If you have opportunity to ask people how they are these days, whether by phone or email or video call, the chances are that one word will jump out at you – weary. There is a tiredness, a peculiar kind of tiredness, that has come with the experience of spending much of the last year under a kind of house arrest. It isn’t a physical tiredness, or even a mental one. Whether you’re very busy or don’t have quite enough to do – and there are plenty of people in both camps – the weariness comes not from activity or inactivity but from the constant strain of the pandemic.
I was made aware of this strain in a new way the other day when listening to the radio in the car, a scene of more than one epiphany this year so far! The programme was discussing home-schooling and the format was a conversation with a couple of ‘experts’. When these were introduced, I feared the worst. I expected to be given a list of all the many things that I should be doing to help my child study that I’m not doing. I expected to be sent on a guilt trip with a one-way ticket.
Instead, the first expert to be interviewed did the very opposite. Do your best, she said, but don’t give yourself a hard time. It’s difficult enough as it is, without deliberately making it more so. And if you spend less time stressing about all the things you ought to be getting on with but aren’t, you might actually spend a little more just, well, doing them!
Far from excusing laziness and self-indulgence, this kind of self-directed kindness is a really important part of coping with what St Ignatius called ‘times of desolation’. This is not a season for grand strategic designs and major life changes. It is a time to wait on God patiently, to focus on those small acts of kindness that make such a big difference. And it’s a time to show that same kindness to yourself.
I wonder if part of the exhaustion we’re all experiencing can helpfully be tackled in this way. Much of the strain we’re under is simply the way things are at the moment, and we can’t do a great deal about it. But we can help ourselves to cope by letting go of some of our tyrannical expectations of self and others and instead just being kind.
I’m so grateful and proud that I hear every day about people in our church family looking out for each other, thinking up creative ways to be kind to each other. Let’s keep that going, and let’s remember that we can be kind to ourselves too!
May God bless you all,