Maybe your day started like mine: Before I crawled out of bed, I scanned Twitter, Facebook, and The New York Times for the latest COVID-19 updates. Where was the disease spreading? How are friends in Spain and Italy faring? Will Denverites be asked to shelter in place?
Thirty minutes later, I realized the error of my ways. I had set the tone for a day spent alone with my anxious thoughts. Even though I’m caring for my health and the health of my community through social distancing, I’ve been wantonly disregarding the health of my soul. If you feel the same way, it’s not too late to shift the dynamic of our days to better care for our souls in uncertain times.
Don’t let media consumption become a hobby.
I confess, after typing that line I stopped to search The New York Times website for updates on this morning’s White House press conference. STOP IT! Just because an unending stream of content is available doesn’t mean you need to consume it. Turn off the television or radio and limit your online exposure to set times during the day. Ask yourself: How is it enhancing my life to spend this much time scanning the headlines? Am I overly reliant on social media to fill relational needs created by social distancing? Does my online engagement help others, or am I just adding to the noise and anxiety?
Look for underlying fears that lead your heart astray.
The world has rapidly become something that isn’t the way we expected it to be. Seemingly solid jobs evaporated overnight and reliable access to something as essential as toilet paper is uncertain. If I’m not careful, I can let these changes dominate my day. But as Seth Godin recently observed, “It’s time to stop day-trading in emotions.” Take a moment to identify what those fears are–no matter how major or minor they might seem–and verbalize them to a friend or family member. Ask yourself: At this moment, what am I most worried about? Running out of toilet paper and wondering how you’ll survive having your kids home from school are legitimate sources of anxiety. Be specific–which area of your life is having the greatest impact on your spirit? What is the worst that could happen in the next month or the next year?
Set your mind on what doesn’t change.
This is an active choice to turn away from the things that cause anxiety and toward the only things that never change: God, His love for you, and His Word. I appreciate how the late Dallas Willard describes this process (emphasis mine):
“The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds. David knew this secret and wrote, ‘I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely’ (Ps. 16:8-9, NASB). This is the fundamental secret of caring for our souls. Our part in practicing the presence of God is to direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him.”
Notice how Willard emphasizes the ever-present, repetitive nature of this process: to practice the presence of God, we must “direct and redirect our minds constantly to Him.” A few ideas for how to do that:
Soak yourself in Scripture. Start and end your day meditating on key verses and post them in visible locations you’ll see throughout the day.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”(Ps. 27:1)
God is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way.”(Ps. 46:1–2)
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”(Luke 14:27)
Adopt a “breath prayer” you can repeat throughout the day. Breath prayer is an ancient Christian tradition that is as simple as repeating the following phrase to the rhythm of your breath, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Other meaningful praises are, “Be still, and know that I am God,” “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth,” or “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.”
Let music sing God’s truth over you. The Gospel Coalition created a wonderful playlist of music to encourage you in this season. Sing along! Fernando Ortega’s songs “Sing to Jesus” and “Lord of Eternity” are powerful and easy to sing even if doing so startles your housemates.
Disrupt unhealthy thought patterns through service.
Get out of your own head by considering the needs of others. It doesn’t have to be complicated, especially if you’re barely keeping up with work and family demands. Last night I texted every neighbor for whom I had a phone number to see how they are doing and discovered that two are quarantined because of pre-existing conditions. I will add their shopping lists to my next grocery run, maintain contact from a safe distance, and continue daily check-ins. Pray for the healthcare providers in your social circle, drop them a note, run food by their house to lighten their domestic load. More than grand gestures, in this season we need on-going acts of kindness to see us through.
What has helped calm your anxious thoughts? We’re in this together, so reach out to us at @DenverInstitute with strategies that are working for you.
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This post was published March 23, 2020
Joanna serves as Denver Institute’s Director of Public Engagement and oversees the Women & Vocation Initiative. Prior to coming to the Institute, Joanna worked in global telecom, nonprofit consulting, and campus ministry with Cru. She served as associate faculty at Denver Seminary and as a sewing instructor at Fancy Tiger Crafts. A third-generation Coloradan, Joanna appreciates both the state’s innovative culture and its cowboy roots. She has an MA in Social Entrepreneurship from Bakke Graduate University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado, Boulder.