1 Corinthians 1:4-9 Revised Standard Version (RSV)4 I give thanks to God always for you because of the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in every way you were enriched in him with all speech and all knowledge— 6 even as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ; 8 who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
COVID-19 Outbreak: Reframing Our Emotional Response
We are bombarded with messages of concern for health and safety related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the current political environment and economic impacts. Events are being canceled, much anticipated trips for work or pleasure are being postponed or creating worry. How do we cope with the legitimate concern and need for active prudent response to prepare?
Like everyone else in the world I am concerned about the health and safety of vulnerable people in the population. While I feel confident that I am not in the high-risk group for infection that includes people over 60 years, those with chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems it is important to consider how my actions might impact those who are vulnerable. In other words, I must care for my neighbor as myself! Each of us can reduce the spread of the virus, any virus, by coughing/sneezing into our bent elbow, washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, using hand sanitizer, and staying home if we have a fever or are feeling ill. These precautions are common sense and will benefit the entire population for years to come as they become more common practice.
Avoiding handshakes, hugs, and keeping physical distance of 6 feet are added precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. Behaviors such as this are self-care of the body and can provide some peace of mind. But what about our emotional and spiritual health?
Spiritual, as well as physical and emotional self-care requires deliberate energy and time spent engaged in activities required for well-being and good health, including rest and relaxation. The first step toward self-care is recognizing our physical, emotional stress and anxiety. Feeling tension and stress in our bodies as headaches, backaches, joint pain and high blood pressure, in our minds with worrying, depression, and low self-esteem, and in our spirit as a feeling of emptiness, or distance from God tells us we need to respond with care. Our overall health depends on getting some exercise every day, making sure we eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, sleeping 7-9 hours each night, keeping up to date with our vaccines and taking our medications as prescribed. Physical, mental and spiritual health go hand in hand.
As activities and events are canceled you might find yourself with extra time. What will you do with it? Maybe this is an opportunity to care more for our emotional and spiritual needs. We can learn to slow down to focus on those we love, maybe even spend some time learning a new spiritual practice. We can lean on God who will sustain us!
In her book, “Seven Spiritual Gifts of Waiting,” United Church of Christ minister Holly W. Whitcomb suggests the season of Advent is a time to ponder waiting as a spiritual discipline. The season of Lent is a time to prepare spiritually for our collective celebration of life overcoming death on Easter. Waiting and preparing are part of everyday life. We wait for the birth of a baby, for the baby to crawl then walk. The parent waits for the teenager to arrive home safely, for the young adult to finish college, get a job, or start a family. Sometimes we wait for medical test results or treatments to cure disease. As the current epidemic of COVID-19 dominates the media and our attention we grow impatient with waiting, uncertainty and fear.
According to Whitcomb, there is a lot to be learned from waiting if we can allow it to teach us. “Waiting contains some of our richest spiritual opportunities if we are conscious enough and courageous enough to name them and to live into them” (Whitcomb, 2005, p. 13). The spiritual gifts of waiting include: patience, loss of control, living in the present, compassion, gratitude, humility, and trust in God.
Perhaps we can consider these spiritual gifts as a path to ease our feelings of uncertainty and distress by recognizing God’s grace, and trusting in God’s love. Feelings of anxiety, fear, depression and disappointment can be overwhelming during this time of economic, political, and medical chaos. We are all on edge wondering if/when we might be exposed or become ill with COVID-19. Store shelves are being emptied of the very supplies we are told we need to prepare for the possibility of 14 days of quarantine. Personal spiritual practices may be just the medicine we need.
Time for personal prayer, bible study, learning a new prayer practice such as Lectio Divina or meditation or relaxation breathing may help us hear God more clearly. We can use our time wisely and invite God in to bring healing to ourselves, our families, our neighbors and the world.
Remember that even in the presence of a worldwide health threat it is time to count our blessings, hold onto compassion and grace, laugh with others and remember that God will sustain us. This season of life will pass. Maybe we can learn from the experience of uncertainty. We can be whole and healthy in right relationship to self, others, God, community and the environment, even in the presence of disruptive worldwide events. We can live in shalom; health wholeness, harmony and peace while staying informed and getting prepared.
I pray you find peace in the chaos, time for rest and reflection in the midst of staying informed, and prepared with the cloak of God’s grace surrounding you.
Here are some resources for prayer, coping with anxiety and being prepared:
Coping Skills for Kids
CDC Illness Prevention
All Hazards Preparedness Guide
SNEUCC Coronavirus Resource Page
Deborah Ringen is Transitional Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.