This moment looks different for everyone. The moment that the pandemic goes from a situation I hear about on the news to an intruder that tears its way abruptly into my day. The moment COVID-19 gets personal.
The duck, duck, goose moment. Ducked this hit, ducked that hit, coping, coping, GOOSE!
For stronger souls, its might be something bigger that finally gets to them, but for me, it was the eggs.
I’ve been rationing eggs. I was prepared for it if there were no eggs. I got to the store and found a shelf full of eggs!
Round-trip to Walmart is an hour of driving for me. Today I had made the trip for flour, only to find that all the stores were out of flour. The milk and pizza aisles had signs legislating the max quantity per customer. But at least there were eggs again! I put two cartons in my basket and happily went on my way, relieved that I wouldn’t run out by Sunday and have to drive to town again.
I had already started the self check-out process at the register when a Walmart employee walked up to my cart and said matter-of-factly, “You have too many eggs. Each customer can only have one carton.” My heart sank as she reached into my cart and took away my 5 extra days of no grocery shopping.
The lady checking out across from me piped up, “Oooh! Could I have those?”
I should have just been happy that someone who needed eggs was able to get the carton I wasn’t allowed to have. But, on the inside, I was just seething that I wasn’t allowed to have it.
I hadn’t seen a sign. The shelves looked fine. I wasn’t taking a ridiculous amount. But I was shamed by the Robin Hood Walmart lady who took my eggs, and I was furious for the rest of the day.
A Gap in my Understanding
So I went to the other grocery store in town and bought a second carton of eggs in defiance (ugly moment, I know). I drove home stewing. I complained to Cody. I complained to everyone. Then I complained to the Lord and he brought to mind two things:
It is fine for situations to be less than smooth, especially right now.
It is okay for me to come up against these situations not perfectly prepared. It’s all right to be distressed by an employee taking my groceries from me (even if I should be happy they went to someone that needed them). I’m allowed to struggle as the opportunities to be around other people disappear and to wrestle with how to be thankful when I feel trapped.
It’s new. It’s hard. It’s an adjustment. And it’s the unsurprising evidence that I’m human and I need the Lord just as desperately as ever.
2. There’s a gap in my understanding.
Colossians 2:9-10 says, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ…”
I’m familiar with the verse. I have it memorized. But I don’t know how to use it. I need being ‘complete in Christ’ to make a difference at the real-life level of feeling sad and lonely because I can’t see my friends, feeling robbed and accused when the Walmart lady takes my eggs, feeling dread when I look ahead to a month with just my family and see how much I prefer the option of socializing over the calling to love the people I live with day in and day out.
Why isn’t this working?
Because I am complete in Christ, I am not supposed to treat the company of other people hungrily. I’m supposed to be able to face a month-long world pandemic quarantine and not be insecure and needy.
I’m supposed to be calm, collected and confident that the Savior in whom I am complete will faithfully meet my needs, even my needs for eggs and interaction. So why isn’t it working?
I think that feeling angry or anxious or lonely or just tired of it all doesn’t mean it’s not working.
Being complete in Christ means I am able to experience all of that and still allow His peace to rule. Being complete in Christ means I can take the disillusionment and frustration and angst and make it yield to the truth:
How do I face the next month of this?
“Christ is all that matters. And He lives in all of us…you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults…Above all, clothe yourselves with love…”
This is what Christ’s life looks like, and in the midst of broken systems and plans that are coming apart at the seams, it still works. It’s not falling apart. It’s not out of stock. It’s not cancelled.
It walks us through the how of each next moment.
And Christ’s answer to how do I face the next month of this? is this:
In love. In my strength. Ruled by my peace.
Just wrap yourself up tight in this beautiful truth: You are complete in me. I complete every single area where you fall short. I am more than enough for you.
And that means you can face this.
Just come to me in every moment
And I will supply all that you lack to walk through the next moment in love.
“But He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me. So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ…
At my husband, at my son when he constantly asks me for snacks, at myself because I knocked a whole roll of toilet paper into my washer without noticing AND WASHED IT in the middle of a toilet paper crisis. At my sweater because I couldn’t get it onto the clothes hanger the first try.
