Stop and smell the flowers, and don’t lose your humanity in these troubled times


We’ve entered a new month. But the virus continues to spread in some countries and job losses mount. Hopes and dreams are still being put on hold, now with cancellations and postponements happening for events in the last months of 2020 as well. Most of us are tired. I’m tired of endless zoom calls, though they do provide at least some semblance of human connection. Fortunately I have a great marriage of 31 years. Can’t even imagine what the last few months would be like living with someone I struggled with.

We must keep our humanity in these days. Not doing things now in our online interactions that we will regret when we come out of this. In the months of June and July I found myself engaging on social media especially in politics in ways or amounts I had not done previously. I have blogged about political matters the past few years, so that wasn’t new, though this blog is not primarily about politics. One of my posts on Facebook generated over 400 comments of discussion. That is a lot for me.

Most comments were very positive about my engagement in that way. Not all, however. One person wrote that they liked me better as a ‘pastor’ rather than a ‘politician’. Actually I am neither. Someone else said that my posts had been ‘crap’, and privately even called them ‘sh..’, though apologizing later. Another person wrote and thought that I had left my mission organization and gone into politics. I think they were serious.

It is so difficult to know how to be ‘good and necessary trouble’, as recently deceased civil rights icon activist John Lewis famously said. And to do that in an appropriate way that is filled with kindness and love, not hate and anger. Do you know how to do that? I confess I am learning. Others question whether social media is the place to engage in any conversations other than wishing people happy birthdays and anniversaries, or sharing silly memes. But aren’t some things too important to be silent about?

One thing I am learning in living a contemplative life the past years is to take the time to ‘smell the flowers’, or to creatively pause. (you can see me in the photo actually smelling flowers in the gorgeous indoor botanical garden in Singapore a few years ago.) This is not only an actual physical action, but a metaphor for doing things that intentionally allow you to feed your humanity in a life-giving way. Activities that remind you who you really are, giving you the energy to go another day in lockdown or struggling through your economic crisis, or surviving in the toxic environment of social media in an election year.

A South African based pastor and writer I love reading and listening to is named Trevor Hudson. (You can listen to some great podcasts of his at the Renovare podcast site.) In his 2010 book, Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, he quotes the advice of St. Bernard of Clairvaux to a new pope: So then in order that your humanity may be entire and complete, let your bosom, which receives all, find room for yourself also. So remember to restore yourself to yourself…As an ordinary mortal I have an even greater need to ‘restore myself to myself’! I have to stop more frequently and smell the flowers.

Very wise advice for someone assuming great global responsibility. Or for us, still living in a global pandemic. Is your humanity entire and complete? Are you finding room for yourself, or have you shut yourself out and locked the doors. Are you in a lockdown of your own making, of what makes you most human? For those of us with religious faith, we believe in a God of restoration. But sometimes we do not know the need also to restore ourselves to ourselves.

Here are a few very simple ways from me to stop and smell the flowers, and restore our lost humanity. These are things I am practicing, and learning.

1) Take the time to step away, even for a moment or a day or longer, from whatever is dominating you.

For me, being involved so intensely on social media was a response from within. I felt I needed to not be silent about a few things important to me, like racism or religious nationalism. But as I mentioned, responses can at times be toxic. There is an intensity to being involved in a social media community that can continue 24/7 due to people from all over the world interacting. Stepping away from it is crucial.

2) Stop and smell the flowers, sometimes literally.

Recently some of our family went up to a beautiful mountain area near where we are living during the pandemic. Being out in God’s creation did something special in my soul. We had limited internet connectivity where we stayed, which was also great. We took short hikes and overall ‘unplugged’. If you have access to places like this and the time to do so, take advantage of them.

3) Do the internal work necessary during this difficult time.

There are so many emotions in all of us. The uncertainty we felt back in March is still there now in August. Things keep getting cancelled and postponed. Financial pressures are even more acute. Spend the time you need in silence, in reflection, or if needed by having a counselor even over zoom if needed. There is no shame in having a counselor or spiritual director or coach. We all need help at times in our lives.

4) Find a hobby and do it bit by bit.

Being fully human means having your feet firmly fixed on the earth. Helpful to that are centering activities like hobbies. My primary one is reading. I read for learning, but also for pleasure. I thought I would read even more during these months of lockdown, but alas too many zoom calls! But I have enjoyed reading anyway, including some books for a second time in my large library. What is your hobby? Hopefully it is something that gives you life, energy, and joy.

5) Everyday, try and reclaim your humanity even a little.

One of the ways we do that is by being kind and loving to people. Instead of flaming people on social media, respond with kindness. The next three months until the US election will be a difficult time here in the United States. There will be lots of dire warnings from each side about what will happen if their side loses. Don’t give in to the hysteria that this is the end of the world if your side loses, or their side wins. Be kind to people, and truly love your enemies, even the political ones. Life will go on after Nov. 3.

6) Connect more deeply to a faith that bears you up under the blows of life.

For me, my faith in Christ provides the foundation for a world that sometimes seems to be shaking beyond my control. This world is not all there is, nor is this life the end of our existence. As E. Stanley Jones titled one of his books, The Unshakable Kingdom and the Unchanging Person, referring to the Eternal Kingdom and the Person of Jesus Christ.

We’re in for a continued rough ride the next few months and years. And not only because of the pandemic.

Stop and smell the flowers, and reclaim your humanity.

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