Being stuck indoors can be frustrating as some of us are just now discovering. Due to a debilitating chronic illness I’ve been stuck in for most of the last 24 years, completely housebound the last few, and currently spend 23 hours a day in bed. I know, then, a little bit about isolation.
It’s been said that this time of enforced stillness might bear the fruit of contemplation in many of us. It’s true that this could be an opportunity to pray more and maybe think about starting spiritual or creative practices we haven’t made the time for till now. Certainly, God has been gracious in leading me into a deep and enriching prayer life. I can recommend it wholeheartedly!
But the first thing I want to say is that things of God are never forced, and so, whilst these intentions are good, the best use of this time is to sow the seeds for those things, rather than imagining we can all become saintly figures over the course of a month. We must not make the mistake of thinking this is just another thing on our to-do list, or that it is easily accomplished. It takes years of making time for prayerful silence, soul work and building relationship with God before much fruit appears. I know I spent the first few years of my own seclusion mostly demanding healing and then sulking when it didn’t come.
So, I would caution others to be patient with themselves. But yes, beginning the contemplative journey is going to take discipline, time and no shortage of challenges. Here are just a few of the main things that I would focus on to make a good beginning.
Firstly, and especially if you live with a partner, spouse or family, you will need grace. Buckets of it. Things that irritate you need to not just be forgiven, but accepted and even loved. When you can’t get away from one another, this will be crucial. Work at honest but loving communication, because in a time of confinement, treading on eggshells and letting frustrations build up is not going to end up anywhere good. Small annoyances and grievances will magnify, so they need to be dealt with lovingly and quickly. Appreciate too, that there are things you do that are annoying to those around you. Ask what they are and find ways to minimise sticking points.
As well as exercising your grace muscles, you will need to become more aware, and this too will help you in your contemplative time. See the small things. Look at your living space with different eyes, because you need to be able to change activities often to avoid boredom and frustration. If you are going to start new practices, then you may, for example, want to place a dining chair in the hall, if that’s the quietest place in the house and the best place to pray. Or your kitchen table might become an art studio. If you live in a small space, as my husband and I do, you may need to become pretty inventive about that. Susannah Wesley (mother of John and Charles) wore a large apron. When she wanted to pray, she sat with it pulled up over her head to create a tiny sanctuary. The children knew not to disturb her if the apron was up!
Awareness and grace will also help you learn gratitude. This is a spiritual practice in itself and believe me, it is vital. Treasures such as beautiful birds at the feeder, a flower glimpsed through the curtains, your cat purring, these will become sources of immense thankfulness. With gratitude in your armoury, you can change the irritation of a barking dog into a semblance of joy that it is singing its song. It’s not easy, but it is doable, with God’s help. And you will need his help, so ask for it every moment.
Build up your prayer life slowly, starting with a few minutes and letting the desire to do it lead you into spending longer with the Lord. Forcing it will just make you sit there resenting the time, and I don’t think he would enjoy it much either! So be disciplined, but as they say, “don’t push the river.”
And the most powerful spiritual weapon in your arsenal at this time may well be a sense of humour. I think that, along with prayer and creativity, it is laughter that has kept me (relatively) sane all this time. God bless you, protect and guide you in this difficult time.
Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a chronically ill writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her creativity features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Keren’s full-length publications include Recital of Love and Garden of God’s Heart. She lives in South East England and is mainly housebound. Keren’s website is: https://www.kerendibbenswyatt.
com/ and you can find her at her Facebook page The Honeycomb Hermit and on Twitter.