Embrace Your Foggy Unknown (2/3) | 41

When the structure for things like school and work feels non-existent, we can at least add scaffolding to the parts of our day we can (sorta) control. We have more say than we realize.

Read the Episode ↯

Episode Transcript

This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.

This is a habit.

In the last episode, I talked about how even though 2020 is super weird (which is the understatement of the decade), the fogginess of our future isn’t the weird part of it, because that’s always the case. We never know what our future holds, so while it sometimes seems like Covid is causing everything to be a cloud of confusion, it’s only partly the case. It’s helpful for us to remember that while things are nuts, the unknown is mostly just part of life. Our future is always unknown to us.

That doesn’t mean things aren’t still crazy-making right now, though. When you get those emails from your kids’ school about taking things a week at a time, or if you’re exclusively online for the foreseeable future, or if you’re homeschooling for the first time — for most of us that are parents, our kids’ schooling is all new, even if it’s just for a bit.

The same is true for much of our work. Maybe you’re working from home exclusively, and you’ve got near-daily remote meetings, or maybe you’re in your office but you have to wear masks all the time. Maybe your job assignment changed because of the pandemic, or maybe for some of you, I’m so sorry to say, have lost your job and are looking for new work. Regardless what field you’re in, my guess is, most of your work life is new as well, even if it’s just for a bit.

The same can be said for so many other areas in our lives: working out and exercise — perhaps your favorite gym is still closed, or you can no longer afford membership there, or your current MO makes it nearly impossible to get any exercise in, even from home. How about hanging out with friends — who’s raising your hands with me that miss hanging out with other adults SO VERY MUCH? We’ve hung out with just a few couples here and there, but by and large we’ve drastically decreased hanging out with people — and even when we do, it’s outside, it’s socially-distanced, and there’s no hello and goodbye hugs. That just feels weird. And even date nights — yeah, we get to see each other, but it’s all just different… so many restaurants are closed or just not dine in-able, and it’s just too hot if you’re in a similar climate as me to eat outside right now. I can only imagine what it’s like for those of you with kids too young to stay home alone — you’re probably having a near-impossible time figuring out a workable babysitting situation. I feel so hard for you.

Add to this list any other unique-to-you situation and there’s no way around it: almost every part of our lives are just different right now. And most of the time, there’s not much we can do to make things exactly the way we want them. Remember my best friend, Partial Solutions? They are the name of the game this fall — but they’re a good friend to keep close by any time of life, pandemic or not.

Because things aren’t the way we wish they were, to me this means we make the things we can control as much the way we want them as we can. We may not be able to control our boss’ decisions, or our inability to see grandparents, or travel for the holidays, but we can control our routines, rituals, and rhythms at home. And that’s what I want to zero in on in this episode.

Let’s talk about two different types of routines: time-centric and theme-centric. By time, I mean the literal parts of our days — so, mornings, afternoons, and evenings. It’s always good to dedicate a little routine to parts of our days, but it’s more life-giving now more than ever. If you can’t control how your kids go to school right now, at least you can control what you wake up to. By establishing a morning routine, even a five-minute one, means you’re waking up for your day, not to your day, with something predictable and on purpose. For me, this looks like coffee, reading and prayer, writing out the day’s to-do list, a short wake-up yoga session (like 10 minutes), and…. that’s it. Nothing that no one else has already thought of, but it’s always in the same order, it’s my claim to some alone time, and except for a few occasional days when things go differently, I know I can expect it.

I go into a midday slump around 2 pm, and my energy doesn’t pick up until 4 or so — it’s been this way for years, so I know not to fight it. Now, I can’t just put up my feet and read, as much as I’d like that, because I’m a responsible person with work and kids and stuff. But it does mean I turn down my high-brain activity. Since I work from home, this is when I run a load of laundry, tidy up the kitchen, play with my dog for a few minutes, and when it’s not the surface of the sun outside, it’s when I like to go on a short neighborhood walk and return some work-related voxes. I also make myself an iced coffee or tea, check on the garden, and generally give my brain a short break by engaging my body (this is because my job is looking at a laptop for hours at a time). All of this takes about 30 minutes, so I’m not talking about a total, hard core break — but it’s long enough to give myself an afternoon semblance of humanity.

In the evening, I do a quick-but-imperfect kitchen tidying, then I take a shower, and this sounds weird but I have waterproof bluetooth earbuds, so I make it a treat by listening to my current audiobook. After I get ready for bed, I do my same routine of stretches, then a nightly examen prayer, reviewing the day I just had and looking for where I saw God and what I could be thankful for. Then I quickly jot down anything I don’t want to forget for tomorrow’s to-do list, and then I climb into bed with my current book. So, NONE of this is rocket science, the only key is that I make it an official thing by calling it my routines and doing them in the same order at roughly the same time every day. These give scaffolding to my day, and they feel SO GOOD when time is otherwise a giant mystery, or not ideal. These little rituals, which are only a few minutes of my day, make my time feel purposeful.

