I want to begin with a confession. My anxiety level over the past week has been far beyond normal. Like many of you, I am adjusting to what is a very different rhythm for my days and, to put it lightly, things could be going better. I know what you are thinking, “Aren’t pastors supposed to be in control of their emotions all the time?” Well, the answer to that question is “No, absolutely not”. Any religious leader who tells you they are not a little unnerved is almost certainly lying to you. Yes, I believe that God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t allowed to have our stomachs in knots. Friends that know me well will tell you that I am a pretty laid-back guy and these last few days have tired my soul. So, the first thing I want you to know is that if you are a little frazzled and disoriented right now, that entirely normal. It is ok. Welcome to the club.
However, I woke up two days ago and something dawned on me. This level of stress IS NOT SUSTAINABLE. I realized that if I continued to have that anxious feeling in my chest (it had nothing to do with COVID-19) and if my brain never stopped thinking about this virus, then I was probably going to break down. As a matter of fact, there was a moment when I did break down. I heard earlier this week that a friend of mine is currently stuck in a foreign country. The borders are shut and they cannot get home. They are safe and well. I have spoken to them and they are in a good state of mind. But on top of everything else I had dealt with that day, for some reason, that news was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
But for some reason, when I got the news, I felt tears coming down my face. Don’t get me wrong, I cry regularly. I cry when I see Disney movies. I weep when I see people doing beautiful acts of kindness toward each other. For goodness sake, I cry sometimes just looking at my wife and kids. But, in moments of stress, that’s where I am usually at the top of my game. I don’t cry under pressure because that’s where I am in control. So, these tears were different. These tears were trying to tell me something that I didn’t want to acknowledge. I am not in control of this situation. Honestly, I was crying because I am not in control and that fact is deeply unsettling to me, as it is to many of you. Yep, if felt it more acutely than ever when I heard the news about my friend. If I was going to make it through the coming weeks, then something needed to change.
In times like these, it becomes all the more important that we remember one simple fact. Just because I am not in control of the COVID-19 virus and the uncertainty it is causing in the world, that doesn’t mean that everything is reduced to chaos. After all, I do have say over a few things in my life. In particular, I am in control of my actions and my response to this pandemic. So, I did something that our culture doesn’t encourage us to do very often. I took an hour or two and thought about how I have functioned as a human being over the past week. After thinking through my rhythm, I decided that as Sheryl Crow once said, “A change would do you good”. What do I mean? Well, let’s take a look at my day on Friday….
Wake up at some unfathomably early hour and immediately check the news or social media.
Write emails to staff at church and think about how we need to have continency plans for every situation that is possibly imaginable for humanity to encounter over the next couple of months!
Drink coffee and think about how my kids will stay busy all day at home. For some reason, their school work only takes twenty-six minutes to complete!
Talk to Sara about how many patients have cancelled at her office and think about how most of them probably have the virus.
For the second time, check social media and look at the news for the latest update.
Read emails from folks who are asking why we aren’t having worship services on Sunday!
Think about ridiculously selfish things like how inconvenient this whole ordeal is for my golf game. (Don’t kid yourself, you have those moments too, I see them on Facebook.)
Look over financial spreadsheets and think about the status of the church over the next month.
Check the news for the third time, but now looking at the stock market and wondering how bad this could possibly be for us!
You see where this thing is headed. My day was chaos, because the world feels like chaos. I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine there are a lot of you who can relate to the way my day felt. I was falling in bed each night completely exhausted; physically, mentally, and spiritually flatlined. Something had to change.
So, three days ago, I decided to do something different. I made a promise to myself (and to God) that I would not begin my day by looking at the news. Instead, I started my day with Jesus. I know that sounds cliché, but it needs to be said. I made a conscious decision to start my day by, literally, focusing on Jesus. I got my cup of coffee and read the Sermon on the Mount. I heard Jesus talking about who is truly blessed in the world and how the church is called to be a compelling force for good. I made my way over to the Psalms and prayed a few of them for myself. For thirty minutes, I read and prayed and focused on something other than the world around me.
Once my kids came down the stairs, instead of thinking about their school work and the hours of television they were likely to consume with our nanny, I decided to bring them under my blanket so I could cuddle tight with them and smell the top of their heads. Instead of being completely concerned with how my wife was going to get the Coronavirus at work, I watched her get ready and I thought about the difference she was making in the lives of people who are in excruciating dental pain. We sat around the table and I ate breakfast with the people I love and I remember that my life is so very good.
I can’t control this virus. But I can control my mindset. I can control how I respond. Friends, that makes all the difference in our world. So, I want to ask you a simple question today. For those of us who are feeling anxious right now (i.e. everyone), what is your rhythm? How do you start your day? Watching CNN or Fox News won’t change what is happening outside your doors. Reading the latest from the New York Times will not untie the knots in your stomach. Social media is not a balm in Gilead! So, I would like to suggest you start your day with a different rhythm. Start with Jesus. Start with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Breathe in the words of Paul from his letter to the Colossians.
I am not suggesting we bury our heads in the sand. That won’t help and I certainly don’t have that option. All I am suggesting is that we begin with our days with Jesus. It will change your perspective, which could, after all is said and done, help change the world.
Later on, that morning, I checked my email and there were too many to count. I looked at the news and the spread of this virus is still not good. I got on social media and read how some people still can’t get over themselves enough to realize this virus is causing a truly different level of trauma. However, this time, my heart didn’t get tight and my breathing stayed calm. The world hasn’t changed…but I have changed my perspective. And that, my friends, is good news.
Stay safe, stay home, and be well.
Grace and Peace,