by Dr. Josh Stowe
In times of difficulty, we struggle to find the words to express what we think and feel. There is so much which swirls around us and within us. As a Christian minister and a professional counselor, I have walked with people in a myriad of different circumstances. I have sat with them as they have wrestled to make sense of the incoherent, and I have walked with them while they seek to rediscover a sense of clarity and direction.
So where do we begin? The past few weeks have been disorienting and, at times, devastating. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and all the co-occurring issues have turned much of what we know upside down. We have been told to practice “social distancing” and to “shelter in place.” As a result, all of our relational practices and rhythms have been profoundly altered. Work places and school systems have also dramatically changed. Millions of people have tried to switch to online expressions for work and school while millions more have seen their lives come to a screeching halt. In ways too many to count, this crisis has affected us.
So what are we to do? While I intend to offer a series of reflections to address a variety of issues people are facing, allow me to offer some basic suggestions first. These thoughts are simple by design. When we’re feeling overwhelmed by change and uncertainty, the first step isn’t to compose an exhaustive list of things to do in order to regain our sense of control. There will be plenty to do in the days ahead, but we begin by slowing-down.
- When stress builds and life becomes anxious, we tend to slip into “survival mode.” We can’t help ourselves. It is a natural and essential part of being human. Our pulse quickens. Our focus narrows. We do what is necessary to survive. And while our survival instinct is important, it’s not a good long-term strategy. So we breathe. We start by slowing-down our bodies’ natural responses in an effort to quiet our hearts and minds. This helps us be more calm and clear as we seek to respond to whatever we face. So take a moment. Sit in a comfortable position and take a few breaths. Slow down and begin here
- Be patient. We’re not at our best when we’re stressed-out. We don’t think clearly. Frustration and irritation build. We say and do things we regret. This is just part of it. So we need patience. We can be patient with ourselves. When we mess-up, we need to apologize and make an effort to repair what’s been damaged. We need to be patient with one another. If we have been hurt or disappointed by someone, we need to be open to forgiveness. Eventually, we want to get through all of this. But ultimately, we need to get through all of this TOGETHER.
- Look for the Good. Negative thoughts and feelings have a way of creating their own momentum. We don’t need to add more fuel. Instead, we need to look for the good. This thought isn’t offered as a flippant platitude. Our present situation may very well be difficult or even unbearable. However, in the face of all this, we must not forget to seek that which is positive and good. There, we find hope. There, we remember that life is more than trial. There, we find a measure of certainty in uncertain times. Take a moment and look to those places. Remember faith in the God who is near to us and who provides in times of need. Remember the family and friends who have loved us and encouraged us. Remember these. Turn toward the good and give thanks.
For generations, Christians have found comfort in the classic hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.” It’s message was penned by Horatio Spafford after his entire life had crumbled around him. First, his four year old son died. Then, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed much of his life’s work. Lastly, while traveling to Europe for a family vacation, his four daughters perished at sea when their ship sank in the open waters of the Atlantic. Yet, despite tremendous loss, Horatio Spafford leaned into his faith. And by God’s grace, he endured.
So where do we turn when things start falling apart? On whom do we lean when strength fails? Would we say, “It is well with my soul?” I believe we can. I believe there is hope amid the storms of life. I believe good remains. And I believe there is a love that never fails. So invite you to journey with me in the days and weeks ahead as we explore a number of different topics. We’ll look at issues that connect to our personal lives and relationships. We’ll discuss things like work and home and finding a balance. We’ll explore places of grief and loss and struggle. And we’ll seek to find our footing in places of grace and truth where chaos and uncertainty meet compassion and creativity. Then, along the way, we just might discover that it is indeed well with our souls.