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From shellshock to structure during a pandemic

First slide

I’m hearing it from my friends, and at times I feel it inside: “My days are running together,” “I’m spiritually catatonic,” “This really has me worried.” But when your spouse or kids tell stories in 30 years about the COVID-19 Crisis of 2020, what will they say about you? If you’re a dad or mom, will your kids grimace and say, “My dad was a jerk,” “My mom was a wreck,” or will they smile and begin a remarkable story with, “I remember … ” 

You still get to decide how that sentence will end. And your home, your “domestic church,” your “trinity house” in which the Lord — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — dwells, is the sacred backdrop for where these memories will unfold. Here are 10 phrases to help you move from shellshock to structure, from chaos to command:  

1) Make your bed. Admiral William McRaven’s book of this same title begins, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day … If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” And it’s precisely our sacrifice in these “little things,” St. Therese of Lisieux taught us with her Little Way, where we can show great love. 

2) Bible before breakfast. Father Larry Richards advises, “Bible before breakfast.” Now more than ever, you need to avoid being part of the 80-90 percent of Americans who check their phone within 15 minutes of waking up, subjecting themselves immediately to the newest avalanche of COVID-19 news. Resolve to give God the “first fruits” of your day — through prayer, preferably with Scripture.  

3) Life is beautiful. We are surrounded by nature, beauty and life. Take a walk or hike, alone or with your family. Thank God for the many gifts he’s given you, including the privilege of loving and serving your spouse and family. 

4) Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Chaos and lack of structure are your enemy, so you need a “rule of life,” a basic set of spiritual commitments or SOPs that guide you through the day. Get started with even just a few simple practices (e.g., 15 minutes of morning prayer), post your SOPs on the fridge, and adjust on a weekly basis.

5) Find your balance. “Balance, discipline and routine,” says former West Point instructor and combat veteran Steve Carroll, a friend and fellow dad who came home from Iraq with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. “Develop a routine and stick with it. Your routine should be balanced with faith, family, work, physical fitness and recreation.”

6) Remember basic training. “If you slid into adulthood thanks only to a succession of birthdays,” Coast Guard Captain Paul Flynn, another friend and dad, advised, “then this crisis is going to reveal gaps in your basic training and likely send you running to some bad habits.” The alternative, he suggests, is to humbly recognize these gaps and use this time to retrain. 

7) Offer it up. Whether you know it or not, you are navigating this crisis with a phenomenal armament: an entire “theology of suffering.” When you find yourself getting angry, depressed, anxious or resentful, offer up that emotion by uniting it with the cross. Jesus is with you, ready to carry and transform your burden.

8) Pack it down. Just kidding. In fact: Process the Trauma. Acknowledge that what is unfolding around you on a daily basis is traumatic, and talk through it patiently with your spouse or loved ones. And listen well. “Unprocessed and unresolved trauma,” said Father Colin Davis of St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg, “can result in compartmentalization, pockets of evil in our souls that lead to compulsive behavior.”

9) The 40 percent rule. When Navy SEALs hit the wall of their limits, their mental toughness training informs them that they’ve only tapped 40 percent of what they’re capable of. Instead of succumbing to your poison of choice in these chaotic days, move past your “wall” and tap your hidden 60 percent. Translated to the spiritual life, we might call this grace.  

10) Bible before bed. Again, listen to Father Larry Richards: “Bible before bed.” You owe it to everyone who is looking to your wisdom and level-headed leadership to close out the day not with Netflix or your newsfeed, but with prayer — an examination of conscience, some Scripture or evening prayer. 

“I remember when … ” your spouse or children will inevitably say 30 years from now. In the weeks and months ahead, finish that sentence well.

Johnson is co-founder, with his wife, Ever, of Trinity House Community.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020