That was the indicator that let me know this wasn’t really about my husband or my son or the TP or my sweater. The small situations were not causing me to be bothered, they were revealing that I am bothered by something deeper.
My heart has been heavy over all the unknowns and precautions and trying to walk the fine line between wisdom and paranoia. The scientific community is making progress on treatment possibilities, but they’re still in the clinical trials stage. Models suggest that the measures we have taken will help keep healthcare resources available to the severely ill, but that this scenario our world is in will not resolve quickly.
Meanwhile, I’m concerned about our investments, unsure about our income and our economy, aware of the threat that looms over the vulnerable people I love. I’m wrestling with how powerless I am to protect them. I’m angsty over how long I may have to go without social interaction. I’m unnerved by the opinions and interactions on social media that are growing sharper as the disease spreads and the stress sets in. I feel all my plans growing less and less likely in the coming months.
As painful scenarios leave the hypothetical and start to rip their way into our reality, it’s more challenging to dismiss my concerns. The coronavirus concerns are valid.
And they are heavy.
Is it as simple as “Just don’t worry about it?”
I have been sitting with this verse.
“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”
I love that I am not asked to wildly abandon my concerns as if they’re just in my head. It’s one thing to hear “just don’t worry about it” when I’m fretting over unlikely possibilities and I actually do need to lighten up. But when I’m bearing heavy situations and high risks and a great deal of loss is at stake, it’s not that simple.
If I am to shift the weight off my shoulders, I must know these things have been delegated carefully into the hands of one who is equally invested in their importance and is competent to manage them.
I think that’s why this verse connects with me so well. It’s not an over-arching, “just stop being so concerned” message. It’s a personal and specific invitation to name those things that burden my heart and give them directly to the One who promises to take care of me.
When my troubles have shifted onto the plate of someone in whom I have great confidence, they can remain unsolved and yet my heart can be light. It’s a matter of who I think is called to handle the situation.
One Finger At A Time
I am a worrier and an overthinker and a plan-ahead-er, so one truth that has made a huge practical difference in my life is this: “Be anxious for nothing” is not a matter of personality, it’s a matter of obedience.
With the ever-evolving concerns we are facing, I have been trying to wrap my mind around the how of obeying that command.
I know when something has stolen my focus and has my mind over-analyzing and my heart burdened. I know in that same moment that I should not be focusing, over-analyzing, or holding onto that burden. I struggle with how to let go.
How do I get from Point A: anxious, to Point B: not anxious?
How do I loosen my white-knuckle grip on the things that I cannot stop caring deeply about? In the midst of a hard situation I’m likely to be in for a while, what are the day-to-day steps to a light heart?
First, I think I have to recognized that by letting go of them, I am giving them to someone who is able to do a better job managing the situation than I can.
Second, because the worries will keep re-surfacing in my mind, I must capture those thoughts and link them to heart-steadying truth. That way, the next time they show up, they actually serve me. I want practical replacement thoughts – mental resets that guide my mind back to solid reassurance, so that as these concerns arise, while I do whatever it is I need to do, I also settle back into how I am well taken care of. I take the threat seriously, but I live with a light heart.
Finally, I think it’s easiest to let go one finger at a time.
So, in a season heavy with coronavirus concerns, I identified 5 areas where I felt irritation, worry, frustration and fear surfacing in my heart and my thinking.
This is my tool so that each time I feel myself growing tense, restless, and heavy as I walk through the weeks ahead, I can glance at my hand with its 5 fingers, or at this handy, short-and-sweet printable on my fridge and count down 5 steadying steps that help me let go of one specific area at a time.
When I feel concerned over how this situation will affect my:
I will offer sacrificial love freely and lay down my expectations.
Any time stress is heightened, we feel that tension in our relationships. Because it’s easy for me to obsess over rough interactions with other people and stress over whether we are okay or not, I want to be careful about how much time and attention those relationship dynamics get in my heart. I think the truth I can sit with is this: when people are not fine, their interactions suffer, and a lot of people are not fine right now. I can’t necessarily count on the reassurance, attention and company I want from other people. But I can shift my thinking from what I can GET to what I can GIVE. I can release people to just be where they’re at and keep offering them grace rather than fixating on hurt, surprise or disappointment when they don’t respond to me how I expect them to.
