When we were first going into the lockdown, as many other countries had already done so or were going to, there were some “helpful” messages going around suggesting that people should be using the extra time to develop new skills or learn new things, to do some self-improvement. I’m sure the people sending out these messages had good intentions, they wanted to lift people’s spirits by motivating them, and I am sure that there are those who appreciated the challenge. Yet I wonder, how many people have learnt that new skill? How many have actually achieved those “quarantine goals”?
Now this isn’t a big problem, until people start coming down on themselves for not achieving those goals. When they start feeling disappointed in their lack of motivation. A hugely unhelpful phrase that has been going around in various forms is the following: “If you don’t come out of this quarantine with a new skill, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline.” To make such a statement is to grossly ignore the extreme situation and difficulties we all face during this time.
In an article I came across this week they had a trauma psychologist weigh in on this motivational pressure that people face during this time of quarantine and there was a part of her assessement that really stood out to me as she spoke about the real challenges that people are facing:
People are trying to survive poverty, fear, retriggering of trauma, retriggering of other mental health difficulties. Yet, someone has the nerve to accuse someone of lack of discipline for not learning a new skill… This cultural obsession with [capitalistic] ‘productivity’ and always spending time in a ‘productive,’ ‘fruitful’ way is absolutely maddening. What we need is more self-compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now, more focus on gentle ways to soothe ourselves and our pain and the pain of loved ones around us…
I love it when someone, from a secular perspective actually affirms the wisdom of Scripture. In many ways the world is enslaved to this concept of capitalistic productivity, that your worth is tied up in how much you can do. Busyness is worn as a badge of honour. So many people have forgotten the importance of the Sabbath, God’s command for us to take a break. To rest.
12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
Do you know who doesn’t get a day off work? A slave. The Israelites needed to learn how to live as free people, that is why God literally commanded them to take a break. Will we take the hint?
Now to be honest, for those who have been unable to work as their workplaces have been closed, it will be good to get back to business again. And I pray for those whose very livelihoods are at risk. But let us not go back to the worldly, status quo. Let us learn from this time of enforced rest. Let us understand the value and benefit of Sabbath rest and allow ourselves to take a break.