Plan Ahead: Wise Counsel for the Winter Season
Back in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the very first piece I wrote for our church’s blog was on how to thrive in the new normal of shelter-in-place restrictions. It was a practical blog on accomplishing employment responsibilities, e-learning, and having personal time in a quarantined home. This was in direct response to a surge of counseling I was engaged in—trying to assist parents and kids in working together for the overall well-being of their homes in those very uncertain, early days.
Over the last few weeks, I have seen a similar surge as parents (and teens) made critical decisions about homeschooling, e-learning, employment schedules, contact sports, and a host of related subjects with regard to fall 2020, and predicting the potential realities of the next few months. As such, it gave me pause, and yielded the need to revisit and expand on that previous piece as we look to the next season of life (fall/winter 2020-21). Some of this may be familiar to you, given my previous writing on the subject. However, much has changed culturally. As a result, I have significantly updated and enhanced many of the points of application and encourage you to consider the whole of this in great detail as you plan for the coming season.
I’d like to remind us of Proverbs 24:27. This verse focuses on planning ahead. It emphasizes thinking through tasks that need to be accomplished, preparing for them by having a plan, and only then executing said plan. I believe this is a needed consideration. The verse reads:
“Prepare your work outside;get everything ready for yourself in the field,and after that build your house” (ESV).
We live in uncertain times. Uncertainty makes it difficult to plan. This is further complicated by the fact that depending on your school district and county, the scholastic and employment expectations you are subject to are not the same as those of your neighbors. There is little continuity, which results in difficulty in feeling connected and working together with others for community solutions (unlike the continuity of shelter-in-place expectations some months ago). This is complicated even further by growing concern over surges of COVID-positive cases around the country as kids go back to school at all levels of education.
For the Christian, these concerns should drive us back to Scripture for guidance on what we can do in uncertain times. Proverbs 24:27 reminds us to plan as much as we can. With a plan, comes the ability to adapt more quickly because there is, at least, a foundation that can be modified, as opposed to starting from scratch.
As I have shared previously, we are accustomed to our lives being routine. From work to school to extracurricular sports, church activities, and everything else in between, both parents and kids are accustomed to having a plan and knowing what’s coming next. One of the single most significant things that families can do is establish what daily rhythms and expectations they can, and a schedule that will create an “operating but adaptable normal” for your home.
We again follow the instruction of Proverbs 24:27 and form an adaptable plan.
Step 1: Create a schedule with a breakdown of the bulk of the day (ex. 6am – 10pm), broken down into 30- or 60-minute slots
I recommend using something like Google Calendar, or the calendar app on your phone, that will give you an hour by hour breakdown. You want the ability to break the beats of your day down into manageable chunks and see what’s coming next to create new routine. Seeing the daily tasks or activities in print makes them much easier to accomplish rather than simply keeping a mental schedule of the day.
When you finish the remaining steps, sync your family calendars digitally (if you have age-appropriate children for this), and print it to keep your family on the same page.
Step 2: Incorporate the parts of your previous routine that are still possible
We spent a little more than five months on what, for many, seemed like an extended summer vacation. New routines were formed. New traditions were established. A new normal was found. Thus, this principle remains tremendously relevant. Do not just jettison these new lifestyle choices. Incorporate as many of them as is responsible. If your family became accustomed to getting up at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast before work and/or school, keep it up. If you had a family devotional time in the morning, continue that practice. If your kids got used to sleeping till 9:00 a.m., and they are homeschooling, e-learning, or on a modified schedule, let it ride as long as they are able to accomplish all of their responsibilities and it does not inhibit the overall family unit. Do not over-complicate your life by trying to force the old normal back in if the new normal works. Use it to your advantage. As many of your COVID routines that can be utilized, should be. This will help the whole of your family maintain its new normal.
Step 3: Build the essentials into your calendar
Schedule in employment responsibilities, appointments, e-learning hours, travel time to and from work/school if helpful, extracurricular activities, as well as any other week to week trips, such as trips to the store, church, etc. The more you can account for, the better planned and prepared you will be.
In the previous piece on this, I emphasized the scheduling of fun as a step of its own. I am going to relocate that point here. Prioritize spending quality, stress-free time together as a family. Healthy relationships are built on communication, time, and relational intimacy. This happens only if the effort is made to cultivate it. Ensure, as you cultivate your essentials schedule, that family fun is a part of it.
Step 3b: A few essentials for those of you with kids at home (homeschooling, e-learning, hybrid-model):
Step 4: Prioritize family growth
Remembering verses like Ephesians 6:4, we are taught by Paul to train and instruct our children in the Lord. It is the responsibility of parents to prioritize time for your family to grow in Jesus together. This is not new, but it is biblical and essential.
Step 5: PLAN AHEAD!
Speaking personally, this is my main concern. It was this point in numerous counseling sessions that led me to revisit and expand on my previous thoughts (as well as retitle the article entirely) in an effort to help our church not be surprised as the world continues to change in the weeks ahead. Because, friends, there is much uncertainty in the world right now. While no future is set in stone, there are a number of foreseeable potentials that warrant planning, to the extent that we can. One such potential is a shutdown of the school system, and a full transition back to e-learning and homeschooling.
In counseling, I will frequently use the phrase: “respond thoughtfully, don’t react emotionally.” That is what I am encouraging you toward. I am not being an alarmist. I am encouraging and exhorting us all to follow biblical truth(s) such as Proverbs 24:27 and responsibly plan ahead for very real potentials. With COVID-positive cases slowly on the rise, cold weather coming, the availability of the outdoors beginning to dwindle, and a host of other factors to consider, our culture is set to head back indoors, as it largely does every year as the weather gets colder. The implications are somewhat foreseeable. But unlike March, we have the ability to diligently prepare.
If you are reading this, I cannot encourage you enough to plan ahead. Better to be responsively overprepared and ready, than underprepared and reactive. Look at your schedule as it stands, and develop a few contingency plans for your life, schedule, employment, school demands, etc.
At the very least, you/we give ourselves a foundation to operate from adaptations foreseen as being potential realities for you and your family. The worst-case scenario is you are ready for something that does not occur. The best-case scenario is you and your family weather the next significant shift largely unencumbered.
One of the things I love about God’s Word is that half a year later, we can revisit a truth previously studied and draw out new and precise application from it. I pray that this serves you and your family in needed preparedness for this next season of life.