Back in 2014, actress, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Coldplay frontman, Chris Martin made headlines and received a good bit of scorn and ridicule when they announced that they were embarking on a “conscious uncoupling” from their 13 year marriage. I am not going to lie, I joined the scoffers and Saturday Night Live skits in mocking what sounded like nothing more than a new-age euphemism for divorce.
So, it makes me chuckle a bit as I essentially urge you to “consciously re-engage” with your pre-Covid life as restrictions lift and a world of options and possibilities opens up to you again! You see, despite all the jokes and snickers, embarking on anything “consciously” is actually a really good idea. To do something consciously means to do it in a deliberate and intentional way, and for all the stress and hardship of the past year, the pandemic has presented an opportunity to thoughtfully choose how we want to move forward.
It could be really easy to rush to re-enter “normal” in the same way we lived before the pandemic. We all have some pent up desires in one form or another, whether it be shopping, travel, going out, dating, concerts, sports, or even church fellowship or volunteering. In our enthusiasm to get back to “normal,” I urge you to thoughtfully consider your life pre-Covid in order to craft a more “conscious” normal post-Covid. A few areas come to mind as valuable places to consider life before versus during Covid as you decide what a valued life looks like for you moving forward.
Did your pristine but unused dining room become a messy place of learning, art, work, or play? Did this add to or detract from your valued life and the life of your family? Was it a stressor for you but an unexpected blessing for your family? What will you do with that space now?
Going forward, there is an opportunity in this season to consider what home means and how we want to use our homes practically and relationally. Everything does not have to go back to the way it was! I have watched my neighbor’s garage gradually become an amazing open air family room where friends gather often. Is their driveway packed with cars? Yes! Do cars on the street make it harder to back out of my driveway? Yes! Do I really hope they leave it that way? Yes!
Were you stressed and spread thin coming into 2020, or were you a little bored and deactivated? Think back honestly about your pace and involvement with the many good things in which we can invest our time. What have you missed the most, what felt like a relief to forget about for a bit? As you re-engage with “normal” activities, take some time to consider the costs and benefits of all that you were doing or feel obligated to do. Everything does not have to go back to the way it was! Can you do the work of engaging with hard but valued things you have been able to continue to avoid over the past year? Do you need to get to the doctor, start those exercise classes, join back up with your church community? Make a plan to do those things. Can you do the hard work of setting boundaries with your involvement with things that were emotionally, financially, physically, or relationally draining? Do you need to decline some of the work lunches, happy hours, kid activities, volunteer requests, or overtime hours that left you empty before Covid? Take some time to reconsider your values and resources and work to carefully and thoughtfully engage (or not engage) with the activities in your life.
Were you and your partner “ships passing in the night” in the busyness prior to Covid? Has more time together drawn you closer or uncovered distress and conflict? Either way, you don’t have to go back to the way things were! If time together has increased closeness and intimacy, make a plan to protect that and guard your relationship from the disconnection that can come with being over-committed and neglecting to purposefully plan for quality time together. If more time together has brought criticism and conflict – don’t allow yourselves to rush back to the illusion of peace of living parallel lives. If a problem in your relationship was uncovered, do the hard work of addressing it and regaining intimacy with the help of a counselor.
In other relationships, take some time to consider which ones were life-giving and authentic and which ones were stressful or draining prior to the pandemic. Who were you surprised that you really missed? Who were you surprised that you did not miss much at all? Take these observations into account as you re-engage with extended family and friends – you do not have to go back to the way things were! Resolve yourself to invest more time and energy in reciprocal and supportive friendships and family relationships. Commit to developing firm and loving boundaries around the time and emotional investment you will put into unhealthy, manipulative, or one-sided relationships.
If you take time to consider these areas thoughtfully, you may develop a vision for a valued life that looks pretty different from the one you were living before the world shut down. I would encourage you to nurture and invest in this vision. Engage with friends and family in implementing a new normal that is healthier and more valued for you and those you love. If you need support in making some changes or setting boundaries, enlist the help of a wise friend or counselor to encourage you and hold you accountable.
We all have an incredible opportunity to “consciously re-engage” with life in this season, I hope we won’t waste it but instead will remember – you don’t have to go back to the way things were!