How to Not Waste Your Quarantine

Written by Derek King. Derek is a Ph.D. student in Theology at the University of St Andrews and a campus pastor at Christian Student Fellowship and, in due time, Lewis House.

March Madness has a very different meaning this year.

To reduce the spread of COVID-19, America has effectively shut itself down. Sports are cancelled, in-person classes are online, and restaurants are delivery only. Large gatherings are restricted, and lockdowns are spreading like a virus.

This means quarantine is our new normal for a while.

As the weather warms, we’ll all be spending more time indoors than if a blizzard hit. To avoid walking in circles in your living room, the temptation is to treat the next month like a perpetual Saturday. Your goals suddenly become less… erm… productive: staying in the same clothes for three days in a row, eating only sandwiches for a week, or watching everything on Netflix (good luck on this one…you could complete a Master’s degree before finishing).

Reducing the spread of the virus then begets another problem: what to do during quarantine? The Christian response to COVID-19 is, of course, more than filling up a few weeks of time, but don’t be lulled into the idea that how you spend your quarantine doesn’t matter. Although it might seem less-pressing and less-consequential, how you spend your quarantine will be soul-shaping.

As frustrating as this time is sure to be, it can be an opportunity for two reasons.

First, it is an opportunity to love our neighbors. This should be clear by now but if not let it be: we do not quarantine to save ourselves, but to save others. For the young’uns out there, it’s unlikely that you’ll be seriously affected by the virus, but others are at great risk of becoming seriously ill. Our quarantine should be an act of self-sacrifice, not of self-preservation—and this should make all the difference in our attitudes and actions during this time.

Second, it is an opportunity to shape, and reshape, our habits. In normal life, we have a tendency to drift. It’s easy to fall into groves or patterns that we don’t always want or, sometimes, that we aren’t even conscious of. These habits—for good or ill—shape our souls and teach us what to love (not convinced? Start your quarantine here). Quarantine allows us to step back and evaluate.

In short, how you spend your quarantine matters.

Everybody’s quarantine is different. You may be married, have roommates, or live alone. You may be a student, you may still be working full-time, or work in healthcare. But whatever your quarantine is like, your rhythms of life have likely significantly changed.

With that in mind, there are a few things we can all do during quarantine.

1. Have fun, but take care of yourself. Do things just for the joy of doing them. As a rule of thumb, kids know how to have fun better than adults. So have fun in the ways you did when you were a kid, but avoid the mindless, time-killers you fall into as an adult. Play board games with your roommates (if you have any), do a puzzle, or learn how to dance on YouTube. Avoid scrolling through Instagram eight hours per day. You’ll surely be fed with articles and videos about how to be uber productive during your quarantine, but don’t bow to the American gods—just be, for once, and have some fun like you did as a kid.

However, don’t eat like you wanted to when you were a kid. Don’t subsist off Little Debbies and pancakes. Keep eating vegetables (when possible) and keep some semblance of a healthy diet. Just as importantly, find creative ways to exercise. In a time where you’re likely to be out of your house much less and do much less walking, this is all the more important. Hopefully, the weather will be nice enough for a run or long-walk. If not, try Zumba or a workout video online.

2. Rest well, but don’t be idle. Real rest is not just ceasing work, but an intentional time of slow down or pause to recharge the batteries. How many times have you completely zoned out scrolling on your phone only to feel drowsy and just out of it after? It’s also especially important to find a consistent sleep rhythm. Virus concerns are sure to make rest difficult because our anxiety levels are raised, but it’s because of this that rest is so important. Get unplugged, especially from the news, daily, and don’t let your worries disrupt your sleep.

3. Work hard, but don’t only work. It is important to have fun, it is important to rest, but your work still matters—no matter what you do. You can value work without bowing to the productivity gods. Instead of just droning on with emails, try to see your job or classes through a creative lens. Step back and think about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Think about ways it could be better.

Although this won’t be a problem for most of you, it will for some: don’t let work consume you either. The work-home boundary is now completely dissolved for most of you, but don’t let your work consume your life. Carve out plenty of time for rest and fun.

