These are strange times. The world as we know it is changing. As we well know, change is uncomfortable. We have to grieve the world we knew, accept the changes, and adapt to the challenges the future will bring. How should we respond?
- Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. Anxiety is not a sin. It is a normal human response to an abnormal situation. As Rachel Miley expressed so well in her article, Why You Are Not Thriving in Quarantine, our basic needs- physical, safety, economic- have been threatened. Many of us have been separated from the community of friends and family that bring us comfort. The future is uncertain. All of this creates a stress reaction in our bodies, and we have been in a hyper aroused state for a few months now. Many of us have a short fuse at the moment. Be patient with yourself and others.
- Remember what you already know. Life is full of problems and challenges right now. Why are we surprised? Jesus warned us: “In this world you will have trouble”. But we apparently breezed past that part. He finished his thought by saying, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33. That is where we need to focus.
When my daughter was young, she would read the last chapter of her books before she started them because she reasoned that if she knew the end of the story, she could relax and enjoy it. We do know the end of the story. We are currently being invited to participate in the writing of that story and our beliefs will be obvious by what we do. Dallas Willard once said, “We often speak of people not living up to their faith. But…genuine beliefs are made obvious by what people do. We always live up to our beliefs, or down to them as the case may be.” Which leads me to my next point…
- Do not give in to fear and paranoia. It is easy to do. Emotions are contagious. Between the news, social media, and our own friends and family, the level of stress and anxiety is high, but scripture never presents a hunker down and “circle-the-wagons” approach to hardship. To the contrary. When Joshua was preparing to enter the Promised Land, he was terrified. He saw the people who lived there and was ready to give up. God’s response? “Have I not commanded you, be strong and courageous? Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9. Joshua had to move forward in faith, and so do we.
- Find meaning in your circumstances. To paraphrase Frederick Nietzsche, if we have a why for living, we can handle almost any circumstances in which we find ourselves. Viktor Frankl certainly found that was what helped prisoners survive in concentration camps. And who has a greater why than believers? Have you ever wondered why God place you in this particular time in history? Why us? Why now? What is God trying to teach you or me? I am not-so-secretly hoping someone’s why is to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Or maybe you are being called to social or political action. Whatever your specific calling, all of us are being asked to exercise our faith and pray.
- Be realistic and hopeful. We can and must face the truth. Otherwise how will we plan or prepare for the future? Would it make sense to tell our oncologist, “I don’t want to hear I have cancer” when knowing so might give us the opportunity to have life-saving treatment? And yet it is in our human nature to avoid pain in the present, even if doing so makes things worse in the long run. I see many people in my line of work who have a deeply embedded pattern of avoidance, and it has made their problems exponentially worse.
Resilient people are able to look reality in the face and remain optimistic. Admiral Jim Stockdale found that realistic optimism helped many of his men survive during the eight years they were prisoners of the Vietcong. In contrast, those with naïve and unrealistic optimism gave in to hopelessness and despair, and they did not survive.
- Exercise courage. Fear paralyzes us, rather than inspiring creativity and innovative problem-solving. I have always liked the question, what would you do if you knew you could not fail, because it reveals how much fear holds us back. God calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful, because the final results are up to him. We just have to do our part. To wrap up, I will leave you with a summary of how we should handle ourselves in crisis: God does not give us a spirit that makes us afraid, but a spirit of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7