Anyone who has experienced severely restricted movement or personal liberty for a prolonged period has also felt the urgent desire to reengage. Immediately. The human spirit – and body – does not like being blocked for very long. Like animals caged in a zoo, it feels wrong when the human person is restrained from a full life.

Such has been the collective experience for the past month all over the world. Most human activity – in business, leisure, friendship, and family — has been bitterly postponed during the pandemic. We don’t know when we will regain “normalcy.”

Lockdown is the antithesis of being born in the image and likeness of God. It is a denial of our fundamental human dignity, creativity, and liberty to continue forging our vocational journeys.

However, once we do get our “get out of jail card,” we imagine that we will soon be firing on all cylinders, revving up full throttle to reconnect with our real life, our unique calling.

The question is, after a long period of sustained inactivity, should we rush back to continue our “normal lives” of constant movement and stimulation, our hectic work lives, high-achieving school schedules, and hopping social lives? Or do we run the risk of tossing aside invaluable habits that we might have developed during our downtime?

Many of us need to return to work as quickly as possible to simply make ends meet. Many of our jobs are critical for the greater social good. When our work is part of a deeply personal mission and necessary for earning our daily bread when cupboards are bare, it’s normal to be eager to be racing again from the “re-starting” line.

However, there is something to be said about gradualness, about taking our time to reengage our lifelong pursuits.

One habit we all have had the time to foster is none other than the ability to stop and think outside of our compulsion to act, act, act in the frenetic rat race.

The Greek philosophers knew very well the power and investment of cultivated reflection. Their mantra was “the intellectual life is ordered toward discerning the good.” The critical discernment (from di “from” and scire “knowing”) meant a healthy detachment from personal knowledge. This allowed the ancients take a step back from presumptions to critically evaluate their path and not pridefully rush to false conclusions.

Discernment is inherent to gradualness. As we take things slowly, step by step, we stop and wonder exactly where we’re heading along the complex road map of life. We stop and think about all life’s inconvenient and fortuitous intersections, bizarre twists and turns, and unfortunate dead ends. We ponder pivoting for our next critical move, to drive along wide, clear avenues, the highways of wise choices that lead to human flourishing.

Stephen Covey, the late “proactive” leadership expert, was no doubt an advocate of taking massive action, as he mentored international business leaders to stay creatively committed to risky ventures. Yet, we must understand that Covey was the entrepreneur’s philosopher extraordinaire because he was not just thoughtful about business activity, but also entrepreneurial pro-activity. He placed so much of his attention on the pro, “the before” of getting busy.

In his simplification of all human action into four major quadrants, Covey taught business leaders that they must inhale before they exhale. He called this the “non-urgent, but highly important” sector of human activity. He said this is what we should be concentrating on each day during structured moments of pause and downshifting. He said that inattention to this seemingly “unproductive” time is the Achilles’ heel of most hyperactive businesspeople.

Covey, therefore, advised that every day, we should lend time and attention to what we normally take for granted, but which pays dividends for long-term success: relationship building, enjoying beautiful art and music, examining our conscience, and doing nit-picky revisions of plans and objectives. He even recommended “wasting time” daydreaming — the mother of invention.

Covey’s fundamental lesson is slowing down to “re-create” and “re-measure” our journey each day before beginning a complicated new one. During our stress-free leisure, prayer, and contemplation, we discover our creative side; we come to know better those whom we are truly called to serve; and we humbly reassess our “value chain” and “knowledge base” for action.

When this unique period of history finally reaches its terminus, may we be able to find the courage – not rashness – to look before we leap while carrying forward all that sustains us: our contemplation of the good life, our humble rejection of our mistaken presumptions, and the inspiration that nourishes us through friendship, community, and worship.

Gradually going back doesn’t have to seem like putting the brakes on a thrill ride, but making sure we don’t run out of fuel and being thrown off the course of our God-given destiny.

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