Back to Normal Life
November 21, 2022
by Autumn Dawn Galbreath, MD, MBA
Is life starting to feel normal again for you? By normal, I guess I mean pre-2020. Is life starting to feel the way it did before COVID and political intensity stretched us further as a society than we might have thought possible just two and a half years ago?
As my life begins approaching its external pre-2020 appearance, I am finding that internally I have been deeply changed by the impact of the last two and a half years. I am trying to understand the transition and trying to determine what I want my life—both internal and external—to look like as I emerge from the strangeness of recent history.
Literature has offered examples of lives recreated after isolation throughout the centuries of human history, from Odysseus to Robinson Crusoe to Henry David Thoreau to the boys of Lord of the Flies to a plethora of modern works such as Piranesi, Britt-Marie was Here, Wild and countless others. I believe the prevalence of this theme in literature across time reflects its truth. Isolation changes people. The change can be for the better or for the worse, but humans do not emerge from periods of isolation unaffected. The question, then, as we collectively return to life together, is what do we want the change to look like?
Reflecting on my life prior to March 2020, I remember being extremely busy. I was committed to a number of good and important things, but I had little time to think or be still. There was a self-soothing quality to the constant movement. I never had to introspect too deeply about my fears or longings because there was always another event to prepare for, another kid’s commitment to chauffeur to, another shift to work. In never introspecting deeply, I also never got too deep with God—just deep enough to know I had checked in and He and I were working for the same goals. However, a soul-impacting depth requires time and stillness that pre-2020 rarely offered.
Suddenly, all of that came to a screeching halt, like stepping off the moving sidewalk at the airport and feeling the jolt of finding the pace of your own feet. And initially, it was marvelous, if I’m honest. No one close to me was sick, and my family was forced to be at home together, making crafts and building fires and not driving across town to a single rehearsal or performance or game. I spent time reading, praying and thinking in ways I had not for a long time. And I had high expectations for how much I would grow and change during the time that was offered to me. Somewhere along the way, though, the intentionality and liberation I felt at the beginning were swallowed by my frustrations and fears and engagement with the political division all around me, not to mention the exhaustion that rapidly overtook me at work caring for COVID patients. That little glimpse of family, personal and spiritual renewal quickly reverted to busyness and stress at the same levels, if not the same types, as before.
This leaves me wondering: why are busyness and stress seemingly our default settings? Why are peace, rest and intentionality things that we have to work to create? I used to blame my busyness and stress on society around me and all the things my family and I were expected to do. It’s clear to me now that this is much more an internal issue than I previously understood. I know I’m not alone in this internal struggle—I hear it from friends, from fellow moms at the school, from authors who talk about the challenge of incorporating Sabbath into our lives, from colleagues at work.
What, then, should our change from The Last Two Years back to Normal Life look like? We throw around verses about the Lord giving us rest (Psalm 4:8, Psalm 127:2) and about how Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30), and we speak as though these passages cheer us, but then we race through overscheduled days and toss through worried nights and rarely make the time to sit with Him in relationship. Somehow the rest Scripture speaks of is not translating into our daily experiences.
As I consider the opportunity in front of me, to recreate my daily life using the best parts of my pre-isolation and isolation experiences, I have been reflecting on the idea Isaiah preaches to the Israelites in Isaiah 30:15b: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…” (NIV). At that time, the Israelites rejected this offer, but I want to accept it. I want to be intentional about repentance, rest, quietness and trust. I want to remember the little glimpse I had during those first days of isolation of what a restful existence could be, and I want to carry it forward into the fast-paced world around me, choosing how I engage with the world prayerfully and cautiously because I have learned how easily rest gets snuffed out and stress and busyness consume.