by April Yamasaki
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here▸
Two weeks after the novel coronavirus became a public health state of emergency, I lost my job as the editor of a small magazine of inspirational stories. It hadn’t taken long for the publisher to realize that the magazine would not be sustainable going forward, and ceasing production was just one among other cost-cutting measures for the publishing house as a whole.
At the same time my church started meeting over Zoom, and I learned to preach from home seated at my desk. I stopped running out for groceries whenever my husband and I needed something, and started planning ahead so I could limit our grocery shopping to once a week. When my bangs got too long, I started wearing a hat whenever I went out, so I wouldn’t keep touching my face to brush the hair out of my eyes.
In this new age of COVID-19 and changing circumstances, I knew I needed self-care more than ever. But I wondered, What does self-care look like in the midst of a world-wide pandemic? How did my self-care need to change, and what needed to stay the same?
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, I found myself focusing on all the things that I had lost: my editing job that had lasted for barely a year, the weekly rhythm of Sunday worship in person now confined to my laptop, family gatherings that had to be cancelled, the funeral of a long-time church member postponed, coffee dates and concerts and graduations and so much more sidelined by the pandemic.
Yet with each loss came fresh grace from God. The week after my job ended, another editor called to commiserate and offer me a writing assignment. Not meeting in person for worship led to long phone conversations on faith that might never have happened otherwise. Spending more time at home meant more time with my husband and the chance to complete some long-overdue projects.
Instead of focusing solely on my losses, I began to reframe them as opportunities for gratitude. This became an on-going part of my self-care: acknowledging and mourning the losses, becoming open to new opportunities, allowing God to move me from lament to thanksgiving.
As the pandemic stretched into months, I also began to rethink my self-care in a deliberate way. The basics of caring for heart, soul, mind, and strength hadn’t changed—I still needed to eat healthy foods, get a good night’s sleep, spend moments in silence and prayer, attend to priorities, maintain good boundaries, and so on. But all of that seemed more challenging when the days of the week seemed to blur together. How could I keep healthy boundaries when I hardly knew Tuesday from Thursday from Saturday?
One Saturday I tried a new recipe for home-made pizza that we liked so much that I made it again the next Saturday, and the next. After that, Saturday became pizza day with the same pizza dough recipe and different toppings each time. For me it became a new rhythm of self-care custom-made for the pandemic—an easy and delicious ritual to mark the end of the week and restore weekends once again.
While things are starting to open up in our area, my church is still meeting over Zoom as we consider masks, distancing, singing, sanitizing, and many new health and safety protocols. I’ve discovered I like getting groceries just once a week, and I like wearing hats too, so plan to continue both. I still think of Saturday as pizza day, although I no longer make it every week. As our circumstances keep changing, my self-care is changing too, with some new rhythms remaining and others falling away.
In these last months, the arc of my life seems to mirror the Psalms as described by Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann. In his work on the Psalms, Brueggemann identifies psalms of orientation when life seems to make sense, as in the many psalms that celebrate God’s goodness. He notes psalms of disorientation when life is in chaos, when the psalmist sinks deep into the pit of despair. But God doesn’t leave the psalmist—and doesn’t leave us—down in the depths; instead, there is a new sense of God’s presence and care in psalms of reorientation.
Orientation, Disorientation, Reorientation. That sounds like life pre-COVID, during the confusion and chaos of the pandemic, and now as we find a new way forward. We don’t know what challenges and changes may yet be before us, but whatever the future may hold, I can rest on the Rock with the psalmist: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.” (Psalm 18:2)
April Yamasaki is the author of Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength and other books on Christian living. She currently serves as resident author with a liturgical worship community, writes online and in print publications, and often speaks in churches and other settings. Download her free e-book on How to Pray When Prayer Seems Impossible at AprilYamasaki.com.