I will delight in how they are precious to me and pray for their protection.
This area probably hits the hardest: the threat of losing our loved ones. I don’t know what will happen, but today, I want to appreciate those who are precious to me rather than living in dread of losing them. I will cherish the people that God has put in my life and thank him for the gift that they are. I will praise him for providing a way for us to continue our relationships in eternity, with all the time in the world and none of the struggle or pain or physical ailments to get in the way of enjoying each other; even if he allows us to be separated for a time. And while I recognize that God’s goodness, provision and protection do not always look like I expect them to, I will remember that He is capable of keeping my people safe and healing their bodies if they get sick. He listens intently to my every request, so I will pray and pray and pray for Him to protect them as often as they come to mind.
I will think of one way God has taken care of me in the past and release my desire to see and control the future.
And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
Because God has not let me in on all the details of his plan for my future, it is easy for me to grow fearful and skeptical as I face the uncertainty ahead. It is tempting to expend all of my energy searching for some clue as to how this will go so I can prepare perfectly. When things seem to take a turn for the worst, I can start to wonder if He’s on my side at all. But one of the most effective things to settle my frustrated, searching heart is to stop and remember one way God has specifically cared for me in the past. This is the God that has revealed his heart for me, intervened for me and worked on my behalf in so many creative and varied ways. When I cannot predict his plan, I must return to the evidence of his character. When I’m unsettled over a future I cannot see or control, I will trust the heart of the One who can see and control all that is to come.
I will name how my needs have been met today and ask God to faithfully meet my needs tomorrow.
When I’m used to God meeting my needs one way, I can grow attached to how things work right now and be really thrown by major changes. But God often uses these transition periods when my fine-tuned system no longer functions to help me see that I have stopped looking to him for help; I have shifted my trust to my system, my ability, and my management. He lovingly allows my systems to break down so that I will learn that he is just as able to provide for me in a new way. The changes I’m adjusting to did not catch him by surprise. When my thoughts drift to my finances and I start trying to calculate if we will be okay, I will stop and ask this question: Do I have what I need today? I will name the things I notice that God has already put in place, on this day. I will remember that, whatever is next, he is able to provide what I need, maybe in a new way I haven’t yet thought of. I will lay down my calculations and ask him for help, because he is faithful to answer the one who waits on him.
“I am the Lord who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea…But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.”
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.”
I will rest in the freedom I have been given to just do my best. I will think of how to love people instead of how to impress them.
Comparison kills us: whether it’s how you’re handling your kids’ educational needs; whether you’re still running errands or in full-on quarantine; whether you have the opportunity to work from home or must brave the public workplace. We all feel the expectations of others, and there’s a lot of guidelines and opinions out there. It can make me feel crushed and like there’s no right answer. But I believe that in this, just like in any season, we have been given the freedom to start each day, hold it before the Lord, and ask him to guide us step by step. I’m just not going to get a 100% approval rating with how I end up performing in that, but one of the most freeing things ever is knowing that I don’t have to be on the same page as someone else to take care of them, to be kind to them, to sacrificially work for their good. So I will lay aside the burden to impress others, take up the calling I’ve been given to love them, and then just do the best I can before an audience of One.
“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.”
“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness…” — Psalm 91:6
The first instruction I want to consider is the one that reminds me to turn my heart to the Lord and entrust my life to Him. He gives instructions to tend to my heart (Proverbs 4:23), to let his peace rule (Colossians 3:15), and to not let myself be overcome by dread or terror.
More on that later.
Distance: Leviticus 13
“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.” – Leviticus 13:45-46
Social distancing, quarantine and isolation protocols were actually God’s idea! All the way back in ancient times, he gave Israel instructions to keep those who were contagious separate from the living quarters of the main community, and to have them warn others in an obvious way so they didn’t get close enough to contract skin diseases unwittingly.
It’s important to set my heart on the Lord and trust in his protection so that I don’t react in a panic; but it’s also wise to practice thoughtful caution once I recognize that an illness has a propensity to spread.
