Life is like a basement. It’s like a basement in that, despite our best efforts, we just can’t keep it from getting cluttered. Every few months, Aileen and I have to go downstairs and clear out our back room—that room where empty boxes accumulate as we decide if we will keep or ship back the products we’ve ordered, where broken stuff waits until the next bulk garbage day, where unwanted or unused things sit until they are given away or repurposed. We always intend to keep the basement clean and clear, but it somehow keeps getting full and disorganized. Despite our best efforts, it seems to attract clutter. Our lives can be like this, and so too our families.
On a personal level, we intend to live purposeful lives where every activity has a clear purpose and every commitment serves a defined goal. We have done our best to say the quick no and slow yes and in that way to make thoughtful decisions about where we focus our time, energy, and attention. But in moments of clarity we realize that our lives have still become surprisingly full—cluttered, even. We realize we are attending meetings, or taking lessons, or participating in activities that may not serve us the way they once did. Why do I keep going there? Why do I keep doing that? Why, when I’ve done my best to make wise decisions, does my life feel so very full?
On a family level, we intend to live lean lives so we won’t have to spend every evening driving around town, dropping our kids at endless clubs, classes, and lessons. We have committed to eat together whenever possible, to worship together every evening, to prioritize those few things that matter most. But in exhaustion and frustration we have to admit that we have overdone it, that the clutter in our family has increased until it has wedged us apart. We’ve said yes to too much and no to too little. We’ve been too hasty to begin things and too loath to end them. Family life has become as cluttered as personal life.
The fact is, there are many things we begin in life and in family for very good purposes, but that over time outlive those purposes. Much of the clutter in life is caused by adding without subtracting, by beginning without ending. There is an inertia that can keep us doing things just because we have always done them, or just because we began them for good reasons, or just because we are afraid to stop them. What will we do if we aren’t busy? How will we feel good about ourselves if we have too much time rather than too little?
It seems to me that as we ponder when and how we will emerge from our COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns, we will have a rare chance at a kind of do-over. It is extremely unlikely that one day we will receive a society-wide all-clear signal and emerge back into life as it was. More likely is an incremental approach where over time we can begin to restore some of the functions we have had to cease for a time. We will then have to decide when and if we return to each of these activities. And there is no better time than now to be reflective about what we want our lives to be. There is no better time than now to be prayerful about how we will keep our lives from going from too empty to too full.
One day the gym will send an email to say it has re-opened and you can go in again to work out. Today is the ideal time for you to assess whether you are actually using that gym membership and to decide whether it is serving you well. What else could you do with that time? What else could you do with that money? Don’t go back just because the doors have opened! Go back because you’ve thoughtfully evaluated it and determined that it is important or necessary to your well-being. One day that co-working space will open its doors again, one day that organization will have its first post-lockdown meeting, one day that club will begin to gather once more. Will you go, as you did two months ago? Before you go back to what was normal, decide whether this is the normal you want. Take the do-over! Take the opportunity to assess, to evaluate, to carefully and prayerfully ponder the kind of life you want, the kind of life you believe the Lord is calling you to live.
On a family level, a time will come when your children’s sports leagues will start up again, when their music teacher will call again, when a society convinced it needs to fill their every waking moment will once again offer to do just that. There is no time like right now to decide whether that is what you want and whether that is what they need. As in life, so in family: Take the do-over! Speak with your children about all of their activities, consider whether these things are serving them well, whether they are helping your kids to grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).
In God’s providence, he has taken nearly everything away from us for a time. In God’s sovereignty, he has interrupted so many of our habits, both good and bad. It is too early to be too confident in interpreting what he is up to in all of this, though we can be sure that it is for our good and his glory. But surely it will do us no harm, and in fact do us a world of good, to take the opportunity to carefully ponder how, as we emerge back into life, we can best deploy our gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God.