Home isolation and away pt. 3

At this point I had two options. I could either find ways of occupying my time by giving into my cravings or fight it and overcome myself through discipline. I decided for the latter. As time slowed down and I was faced with empty days, questions that kept coming back to me was, how will I use the time I have right now instead? How do I embrace and learn contentment with unproductive time? It was no less a reorienting of both what I valued and the rhythm of how I lived.

Instead of compulsively checking my phone and emails and messages I found myself sketching and reading and writing and cooking regardless of how productive and successful these attempts were at the end of the day. The earlier frustration and boredom slowly gave way to calm towards the end of the week. In the silence there was just the slow plodding of living each day in silence, obedience and dare I say it… joy? What was important was just being before God and trusting him to provide and guide my activities for everyday. After all, wasn’t it Jesus who said that man would not live on bread alone but on every word of God?

What I think I’ve really been learning is that boredom is essential to being human. It’s just something we have to get through use our time well and create things out of love whilst developing a deeper self knowledge. Don’t get me wrong. The boredom was scary. It was scary how quickly my mind jumped to the mindless scroll of entertainment on my shiny little iPad. It wasn’t even a thought but an impulse that just led me on. I just couldn’t stand being bored! It was like a restless itch that you just had to scratch on your back. Though Pascal had been gone for nigh 400 years, his saying that much evil was done from man’s inability to sit by himself in his room still rang true with me.

The 19th century philosopher Kierkegaard once thought that the ideal human being was someone who could sit silently before God. He described our human condition as one deeply driven by anxieties like those secret fears that keep us awake at night. We can always drive it out though by delaying sleep at much as possible and by preventing ourselves from ever being alone with our selves. Yet without boredom, we never truly face these anxieties and deal with them. They continue to unconsciously drive our often irrational and erratic behaviors and come out when we least expect it like at a family dinner that erupts into World War 3 from the spillage of one tea cup.

We never truly come to know ourselves and in that way we can never become who we are. And we can never really be saved. To us our problems will always be out there and someone else’s. This makes me wonder…what else do we miss out on because we’re unwilling to be bored?

Home Isolation and Away Pt. 2

The last week has been a blur as I look back at the seven days in my apartment where time itself seem to have been eradicated. I remember craving fast food like fried chicken and pizza and chips. I also had a repeated impulse to check my phone or to watch an endless stream of youtube videos or play video games. There was always a low grade anxiety in the background that made me edgy and irritable and impatient when I spoke to my wife or felt guilty about how ‘unproductive my day was’.

They were all like symptoms of withdrawal. Maybe I was addicted to fried food and social media. And like an addict, I didn’t know what to do with myself without those things in my life. Going through it wasn’t pleasant to say the least. But at least now I knew the things I that controlled my life more than I thought I controlled it.

Social media promised me a sense of connection with others and reality as long as I was constantly engaged replying to and checking messages and feeds. Fried chicken, burgers, fries and pizza promised a world of quick and easy enjoyment every meal with minimal cooking and preparation. But all they did was make me more anxious, more impulsive and impatient and unable to enjoy living more deeply.

Joy takes time. Depth is slow. A gardener needs to plant and prune, water and fertilize his soil before he can enjoy the fruit of his labor over many years. All that fast food and social media gave me was something to run away from who I really was and what I really wanted: meaningful connection and activity.

Home isolation and away Pt. 1

For a long time I’ve been trying to give myself COVID but to no avail. After all, what could be better than natural immunity? But kissing and hugging my wife or my sister or mom and dad didn’t do it. Not wearing a mask seemed to make no difference. But last Tuesday, on the 21st of April I finally did it. I finally caught the dreaded disease from Chinatown, the one and only Wu Flu, COVID-19. It turns out that all one needed to do was to go out every day to see friends and eat out to weaken your immune system and then pick up the flu first. On Sunday, at a family dinner I caught up with a friend who later tested positive and that’s where I probably got it. On Tuesday, I showed up for work, tested positive too and was promptly sent home with the parting gift of a resident family’s verbal tirade.

Of course I’m writing all this facetiously. In NSW, the rules for those with COVID is to isolate at home for 7 days. I was not looking forward to it. I remembered the last time this happened. I was isolated under state wide lockdown in the midst of college assignments and church ministry. I did enjoy less social contact and having more free time to myself. But I also think I enjoyed it less than I thought.

The last lockdown was also a time of stress and anxiety, boredom and doubt, and a reluctance to break out of our usual busy Sydney lifestyle. Alone in the stillness and quiet, where time dilates, the only person you’re faced with is yourself… and God. It’s scary to face either one. Isolation is really a battle with yourself. It’s a battle between the fear of missing out and all your fears and desires lurking behind one’s solitude. It would be much easier to be doing anything else. This time it would be compounded by the fact that I would miss both my wife and son’s morphology appointment at RPA hospital as she entered her third trimester and our anniversary get away that we’d planned for months. I’m glad I had a copy of the desert fathers with me. Because it seems like there’s nothing else like isolation that makes you feel like a monk in his cell.

”My mind hums with poetry and madness”: The Toughest Semester Ever

My mind hums with poetry and madness. Virginia Woolf

I turned in my final paper for the semester on Friday, July 9th and waited for that sigh of relief. You know, the one every student experiences at the end of each term. It never came.

All I could think about now was the coming week. Semester 2 would start in 3 days. And I would be flat, burnt out like the Lancer-made donuts around Auburn, before I could even start. Worse, I was scheduled to preach at Captivate Presbyterian on July 18th on Psalm 100-101. It was the toughest semester I had ever been through. And yet when I finished it, there was no rest, no relief and no end in sight. Had it truly ended? That’s what I thought as I shoveled bits of rice and eel into my mouth.

I don’t even know how I got to this point. Without a day off, and one extension after another, the last 3 months have just become a blur. I feel like I’ve done nothing and yet everything. I remember moving houses at the end of last year. I remember leaving a job I fairly enjoyed. I remember leaving my church to become an intern at another. I remember making friends in the unlikeliest places. At the same time, I’ve never taken so many extensions. I’ve never had ongoing medications for my health. And I’ve never felt so empty in my life. There’s never seemed to be so many fires to put out. With so many things out of my control, I couldn’t help but ask myself — Was I a failed student? Worse, was I…a failed human being?

Throughout life, in all of our words, and feelings and actions, we seem to be measuring ourselves up against some ideal. We’ve got some vague sense that we’re not who we should be. What is it though? Does this ideal exist somewhere in society? Is it in my mind? Or is it made by me? Am I just making myself up as I go along? Beyond our successes and failures, the worst thing to fail at is as a human being. Yet… we can’t seem to agree on what that is. And maybe that’s why I felt such despair. The uncertainty and the failure around my life made me ask myself if all these things really reflected who I was and what I was like as a human being. If we’re ultimately responsible for our lives then the failure to live up to your constructed identity is yours, and yours alone.

These thoughts ran through my head. They ran through them when I was faced with my grades. Or when I was forced to acknowledge that I was never going to meet that deadline. And they ran through my head just as it dropped down on my soft pillow to sleep. It’s too bad these thoughts were nothing like my pillow. I remember thinking, “my mind hums with poetry and madness.” Words and images. Feelings and sounds. Without any narrative, any story, what are they? My head, no my life, just becomes full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. So I’ve come to realize this semester’s the toughest one I’ve ever had. Not because of anything I did or didn’t do. But because of who I was. It’s made me have to come face to face with myself. And when you see the shadow of who you truly are, that can be terrifying. Sometimes it’s a monster in the mirror. This semester was the toughest one not because of successes or failures, but because through it all, I had to ask the question, “did I fail… as a human being?”