Even Jesus, when presented with the promises of protection outlined in Psalm 91, refused to use them as an excuse to be reckless and put that protection to the test.
This virus is an extremely effective traveler! Not only does it spread by air droplets, but a recent study found that live COVID-19 virus was still detected up to 72 hours after application to plastic and stainless steel surfaces.
Rather than labeling the limiting measures that are being put in place as giving in to fear, I’m recognizing that it can actually be an act of love to lay down my freedoms and my plans in order to protect the health of those who are more vulnerable than I am. We can’t control every factor, but if our actions can help to limit how many people an illness affects, we may count those hard choices a worthwhile sacrifice.
God is absolutely able to deliver us from disease, just as He protected Israel from all the plagues that assaulted Egypt; but he does not promise believers immunity or an immediate fix for the physical struggles we face. He promises to deliver us eventually into a life without sickness, without pain; and to walk with us through all we face in the meantime.
“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them.”
The COVID-19 virus attacks lung tissue. Most people present with mild respiratory symptoms and then recover; their body deals with the virus, then rebuilds the damage. But in some people, the sick who take a turn for severely sick, it’s not directly because of damage done by the virus. It’s because of something called a cytokine storm.
As the virus damages lung tissue, the cells send out a chemical distress signal (called cytokines) that draws immune cells to the damaged site to help. In some patients, this cytokine release prompts an overreaction of the immune system. Instead of “sniper mode,” where the white blood cells target and ingest foreign bodies, or the killer T lymphocytes scan for markers they recognize as belonging to the virus and kill only those cells; the body switches to “guns blazing” mode.
The immune cells flood the area in trouble, destroying any and all tissue in their path in an over-the-top campaign to save the rest of the body. The virus is taken out in the cross-fire, but so is the viable lung tissue that was still getting oxygen to the bloodstream.
The immune system was only trying to get rid of the threat, but in the process, it compromised the body’s ability to breathe. Those are the patients that end up on a ventilator, trying to oxygenate a body whose lungs have become a warzone. In the sickest patients of all, this hyperactive response of the immune system even damages the liver and kidneys, causing multiple organ failure.
Wisdom and caution are excellent guides to our thoughts. But when we start to use fear as the basis of our decisions, it’s like a runaway immune system whose overreaction can compromise the body’s ability to breathe.
We must weigh each choice, each issue with care and calm, and thoughtfully take such measures as we deem necessary. But when we get in a panic and start overanalyzing and overpreparing, rushing on the outside and running in circles on the inside; when we try to control what we cannot control; when we turn inward toward ourselves for solutions instead of outward to our God for help, we are the immune system who is overreacting.
We have stopped targeting and started blindly launching missiles and wildly throwing grenades. As collateral tissue is destroyed in the lungs, fluid begins to leak in, drowning the patient. As we give in to fearful thoughts, they open the gateway to more fearful thoughts, and we drown in them.
And so God lovingly instructs us not to live in dread.
So Practically, What Do I Do?
The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe…
When our thoughts are tempted to lean into an exaggerated response, may we learn to firmly place them on the One who is worthy of our attention and worship. It is often in walking through darkness and disaster that we get to know him most. In sickness, in peril, in struggle, in discouragement, in deep and miry pits, we find Him faithful.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord…
So, be wise. Be careful. Prepare prudently. Do all you can to protect others. And when you have done all you can do; do not fear what you cannot control. Do not allow fear to turn you inward so that you only see yourself, your inconveniences, and your losses. Look up. Look out. Press into our Savior. See those He has called you to love. Let Him lead you in how.
However this plays out, we will look back and see that He led us well. May we also look back and see that our words and actions in the midst of crisis were characterized by the One who lives and rules within:
Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1, NEJM Original Article, Contributors: Neeltje van Doremalen, Trenton Bushmaker, Dylan H. Morris, Myndi G. Holbrook, Amandine Gamble, Brandi N. Williamson, Azaibi Tamin, Jennifer L. Harcourt, Natalie J. Thornburg, Susan I. Gerber, James O. Lloyd-Smith, Emmie de Wit, Vincent J. Munster website: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.09.20033217v1.full.pdf