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Everyday Ignatian: How Spiritual Freedom Has Saved My Sanity During Quarantine

Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.

By Shannon K. Evans

April 27, 2020 — I greedily gulped down my second cup of coffee as our basement printer whirred with the sound of my kids’ education. Or, more accurately, with my feeble attempt at simply making sure their little brains don’t turn to mush as the school-less weeks tick by. A dozen sheets of warm paper slid out of the printer, the worksheet-creating saints of the internet saving the day once more.

Gathering everyone around the kitchen table, I darted from seat to seat, trying to remember fourth-grade long division while consoling a screaming toddler. When I returned to my kindergartener’s side I was aghast to find angry scribbles all over the worksheet I had carefully selected for him. “I couldn’t do it,” he spat out. “It was too loud and you couldn’t hear me and I got frustrated!”

This isn’t what I signed up for, I thought for the millionth time, eyes darting to my abandoned laptop where the book I had started writing months ago went untouched. After the postpartum haze of fall and winter, this spring was supposed to have been devoted largely to my exploits outside of motherhood. The dust was finally beginning to settle after giving birth to our fifth child, and I was eager and resolute to reconnect with myself as an individual again. Speaking engagements, a writing schedule, a personal retreat — I was planning to pack a lot of punch into these long-awaited months. And yet, suddenly, here I was instead: housebound along with the rest of the nation and reluctantly homeschooling.

When the Center for Disease Control and Prevention called for extreme social distancing measures in March, my heart had sunk. My spouse would have to continue his workload since we live on his income, so I would be on my own in most of the care of our children without the usual help of teachers, grandparents and babysitters. Luckily, being a freelancer means I can’t lose my job. Unluckily, I can still lose my sanity.

Suddenly all the balance I had worked so hard to provide myself was being stripped away. How was I going to handle this? Would my mental health completely unravel? Initially, I had a moment of panic.

But Ignatian spirituality had prepared me more than I’d given it credit for. Practicing indifference had taught me that true freedom lies in detachment from things, plans or outcomes, and that such freedom allows me to experience a loving relationship with God in the present moment no matter my circumstances.

Saint Ignatius wrote, “The laborers in the Lord’s vineyard should have one foot on the ground, and the other raised to proceed on their journey.” This speaks to the Ignatian admonition to live in freedom, ready at any moment to change direction should God make it clear that it is best. This doesn’t mean we are noncommittal: On the contrary, we are called to commit deeply and love in the present reality wholeheartedly. But spiritual freedom asks that we hold our plans and desires loosely, cultivating a sense of trust in God’s goodness beyond circumstances.

The years of Jesus’ public ministry were marked by radical generosity. In his life, this looked like humble self-giving, flexibility over rigidity and prioritizing people over plans. In light of his example, the call in my life today is clear: True spiritual freedom is in relinquishing everything I thought this spring would be and accepting the circumstances of my reality with a generous spirit. Little by little, I’m learning to carry hopes and goals without being enslaved to them. Little by little, I’m savoring the presence of God in a sunny patch of grass, in a book read aloud to my kids and in Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes.

There will be time in the future for that book I want to write. But on this morning, God was calling me to my kitchen table, to be fully and lovingly present for five confused children whose worlds have been turned upside down. So I slid in next to my kindergartner on the bench, stroked his hair and affirmed his frustrations. I knew I was not being kept from more important things. I knew the only calling I could follow was the calling for this day. And that somehow, everything I needed to thrive was already right there. Now that’s freedom.

More by Shannon Evans on

On Being Black and Catholic in 2020

The Question of Materialism and How Much is too Much

Discerning the Greater Glory of God in My Response to the Coronavirus

Small Acts of Solidarity

Imitating Mary’s Motherhood Calls Me to a Life of Justice

Savor Grace This Christmas

Prayer Showed Me My Anger — And That’s a Good Thing

My Prayer for Detachment when Family Dinner with Five Kids is Chaos

How St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises Saved My Faith

Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.

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