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Some Strategies to Stay Spiritually Healthy During Times of Disruption

Today, I return to the basics of how to stay spiritually healthy during a time of upheaval. First and foremost, I want to “sow to please the Spirit” (Galatians 6) by spending time in God’s word, praying, and listening to encouraging sermons. This AM, I listened to “In Flickering Light” by T.D. Jakes that helped me think more about how the Lord uses discomfort and disruption. I also went back to some passages of scripture that reminded me of God’s enduring presence. Isaiah 43 brought comfort to my heart this morning. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. I realized that, instead of filling my mind with God and His truth, I was taking shelter in more data, more news, and more social media about COVID-19. I want to “take shelter in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91) and not more news articles.

I also consulted my friends and mentor who all advised me to limit my media intake, especially before bedtime. My former therapist always told me the same thing. Some of us are simply too sensitive to media and must exercise caution when watching or reading things that foster anxiety and depression. If you are prone to both, as I am, remember to guard your mind during this time. I’d been waking up with that spirit of dread I know so well. I’d been very weepy and overwhelmed. I decided today that, when I need to know the orders from my national and local leaders, my phone will alert me. Other than this, I might diminish my intake of news because it doesn’t help me sow to please the Spirit.

I also said a prayer of surrender to the Lord that He can do whatever He wants with my physical body. I don’t want to live in fear of a virus. God is the One I am to fear, not sickness or death. Isaiah 8 tells me this: “The Lord Almighty is the one [I] am to regard as holy, he is the one [I] am to fear, he is the one [I] am to dread. And I recited Galatians 2:20 and how I am crucified already with Christ.

I also remember the astonishing truth of Romans 8 and that God can “work all things for good”–even this pandemic. I decide to dwell in hope. I will be like Jeremiah in Lamentations 3 who famously says: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

Sow to please the Spirit. Surrender. Dwell in hope. This is how I’m learning to stay spiritually healthy right now.

Sow to please the Spirit. Surrender. Dwell in hope. This is how I'm learning to stay spiritually healthy right now. Click To Tweet
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Believing Impossible Things

Back in 2010, I reflected on a quote in Alice in Wonderland that reminded me to use this unprecedented time in my life to believe impossible things.

Back then, before books, before public speaking, before anything that’s part of my life now, I wrote this:

I remembered lines from Lewis Carroll’s characters this morning about “impossible things.

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!”

A few hours ago, someone tried to encourage me by telling me I should set a goal I think I can’t achieve. What?!  That doesn’t make any sense! A goal I think I can’t achieve? Isn’t that a recipe for failure, hopelessness, and shame?

I thought about it more. Something about setting an impossible goal, one I think I can’t accomplish, sets me up for an extraordinary challenge.  It’s not a great goal if I know I can reach it.  But if there’s doubt in my mind–if there’s potential for devastating failure–then that’s an honest goal.   That kind of goal-setting beckons a life of adventure, faith, and flair.  It lets God in. 

I remembered today that God specializes in impossible things.

I called one of my best writing friends during my late morning rest between dusting and vacuuming.  She said that she was going “to pray for three impossible things today.”  We talked about the impossible dreams we have for our children and for our own lives.

Why not dream big?  Why not set impossible goals and just see what we’re capable of and what God does in that moment of extraordinary belief?  I want to believe six impossible things before breakfast.  That seems a lot like living with flair.

What seems impossible might just not be.

In the context of today’s pandemic, I wonder what it looks like to trust God for impossible things.

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Hold Fast to Him

In Joshua 22, we read Joshua’s best counsel for the tribes returning to their homes after working hard to help their fellow Israelites cross into the Promised Land. He tells them this: “But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

I notice the expression “hold fast” and spend some time thinking about this Hebrew verb. It means to adhere, to cleave, especially firmly, as if with glue.

As if with glue!

I imagine myself glued to the strong presence of the Lord. I think of moving about my day glued to Him. What can come against us that the Lord cannot handle? It brings new insight into another image–this time in the Greek–of being glued fast the the Lord and safe in His keeping. In Romans 8:37-39, we read this: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We cannot be separated from Him. We hold fast to Him, stuck like glue.

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Intellectually Flexible

Today I thought about another professional skill: intellectual flexibility. I’m learning how important it is to consider other ways of doing things, other ways of communicating, and other ways of helping people learn. When I feel stuck or overwhelmed, a great question I might ask is this: What would an intellectually flexible person do?

How would they feel? How would they proceed?

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A Calm Heart

I’ve been learning to abandon all plans and keep reasonable expectations. I’ve pared down to essentials as we practice social distancing. We’re all just home. We’re all just doing our work, but this time, it’s via online platforms. As I prepare for my first online class in a few moments, I take a deep breath and pray that it goes OK. OK means that I simply connect with my students. It’s not going to be perfect. It’s not going to be the best, but I will learn.

And it’s fun to learn.

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Since We’ve Never Been This Way Before

For the past few days, I’ve been thinking about a powerful image in Joshua 3 as a metaphor for how to behave and how to think during the COVID-19 changes to our daily life. Joshua 3 provides an account of the Israelites moving into unknown territory, apparently by way of the Jordan river. Joshua writes what the orders were and explains to the people to follow the ark. The ark always represented the power and presence of God. We read this:

When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. . . Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them. . . So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. . . The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

I think about being part of the New Testament royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) who goes ahead of the people when they have never been that way before. The priests move ahead and stand firm as they hold up the power and the presence of God. They lead out. They show people where to go. Their presence with God ushers in miracles. They stand in the midst of floodwaters to guide the whole nation to safety.

I think of myself as a calm presence who holds out the power and presence of Jesus. Look here! Here is the way to safety! Here is the path to the Promised Land!

We’ve never been this way before, so we follow the ark to safety.

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Asking Myself: What’s the Most Loving Thing

I recommended the cancelation of a speaking event next week because I couldn’t imagine asking people to gather when COVID-19 remains such a threat. I asked myself, “What’s the most loving thing to do?” It was to cancel. The most loving thing is to keep people safe. Asking myself this question helped with this decision.

Sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I have to ask myself, “What is the most loving thing?” It’s a question that works for social media engagement, for decisions about any given situation, and especially for times of confusion.

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Preparing for Social Distancing

It’s been chaotic but also so informative as I learn about our community’s measures to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Mostly, I consider social distancing and what it means to connect better virtually. I consider the infinite value of an authentic online written voice. I consider how to teach students to express themselves well in online discussions and in virtual formats. I think about the advantages of live lectures from my home, in my real habitat, and how that serves to provide a better point of authentic connection with students. Here I am! This is how I live! Here is my coffee cup and my couch and my cats!

I’ve loved the way, at least at Penn State, we’re encouraged to allow ourselves to fail, to allow ourselves to practice new measures of patience and gracious behavior, and how we’re all in this together. It’s so far been a time of greater connection between faculty and staff and a time of greater collaboration. Times of crisis bring people together. So while we are socially distant in a physical sense, we’re more connected than ever. For this I am grateful.

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