Habits to hold on to

In this blog, Katharine Hill explores the idea that Coronavirus might just be an opportunity for new habits to form.

As we are reminded on a daily basis, we are living in unprecedented times. Around half the world’s population is currently in lockdown in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus. ‘Social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ are words that are now part of our everyday vocabulary. Shopping centres are empty, businesses are closed, and family life at home 24/7 has quickly become the new normal.

A number of years ago, I experienced my own season of lockdown. A sports accident left me with a broken pelvis, and whilst the rest of the world continued as normal, I found myself confined to our flat around the clock for the best part of eight weeks. As frustrating and annoying as those couple of months were, looking back, I realise that there were many positives – what the Bible calls “treasures in the darkness” (Isaiah 45:3) that I would not have gathered without that experience. One of the most memorable was the opportunity it gave me to re-read CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia – much-loved books from my childhood and which, as an adult, I would still nominate as my desert island read. In the best-known story of the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the four Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, are sent to stay in an old country house to escape the bombings in London during the Second World War. Whilst there, they climb into a wardrobe and find themselves stepping through it into the deep magic of the world of Narnia where many adventures await them.

But as families, this period has given us the rare opportunity to pause and think about what things are important to us. We’ll have found ourselves settling into new routines and adopting new habits that have perhaps benefitted our lives – things that we don’t want to forget when life moves on. Whilst there is no magic number, experts say that it takes at least 21 days (and, for most, probably a lot longer) to make or break a habit. If we choose to repeat behaviours for long enough, they begin to become automatic, and part of life’s routine.

Personally, during this in-between space, whilst my life is still full, I have enjoyed the chance to step off the treadmill of the daily commute and simply to slow down. Key workers and home-schooling-working-from-home parents won’t have that luxury, but, nevertheless, life is different. Right in the mix of toddler tantrums and the turbulence of the teenage years, many families have discovered new routines and ways of living that they would be sad to leave behind. These include regular family mealtimes together, the relief of jumping off the bandwagon of after-school clubs and activities, games (both on and off screens), running the gauntlet of the supermarket shop just once a week, daily exercise, walks, cooking together, TikTok dances, Netflix boxsets, keeping in touch with grandparents and neighbours, renewing contact with old friends, evenings in, online church, creative ideas for praying together and for thankfulness, opportunities to anchor faith in both the ordinariness and extraordinariness of family life, the chance for random acts of kindness … and simply some time just to be.

Many are asking what life will be like after the present crisis is over. What we do know is that it will be different, and whilst many families will face financial and other struggles, it would be a shame if some of the new routines that we are discovering in this in-between space were left behind. Why not consider gathering everyone in your family together – tots to teens – to talk about what new habits you have enjoyed and then identify which ones you can intentionally take with you into the post COVID-19 world. We may discover that God has given us ‘treasures in the darkness’ – habits that have made a difference to the way we live and that benefit not just our own family, but all our relationships.

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