It really does. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, COVID19, ie the coronavirus, sucks. Italy is collapsing. ER doctors are already getting overwhelmed. We are facing a nationwide medical supply shortage. Shelves are being cleared of basic staples. There have been fights over toilet paper. Whole states are on lock down with ever-increasing restrictions on who can be out and for what purpose. Events have been canceled. Activities have been canceled. Schools have been canceled. Whole routines are knocked out of sync. Businesses are closing down. People are going without paychecks. Others are losing their entire livelihood.
And then you or someone you love just might get sick from this thing. They might die.
It’s as if there were a lion on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour.
Between all the arguing over whether the virus or the shutdowns pose a bigger threat to our nation are an increasing number of posts encouraging me to look on the bright side. To see God in all of this. To enjoy the time with family. To appreciate the reset. To see the helpers. To be the helper. To always be joyful. To always be grateful. To always see the positive. To always look on the bright side.
It isn’t a bad message. It’s a good message in its proper context.
But if you are struggling with increasing anxiety as you surf facebook, check worldometer and sift through all the headlines blaring the same few messages, it may not be the message that you need to hear right now. It may not be the message you need to hear because it is essentially a message of avoidance. It is asking you to look away from the lion and toward all that it might destroy and be thankful.
But the lion is still there. And all of what it represents sucks. The death, the lock downs, the uncertainty — all of it. Your perspective isn’t the problem. The problem is that you are gearing up for a battle you can’t fight. It is completely out of your control.
Your brain sees that lion on the prowl. It can’t decide whether to fight or run or hide. It gets confused by the message to be still and try not to eat all the potato chips.
There isn’t a lot you can do about the threats your brain is trying to process. It isn’t that kind of a lion. But I’ve walked through his territory before and I can give you some hints on how to proceed.
When bad things happen, you have to acknowledge them.
You have to see them for what they are. You have to look at all the things they have taken from you and name them one by one. And you have to give them a voice.
If you are feeling anxious, take some time to yourself to write out everything you are worried about. Put it in bullet points, start a personal journal or set it to poetry. The form doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you confront directly the fears that rise to the surface and stop the impulse to hide them behind a polite smile and the three things you are most grateful for. Confront them directly, give them a name and provide them with a voice in your journal or with a friend who will listen first.
Think of it as being honest with yourself and honest with God about where you really are right now.
Look for patterns.
If you get a good list together, you may notice some patterns. Some of the things on your list may not be very realistic. Some may be outright lies. (I’m not good enough . . . , I can’t handle . . . , I won’t be able to . . . ). Some may not be that worrisome on their own. Some you may have some control over. Some you may not. Some may be truly frightening and truly possible.
Confront lies with truth. With God, you are good enough. You are strong enough. You will be able to do the things you have to do.
Prioritize your list and deal with the things you can.
Make a plan for the things you have control over and a contingency plan for the things you don’t.
And if the fear of death has gripped you, ask yourself if the fear is robbing you of the joy of the time you have right now. None of us knows what tomorrow holds. But we all have a piece of today left to love and an eternity in heaven to love more.
Above all, pray.
God hears the groanings of the spirit. I’m no theologian, but I think that is in the Bible to remind us that our prayers do not need to be formal expressions of gratitude in the midst of our suffering. Our prayers can be mournful cries where the words just won’t form. We get there when we let down the facades we build up to convince ourselves and those around us that everything is fine. That we are happy. That we are good, joyful Christians who are truly blessed by all the gifts God has given us.
This place you have to go to confront your anxieties is not a place you want to stay. You shouldn’t stay there. It also isn’t a place you want to go. You just need to go there. You need to go there long enough for your brain to say, “Yes, those are the things I’m worried about.” You’ll know because you’ll feel a little bit of a release, even if only for a little while. General feelings of anxiousness tend to give way when you acknowledge the specific fears that you are trying to suppress.
Then look for the good.
Then take a deep breath, let it out slowly and reach for your gratitude journal. Count your blessings. Look for the positive news stories to balance the flood of information. Keep perspective. And remember that perspective isn’t about seeing only the positive, but looking from a vantage point above the chaos that allows you to not be so easily overwhelmed. When you have perspective, you can see the lion, but you see it from a distance that doesn’t force an immediate reaction. You see the threat, but also the escape. With proper perspective, you see both the lion and heaven.
When that anxiety begins to creep back in, calmly tell your brain that yes, there is a threat. There is a threat and there is a God. And the lion cannot touch any of the things that really matter. Not forever.
And please, share something about this whole mess that sucks for you. I would love to pray for you.