1. What is your observation on how this pandemic is affecting our local community?
We have a pretty resilient bunch here in this area, and that's good. Still, opinions are very strong on all viewpoints related to this situation, and I see some lines being drawn that threaten to divide us if we're not careful. It's fair to say that at some point division is inevitable because while not everyone is right in their assessment of what's going on, everyone is also quite convinced in their own minds that they are right...or at least, that someone else is wrong. Kind of goes with the territory in a society where opinions can be freely expressed. Humility is certainly called for on all sides. But I'm also seeing a lot of kindness and patience, humor in the face of frustration, and determination to address the situation in various ways with courage. And, of course, we seem to be out of toilet paper....
2. Are you seeing an increase in worry/anxiety?
Absolutely. And it is across the board pretty much, though expressed in various ways, some of which are not so obvious. The courage I just talked about, for example, is doing the hard thing in spite of fear. And I should say that I don't think that fear should always be assumed to be a negative; it's one of the mechanisms our Creator built into us for purposes of preservation. The trick is being afraid for the right reasons, and not succumbing to unreasonable or unfounded fears. In an age characterized by not only misinformation, but disinformation in many cases, staying on an even keel is a bewildering and fearful prospect.
3. What seems to be people's biggest fear about this?
This fear is not uniform; the causes vary from person to person. Some are fearful of the virus itself. (And that fear can be divided into camps of people who are afraid of what they know or think they know about the virus and those who are afraid because of the unknown aspects of the virus.) Some are fearful of the limitations of our medical systems. Some are fearful because they, or their family members, are in a more vulnerable segment of the population. Some are not afraid of the virus at all, but rather are dismayed at the overreach of government and loss of civil and religious liberties in the name of an elusive safety that, in spite of its claims, government cannot guarantee. Some are afraid they may lose their job or their business. Some are afraid of being at the mercy of those far removed from us with whom we do not agree or whom we distrust. At the end of the day, I think the biggest fear is really summed up by being afraid of a loss of control.
4. Where many people find comfort in their faith, how has social distance impacted people not being able to attend services?
As a pastor, this is an area that I personally feel very keenly. We kept our doors open as long as possible, taking precautions of course. Virtual church is a poor substitute for the personal, participatory interaction in worship and service that our Lord calls us to. While still being able to listen to the preaching of God's Word is a good thing, it's only part of what it means to be a church. We are all praying for a short duration to this thing. We were not created to be little islands; we were created to be social, spiritual beings. I find it interesting that not too long ago the general outcry was that being alone with your electronics and personal devices was destroying our society...now everyone is trying to convince themselves that it's a good thing. I suppose that's a coping mechanism, but it just shows that this situation cannot long be maintained without dire consequences for our society. On a spiritual level, it feels like being cut off from the body. For myself, though I know I am not able to regularly meet in person with my people right now, my life and strength comes from a very real connection to my heavenly Father through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and grounded upon the finished redemptive work of the Lord Jesus on the Cross. His blood paid the price of my sin and secured my eternal destiny! We know that ultimately, we have nothing to fear...it's just that sometimes the events swirling around us tempt us to forget that and we try to take control of things ourselves. Not a good plan! When one is confident in the Creator who actually is in control despite appearances to our finite understanding, we have peace. As I walked out of my home this morning I was greeted by a loud chorus of bird calls from one of my trees. Those birds weren't worried at all about the virus or anything else! It made me think of the words of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 10:29-31 - "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."
5. What advice would you like to give to people struggling with this pandemic and Stay-Home order?
Here are some things that I share with our first responder community in my role as a police and fire chaplain. In a time of crisis there are a variety of signs of stress at several levels:
- Physical signs of stress include: chills, thirst, fatigue; poor problem solving poor abstract thinking; poor attention, poor concentration or memory; heightened or lowered alertness.
- Emotional signs of stress include: panic, denial, anxiety; apprehension, outbursts; feeling overwhelmed; inappropriate emotional responses; thought of suicide.
- Behavioral signs of stress include: withdrawal from normal life and interactions; inability to rest; loss or increase of appetite; hyperalertness to your environment; increased alcohol consumption.
- Spiritual signs of stress include: loss of meaning and purpose; anger at God or human spiritual leaders; questioning basis beliefs.
For many of us, walking through the unknown is incredibly stressful because we can't control it. And because we have different life experiences and different cultures, we will process this pandemic crisis differently. It can be tempting to resort to extremes in our responses, even though doing so does more harm than good in the long run. The first thing to do is to spend time in God's Word, listen to biblical messages of hope, and communicate with others who you see are rooted in Someone greater than themselves. Here are some other, very practical specifics:
- Limit how much news you watch or listen to during the day.
- Eat healthy foods and limit processed food.
- Physical exercise: Take a walk, if possible, or take advantage of the many online exercise classes.
- Moderate your intake of caffeine.
- Avoid alcohol and other depressants.
- REST! Sleep is important.
- Don't make big decisions at this time, either. If you need to make a big decision, make sure you have a family member or friend help guide you through it. During times of crisis, we have a tendency to avoid the blind spots.
- Stay connected! Talk to a friend or family member. Connect with your co-workers
- Don't be afraid of appropriate emotional reactions. It's a normal part of dealing with stress.
One of my chaplains, Mrs. Paula DesBiens, offers this additional advice: "I would highly recommend that during this time of uncertainty that we take care of ourselves, but not focus only on ourselves. There's something really powerful about caring for others who are in need during times of crisis while you are caring for yourself at the same time. There are people who have no one to talk to. No one to process this pandemic with. There are people who need a virtual shoulder to lean on or cry on. Reach out to them with a phone call, a text, or a kind word of encouragement. Check in with people to see how they are doing. These can be very trying times."
Finally, don't stress about the unknown that might happen, especially when there is nothing that you can do about it personally. It only makes your stress worse, As the Lord Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew 6:34, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient to the day is its own trouble."
"Casting all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7) can only be a comfort, though, if you really know your Lord and Redeemer. If you do not have this comfort, Friend, surrender your need for control, humble yourself before Him, believe that His death and resurrection are your only hope, repent of your sins and call out for His mercy. As the Lord Jesus said, "He that comes to me I will in no wise cast out." Then no matter what calamity comes your way in this world, debilitating fear will not touch you.