All around us, creation is waking up from its winter hibernation. Birds have returned from their wintering places; snow is melting; grass is greening; and the earliest snowdrops, daffodils and tulips have begun to bloom (or finished in some parts!). There is a hopefulness that you can smell in the wet earth and hear in the sounds of nest-building songbirds.
We are still under isolation orders and our hibernation continues. In it, however, we have established new routines and practices, found ways to stay connected and discovered that our lives and work are not at a complete standstill. We may even have discovered that some of the changes are good, and habits worth keeping! Families have discovered intentional ways to stay connected—and explored praying together.
However, it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Managing anxiety and constant change, making decisions when you have no certainty and being bombarded with information on all sides is leading to days when we just can’t cope. Parents are juggling work and financial worry on top of children’s education and well-being. Many are anxious for elderly relatives in care homes where COVID-19 is rampaging or may yet arrive. Many are noticing those who have fallen between the cracks of the social safety net and now are even more at risk due to homelessness, mental health issues or addictions. Indigenous communities live in fear of COVID-19 arriving and devastating their already vulnerable families.
Taking care of one’s own mental health is an important part of the perseverance needed for the long journey we share. This may require limiting the amount of news we listen to or watch, taking time to simply go for a walk—or to sit quietly and breathe, listen to music, snuggle a child, spouse or pet. The great commandment to “love neighbour as self” invites us to look outward to encourage those of us who are struggling, to brighten someone’s day with a call or note, or to reach out with an act of kindness. It invites us also to offer the same to ourselves. Find something that gives you joy and take time for that each day. Give thanks wherever possible. Notice the absurd and funny in the midst of the serious—laughter is good medicine for the soul! Be gentle with yourself and others.
One biblical source of comfort is the Psalms, where the writers pour out their hearts with brutal honesty, lament, praise and delight as needed. Reading them I find solace in the intimacy of relationship with God that allows us to express the pain of our hearts and remain hopeful. Psalm 46 offers a description that could fit our times, as everything has been turned upside down, and offers the invitation to be still and find refuge in God.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Or Psalm 23—ever beloved for its comfort in times of illness, tragedy or death.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
and leads me beside still waters;
he revives my soul.
He guides me along right pathways
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil;
and my cup is running over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Another passage to hold in the midst of the barrage of news of pain and suffering is St. Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:4-9:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
You may not feel like rejoicing yet, but we can focus our hearts and minds on what is encouraging and commendable and there find the peace that does pass understanding because it is rooted in One stronger than the current troubles.
I pray that you will find moments to simply be still in the presence of God, to let yourself rest in your belovedness as a child of God, to pour out all that is in your heart knowing God listens and responds “as may be best for us.” May you find solace in the presence of our Creator and offer it to those who need it around you.