Right now, the anxiety so many people are feeling is palpable.
Anxiety and fear can seem like loaded terms among believers because the Bible tells us over and over: “Do not be afraid.” This could be taken as a command and we could use it as a way of rebuking ourselves for not trusting God enough.
However, this lack of grace for ourselves creates a vacuum which fear is always ready to fill. And it incorrectly tells us that we’re meant to drive out anxiety by sheer willpower as if we’re alone and meant to stay that way.
There is another way of taking the call not to be afraid - as a tender invitation to know God’s peace, even when we are worried.
The following are thoughts on what might help as all accept that invitation to draw near, to bury our face in God’s bosom and know more of the divine rest in an uncommonly overwhelming time.
We have an amazing gift in prayer and sometimes if we’re stressed enough we forget to use it. Right now, you can speak out all the things you’re thinking and feeling in one great, big mind-body-heart-spirit dump, without filter, without searching for the right words. You might as well tell God all of it without feeling you need to refine it or even clean it up. God knows. You could even write your prayer.
For some, it’s not so much that we forget to pray when we’re brought to our knees but that speaking this way actually adds to our anxiety. We may also wonder whether there’s any point to praying. Prayer grows distressing rather than remaining a channel for release.
If this is so, we may find it helps to quietly sit with God, to be still and know. Perhaps this is a time to explore contemplative prayer. There are many forms of contemplation with long histories in the Christian tradition Our family has been practising the examen for Lent and it might be a really accessible place to start. We use the “Examen for Children” in the prayer tools on Pray As You Go, which is free.
Media and Social Media
Many of us are already feeling utter fatigue while reading the news and scrolling through social media. At one point this week, I could almost hear the sound effects from every zombie film I’ve watched whenever new figures flashed up on a news report. I took that as a sign to stop checking the “Live” news, updated minute by minute.
There are months of this ahead. It’s too soon to grow weary. And it’s no surprise we are when everyone is shouting on Facebook with another meme or opinion piece or yet another news report that contains information beyond anything we can take practical action on.
What could protecting your mind look like in this space? This will mean different things to different people. It could mean choosing to not to check the news on your phone. Some may find that encountering it this way makes it more immersive and even more immediate. The news is designed to hook you in and personally engage you, to make you feel like you must stay in touch with every update - and it feeds your fear. Somehow holding it in the palm of your hand can make it harder to unplug from its sequence.
However you consume it, it may be helpful to consider limiting how often you check it so that you aren’t all-consumed and then too burnt out to turn to God (as mentioned above) or do anything else.
This might also be a time to curate your social media feeds. I’ve been hiding posts or selecting “Snooze for 30 days” on Facebook friends who are posting too much or too frantically on a single issue (click the three dots in line with someone’s name for this option). It’s about noticing how much of this thing I can cope with. Some people have chosen to avoid social media altogether or certain social channels.
Whatever we think about anything that’s happening, we could probably all agree that we’re collectively experiencing an information overload like no other. Regardless of the geographical location, occupation or interests of the people we’re connected to, at the moment there seems to be no relief.
It’s understandable that people are posting a lot. They may be processing their own worry. But we still need to choose how much of that we can take on and everyone’s different.
Perhaps it’s worth taking a moment now to think about what we’re all adding to the noise. We could consider what we can do to ensure we create enough mental breathing space for everyone. We can ask God to give us wisdom as we do this.
Focus on the present
When we are swept up in fear, we can psychologically disconnect from the day to day. This is where fear gives way to hopelessness and perhaps mistrust of others.
What could bring you home to the present moment? For me, spending time with my home educated children grounds me in daily life. Their needs are immediate and ongoing. Work is fairly grounding. My deadlines don’t seem to notice the minute by minute live news. In my volunteering, families continue to need breastfeeding support over the phone and online.
Focusing on the present could also mean exercise or cooking or decluttering. What needs to happen today? It might seem mundane and unimportant but they could help pull us out of the frenzy while also keeping us in motion.
These are acts of love when done in service of God, ourselves and each other. Perhaps we would value them more if we learned to reframe the work we do, however small or ordinary, as a spiritual practice in itself.
One of the most powerful things we can do in this uncertain time is to think about the ways we can help others.
I’ve seen friends reaching out to check in on other friends’ relatives whom they live closer to. People are offering to drop groceries or cooked meals on door steps should the self-isolating or less mobile need it. They’re making contact with charities to locate older or other vulnerable people who need help getting groceries. Even our toilet paper subscription company suggested we offer toilet paper to our neighbours, which I’ve done, along with asking them to text us if they need us to pick up or drop something.
Support groups are gearing up to offer more over the phone and online to meet expected gaps. People are slipping notes with their numbers through neighbours’ doors with suggestions for help they could offer - even saying that they’re up for a chat if someone who’s self-isolation wants a friendly phone call. I’ve even seen people gathering funds for folk in their community who may start to struggle financially.
It is much easier to offer help than it is to ask for it so please think about what you can do and who you can help - then make it that bit easier for them by saying something. That said, if you need help, please ask. We want to love you.
For more on the Christian precedent for offering radical hospitality in a crisis, listening to this conversation on The Hopeful Activists Podcast (it’s just 9 minutes).
To finish where we began, this is a time to pray together. Reaching out may mean offering to pray for someone if they’d like to, offering to do it then and there or later if they prefer - because it’s hard to ask for these things and it’s also hard to decline if you’re not comfortable with it. Reaching out may mean praying over the phone, especially with someone who finds themselves alone.
Fear won’t be driven out by willpower. We could hurt ourselves and each other trying. Fear is a normal response. But love is what keeps fear in its proper place so it doesn’t overrun our lives. This is a time to love each other and to lean on the God who loves us and is love.
Adele Jarrett-Kerr and her family attend All Saints. She is a mother, writer, home educator and breastfeeding counsellor. She blogs at adelejarrettkerr.com She also works with her family’s biointensive farm near Falmouth and hosts a podcast about human connection called Revillaging - you can listen through her website or wherever you find your podcasts.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.