by Connie Vandeman Jeffery—
As stay-at-home orders have forced many of us to learn to love solitude and become reacquainted with our homes, others are finding the experience lonely and discouraging. For me, I bounce back and forth like a pinball. Sometimes I absolutely love the quiet mornings outside in my back garden, listening to the birds chirp, sipping my cup of tea, taking several minutes to intentionally count my blessings. Then, in the late afternoon, after spending hours at my computer, on Zoom calls, and “zooming” around the kitchen preparing three meals a day for my husband and me, I feel the need to go somewhere. Literally, I have the itch to drive somewhere, anywhere.
Do I need groceries? No, I went shopping two days ago and don’t want to make any unnecessary trips to the store. But I do want to go somewhere. Do I need to fill up my tank with gas? No, I’ve been getting two weeks to a gallon lately. A drive to the beach? I could do that—it’s only 14 miles away. But then I’d want to park, run in the sand, and let the waves tickle my toes. That just seems indulgent and unnecessary. Sometimes they close the parking lots. There would be people there and some wouldn’t be wearing masks. So, what seemed like an innocent, fun thing to do just moments before becomes clouded by over-thinking and anxiety. I am happier and safer at home, right? That’s what they tell us—safer-at-home is the way to flatten the curve, reduce the surge, stay well. So, I choose that. The safer approach. But sometimes, I feel discouraged and let myself wallow in that feeling for a few moments—or a few hours.
I am leaning into the “loving solitude” part of this. I am by nature a social person. I used to be glued to my cell phone, answering texts and emails within a couple minutes of receiving them. Not anymore. I stay connected for essential things—like work emails, work Zoom calls, work work. I’ve let the friends and family “connections” slide a bit. I don’t respond to every text right away. I’m conserving my energy, letting myself be OK with just staying still—being quiet. With just sitting with my thoughts, my ups and downs, my small joys, my new discoveries—like cooking with whatever ingredients are in my kitchen. I am not living alone like so many people are. I have a husband, and time with him is another blessing. The blessing of being able to take care of him as he battles chronic health challenges, of re-discovering his wonderful British sense of humor, of listening to his stories from the past—spending this kind of quality time with him has been a huge blessing.
He is totally isolated in our house. I am the one who ventures out to get groceries and do the “essential” things. But the essential things are starting to look and feel different than they did just a few short months ago. It is not essential to buy any new clothes. I have everything I need and more in my closet. Every trip outside the shelter of my home is weighed for risk. I need to go to the grocery store, but I don’t need to shop at the now-open outlet mall just a few miles away.
It is essential to my well-being and health to take excellent care of myself. For me, that means eating more healthfully than I’ve ever eaten before. Preparing healthy food at home has made a difference. I feel better. I’m drinking lots more water, getting a good sleep every night, and exercising every single day. Whether it’s a walk around the block in the morning with my neighbor and her dog Sami (with me walking in the middle of the street and her on the sidewalk), or doing exercises in front of the TV, I feel better when I exercise. It would be nice to run on the hard-packed sand at the beach, but it’s not essential.
It is not essential (or advisable) to watch the news 24/7 or even one hour a day. I am happier just glancing at the news on my phone or hearing a quick summary of the day’s events than I was watching every news show every evening, like I was doing back in March. Now, I read books and my husband does crossword and Sudoku puzzles. He can pass many an hour in silence sitting outside and working out his challenging, four-star Sudokus while I work, cook, or read. I’m getting used to the quiet now—to the aloneness of staying “safer-at-home.” And I’m starting to love the solitude part of this. I’m finding that the more “still” I am, in my mind, the more I can hear God’s voice gently saying, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). He is here, reminding me that He’s got this, letting me know who He is and what He’s able to do, while we stay safe in His everlasting arms.
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.