction to comparing yourself to your expectations was grace rather than judgment. That won’t happen by accident. It will only happen if your heart is saturated with grace.
Let grace transform your mind.
Romans 12:2 is probably a familiar verse: “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
What does the Spirit do to “transform” us into the image of the God-exalting Son of God? He enables us to “behold the glory of the Lord.” This is how the mind is renewed — by steadfastly gazing at the glories of Christ for what they really are…the Spirit must work from the inside out, breaking the hard heart that blinds and corrupts the mind. The Spirit must work from the outside in, through Christ-exalting truth, and from the inside out, through truth-embracing humility. If he only worked from the outside in, by presenting Christ-exalting truth to our minds but not breaking the hard heart and making it humble, then the truth would be despised and rejected. And if he only humbled the hard heart, but put no Christ-exalting truth before the mind, there would be no Christ to embrace and no worship would happen. John Piper
When we encounter the truth of who God is and what he’s done for us, the Spirit can transform our minds. (The John Piper article quoted above is worth reading in its entirety.)
Let grace power your actions.
Grace isn’t only a one-time action that saved us. It’s a never-ending supply that powers our lives. When our hearts are saturated with grace and our minds are transformed, living in grace becomes a reality. Our lives have the fuel we need to be the living sacrifice Paul speaks of in Romans 12:1
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
“Because of all he has done for you,” “in view of the mercies of God,” and “by the mercies of God” are the ways a variety of translations begin Romans 12. Grace is the power to live as a sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable to him as a spiritual act of worship.
Grace is the power to live your best life. So let’s stop the comparison and judging. Let’s shift the focus of our quarantine. Let’s instead develop rhythms of grace in our lives. Let’s intentionally let grace saturate our hearts, transform our minds, and power our lives. Imagine what eternal significance could come from this time if we stop worrying about making it pretty, productive, or perfect and instead make it holy.