We’ve all been there. A party or event we’d rather not be at and aren’t enjoying. We promised the host we’d join, and after greeting her, we feel we’ve fulfilled our social contract. It’s time to bolt. We quietly slip out with the hope that nobody notices. Let them continue in their revelry. It’s time for our own, whatever that may consist of: gathering with a more intimate group of actual friends, watching Bridgerton with only a glass of pinot for company, finally finishing knitting those alpaca wool mittens, curling up to read Elena Ferrante in your pajamas, putting the mast up on your HMS Beagle ship-in-a-bottle model—whatever floats your boat.
The Irish goodbye, the French exit, just ghosting—you know what I’m talking about. It’s the perfect solution for occasions we feel obligated to attend and where there’s enough going on so as to not call attention to our departure.
Time to pursue something new
It’s been about a year since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the devastation left in its wake has far surpassed whatever we might have imagined at its start. At the same time, I want to invite you, for a brief moment, to consider an alternative perspective on this period of our lives. Now, after ten months of social isolation, you may be sick and tired of trying to reframe your perspective on the matter. You just want to touch another human being or go to the grocery store without playing amateur epidemiologist. I get it.
But, for the sake of your overall well-being, try taking a short, imaginative jaunt with me into a different mindset. And that’s this: consider this pandemic as that party you’d rather not be at. And think of the wordless, unceremonious goodbye as the start of your new life.
Here’s what I mean. Most of us, as grown adults raised in a society with certain social customs and expectations, have accumulated a lot of responsibilities and relationships over the years. This doesn’t usually even take much effort; it happens merely by existing. If you’re like me and tend to say “yes” to everything because you want everyone to like you, you may have accumulated an excess of those responsibilities and relationships, taking on things that aren’t actually in alignment with your true and authentic self.
For instance, I once went to a parent meeting and left as the chair of the baking committee. I don’t bake. I hate baking, in fact. But there I was, googling brownie recipes and wondering whether there is gluten in buckwheat flour.
If you’re like me, those yeses piled up and overtook those activities and people you actually do want to focus on, further distancing you from your preferences and sources of joy. Then, a glorious disaster hit that forced you to cut off nearly all of your in-person social responsibilities. You moaned and grieved the loss of your support systems—systems that enabled you to live a hyper-productive life balancing parenthood, a full-time career, an active social life, and a robust exercise regimen. What you didn’t realize, though, was that you were just handed the keys of liberation from your cage, or to use an earlier metaphor, the cue for your Irish goodbye. Why is this the case? Because, unlike those pre-pandemic days of covert and unspoken surveillance, nobody’s watching you now.
To date, several of my friends have ended long-term relationships, even marriages. Others have left their jobs and moved across the country. And one woman I know even left a plum church appointment in one of the most idyllic cities in the entire country just to move in with her parents and be a stay-at-home mom (she’s just a random person I know, I swear.)
What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a coincidence that people are upending their lives right now and seeing this pandemic as a chance to start anew, to shed all the obligations they felt bound to but were actually stripping them of their joie de vivre. Now is the time to bolt because they didn’t have to spend hours explaining or justifying their decisions to others and garnering their approval. They didn’t have to encounter sympathetic faces or disapproving sighs upon the news of their divorce. They no longer needed to provide an account of what they were doing and why. They finally felt free to pursue the path they always (or perhaps only now, when nobody was watching) knew was right for them.
Free to be honest
This isn’t about promoting reckless living and being guided by fleeting emotions to pursue an epicurean life of pure pleasure. That wouldn’t be satisfying—or at least not for long. This is about getting deep-in-the-gut honest with oneself. This is about thinking through who you really are and what you truly want in life. No more lies, no more facades.
Throughout the entire Bible, stories like this are sprinkled all over—individuals with wild hearts and a belief that there is more to life than what they were handed, a calling they knew they were born to fulfill but would be mercilessly ridiculed if they expressed what they knew inside aloud. So, they left their hometowns, obligations, and prescribed roles and began to dance to the beat of their own drums, thereby saving entire cities or more, paving paths of liberation for others, and in the case of Jesus, all of the above.
I have spent my entire life trying to be everything others have wanted me to be, except for the one person whose opinion and preferences matter most—me. I did so much to gain the approval to so many—that of friends, authority figures, family members, and of course, God. But when I fell down during this seemingly never-ending race, I heard a totally different kind of message than the one I heard growing up: my life wasn’t a race to win or a test to pass. Rather, it was a gift to receive in order to experience more joy. This meant that my worth and value were infinite, non-negotiable, and bestowed upon me from the moment I was born. I didn’t need to strive for them with good grades and Saturday morning service projects. From that moment on, I was free to craft a life that matched with my truest desires, a life that filled me with joy. This was and is God’s intention for all of us, if we would only believe it.
Maybe you could consider it now because you finally have the permission you need. Nobody’s watching you. So, run. And live the one life you were given.
The Rev. Lydia Sohn is an United Methodist ordained elder within the California Pacific Conference. She left her full-time church appointment at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to blog, write a book, and be a stay-at-home mom for her two young kids. Follow along at www.revlydia.com .