4. Be in community, but practice social distance. Perhaps the single greatest challenge of this quarantine is the lack of community. The very reason we are here is for the sake of social distance; it’s to not be around others so as to not spread the virus. Nonetheless, community is an essential part of the Christian life. That means it is not optional, and it can’t—or shouldn’t—be put on hold because of a pesky virus.

First, you should avail yourself of communication technologies we have access to. Texting is fine, but phone calls and even more so Skype or FaceTime are preferred. Your amount of face-to-face contact is about to go drastically down, but your amount of human-to-human contact doesn’t have to.

Second, consider meeting in smaller groups—but with extreme caution. Andy Crouch has some fantastic advice for Christian leaders during this time, and he has studied the virus extensively. He suggests continuing to meet together in some capacity, but to take hygiene measures that are going to feel extreme and socially awkward. But it’s worth it. Remember, we isolate because we love our neighbors.

In the meantime, continue to vigilantly avoid large crowds or unnecessary gatherings and continue to wash your hands like a madman who thinks he has a virus even though there’s no evidence of one…because you might!

5. Seek beauty, but not frivolity. When dinner time rolls around, it is all too easy to grab what is quick, easy, and asks little from us—how rarely do we take the time to craft a beautiful, more filling and fulfilling, feast? The same is true of how we imbibe media and art. It is almost certain that you will consume media—movies, music, and reading of some sort—but the question is what kind?

The temptation will be—incessantly—to reach for that which is quick, easy, and asks little from us. Whatever new RomCom is featured on Netflix’s homepage will probably make you giggle, but will it challenge you to think well? Will it cause you to ask important questions about what you love? Will it shape your soul well? Frivolity has its place, and sometimes the newest RomCom or a few episodes of The Office is like chicken soup for the soul. But challenge yourself during this quarantine to not only grab what is easy.

Watch a good movie or read a good book that you normally wouldn’t. Consume media that challenges you—that challenges your thoughts, emotions, or disrupts your way of seeing the world. Maybe sit (yes, just sit, and without your phone) and listen to your favorite musical artist. Like any good feast, you’ll find this more filling, fulfilling, and even enjoyable.

Let frivolity have its place, but don’t let it win the day.

6. Attend to your soul, but challenge your mind. Spend daily time with the Lord. This is too important of a practice to neglect as often as we do. The extra time, if nothing else, pulls the curtain on your excuses—you’re no longer staring down all the responsibilities you once had. Most often, doing this first thing in the morning seems to work best, but it might be different for some people.

Whenever you do it, try to develop two practices: silence and Lectio Divina. For silence, spend some time just sitting and listening. Our world is overrun with noise—now more than ever. So spend time each day just sitting and listening. Turn off the music and learn to be comfortable in the quiet. If you aren’t yet comfortable in the quiet, it might be because you don’t like what you hear.

Lectio Divina can refer to a specific set of practices, but here it’s just a short-hand for slowing and intentionally praying through Scripture. We often approach Scripture like we do other books, frantically reading to gather all the information we can. Yet its riches are most often found when it is prayed through, not merely read. For a guide on reading in this way, see this helpful introduction.

You might also be looking for more structure in your time with the Lord, but it’s ok if you don’t really know how to start. For a helpful starting point, see page 11 in this Book of Common Prayer. This Daily Office will guide you through some prayers and structure, if it’s helpful.

At the same time, it’s important to challenge your mind. This goes along well with #5, but you can also learn from Scripture. Scripture can surely be prayed through, but it can also be studied. You can do this by reading different translations and making connections in the texts, but you might also follow along the text in a good commentary—the Asbury Bible commentary can be had for free online, for example. Pray the text, but also study it.

7. Worship the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Unfortunately, this virus has caused many churches to cancel their worship services to support social distancing. For the first time in their nearly 2,000 year history, in fact, all the churches in Rome closed their doors. In times like these, it is essential that we continue to worship.

Worship, however, does not refer to a single activity of singing or listening to a sermon or reading your Bible. When done well, worship never ceases. In your rising, in your eating, in your playing, in your studying, in your reading, in your watching, in your sitting, and—yes—in your sleeping, all of life should be a shout of praise to God.

Above all, live a quarantine of worship to God.

Christian Student Fellowship