So those are the time-centric rituals — then there’s theme-centric rituals, which are simple little rituals we can do in different parts of our life that give it just a bit more needed structure. For example, as I work from home, I do what I can to stand at my desk, at least first thing in the morning and at the end of the day when I’m tempted to collapse and shut off my brain. I also have a rotation of notecards I hang on my door to communicate to my kids my level of availability — I’ve got things like “in a meeting,” “recording a podcast,” and “deep work — emergencies only.” If I don’t have a sign, that means they can knock on the door and engage with me for non-emergency stuff. (Now, keep in mine my kids are 10-15 years old, so it helps to have slightly older kids who can fend for themselves — but I’ll bet there’s some smaller version of that you could do with younger kids, too.)

My kids all have first-thing-in-the-morning chores, before they log onto their first Zoom class, then afternoon chores after school ends. I post their chores on the fridge before they even wake up, on a printed checklist in a clear sleeve so I can just check off with dry erase markers. Over dinner, we still always ask the same two questions and let everyone take turns answering: what was the best part of your day, and what did you learn? About once a week or so, we also ask, ‘What did you fail at?’ to celebrate the things we tried, even if we didn’t succeed. Then we’ve found during the school year, even when it’s all remote, that it helps to go ahead and get ready for bed soon after bed, just to get it over with — we might watch something together, or play a game, but getting ready for bed goes SO MUCH smoother before we’re brain dead. And all this said — on a school night, we don’t always watch something, and if we do, it’s no more than an hour.

So again, none of this is rocket science, but these little predictable rituals provide just enough of a skeleton to our days that we don’t feel like Jello, even when we’re all home, doing school and work the best we can. And as I think about this fall, and in particular the upcoming holidays, establishing rituals in the home can breathe new life into our monotony — and I never could have planned this in a million years, but I kinda think the fact that my new book, Shadow & Light, about Advent could not have come at a better time. If you’re listening to this as it goes live, my book releases in FOUR days, which I know is weird for an Advent book. But if you order now, that’s one less thing you have to think about for your eventual holidays-at-home ritual — it’s a simple, open-and-go daily or nightly ritual you can enjoy over the candlelight of Advent, whether you’re a family full of little kids or you live on your own. It requires zero planning in advance, which I think is just what we need for this year where we already have so much on our plates.

Advent isn’t until November 29 in 2020, so there’s no urgency to planning right now — but by ordering your copy of S&L now, you won’t have to remember later, when it’s two days before Advent (which will definitely happen to some of us — because this year, Advent begins the Sunday right after American thanksgiving, which can throw a lot of us off). And as a thank you for ordering early in the season, I’m giving you two extras, to help you prepare for the holidays with a stress-free mindset:

  1. A 3-part audio series, where I share a 101 on just what is the liturgical calendar (and Advent), how to incorporate more of the rhythms of the liturgical calendar in your everyday life, and a conversation with my friend Haley Stewart, where we chat about what we do in our own homes with our kids’ ages for Advent.
  2. And two, a gorgeous liturgical calendar wheel from artist Leah Banick that you can print and hang as reference and as art.

These are gifts intentionally to not clutter your life, they’re to pair with Shadow & Light so that you get more out of Advent without doing more or adding more to your plates. And also, ordering books early really helps your favorite authors, because with your order, you’re telling bookstores that this book has readers, so they’ll make sure they have plenty stocked up. And this is actually important for a book like Shadow & Light, because it’s seasonal — and with this being an election year, Advent will sneak up on people, and I’d hate for bookstores to not have enough copies of Shadow & Light in stock later in the fall. So, if you can, and you like the thought of both supporting this book and making your life easier by giving your future self the gift of already having your Advent guide, please go ahead and order Shadow & Light now. I think you’ll really like it, and it’s giving yourself the freedom of an already-planned holiday ritual.

To find the book, and the free extras I want to give you, go to shadowandlightadvent.com, or use the link I’ve got in the show notes of this episode, #41 of The Good List. One more time, that’s shadowandlightadvent.com. As a reminder, I’m on twitter @tsh and every now and then on IG @tshoxenreider, but if you’d really like to interact with me and stay in the know with what’s on my mind, your best bet is my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things. This is where I devote most of my energy to communicating with you, and I send it out most every Friday morning. So to get it, go to fivequickthings.email, and sign up for free, or find the link in this episode’s show notes.

Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you soon — thanks for listening to The Good List.