Many of us are desperate to find solutions to an on-going, nagging feeling that life may never be the way it once was. This feeling of uncertainty causes distress for all of us, and panic attacks for a lot of us. We all find a routine that offers a level of predictability in our lives. And the pandemic has changed everything.
In my search for suggestions that I can share with you all, I usually start with articles written for most of us. Admittedly, the New York Times is my favorite source. Their professionalism is admirable. But I also click on the links included in their online articles that frequently take me to their sources. These sources validate the conclusions offered by the journalist.
In her article, How to Cope When Every Thing is Changing, Cindy Lamothe tried to answer the question, “How do you make plans when it’s impossible to make plans?” Her article began with the recognition that the ground is shifting so quickly that planning even a week ahead can seem futile.1 One Trump rally can cause a sudden spike in new coronavirus cases for a city. New cases spiked for the State of South Dakota a couple weeks after a parade of mask-less motorcycle riders cruised up and down the streets of Sturgis.
This leaves a trip to the grocery store a potential risk for everyone we meet for the two weeks following our adventure. Eating at a restaurant still raises my anxiety level enough that carry-out seems to be the only sensible choice. While the crew at Fox News tries to explain away why hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors died to keep stock prices high, most of our near-term plans go on hold for another year.
After reading Cindy Lamothe’s article, I did a deep dive into a concept called “Temporal Distancing.”2 I couldn’t resist the use of a Time Machine metaphor by Dr. Nick Tasler. The time machine is one way to cope with the panic and disappointment that many of us are experiencing. This happens when change interrupts our daily routines to the point that they require a complete overhaul. His solution to coping with our anxiety is to dial in ten years from now and ask yourself how you hope to tell the story of how you responded to this crisis. Sounds exciting. But what if our time machine is broken?
Nevertheless, many psychologists suggest that focusing on the future rather than the past helps us cope. Not the near-term future, however. One thing that both psychologists and scripture agree on is that fear all but disables our cognitive abilities. This may help explain why the president is doubling down on fear as his party’s primary strategy for the upcoming election. Perhaps if enough us quit thinking, we may reelect the leaders who failed to lead when this crisis started.
Another approach to coping is accepting that we really never knew what we thought we knew. This stretches our mental flexibility to the max. Margie Warrell argues in her book, You’ve Got This, that rehashing our losses only undermines our confidence. Rather than holding on to canceled plans, we look forward to new possibilities that would otherwise be missed.
If neither your time machine nor imagining new possibilities work, Dr. Tassler recommends doing something so simple that it sounds almost comical. Do something that you know you can do.
I remember a time years ago when I hit a rough patch. Feeling like my world was not only crumbling, I couldn’t shake the voices in my head telling me that I was to blame for everything bad that was happening to me. My solution at the time was to find something easy to do. No matter how silly or trivial. I reasoned that if I could succeed at something, anything, then I might gain the confidence to try something else. I eventually recovered.
I’ve put more invitations on the table in a few paragraphs than any of us can accept. And most invitations that come our way have strings attached that we may not recognize until it’s too late. We’re tempted to hop on whichever bandwagon has the loudest bells. At least we’re doing something. Right? Invitations that promise comfort and certainty are tempting.
One of the most famous temptation stories on record involves Jesus alone in the wilderness. As the story goes, Satan tries three times to convince Jesus to set aside His convictions and give in to satisfying His desires. And if you remember the story, satan began with a relatively innocent invitation before going for the grand one.
First, I want to deal with this notion of satan, also called the devil in some circles. Admittedly, I’m not fond of humanizing evil. Doing so turns some folks away and trivializes a complicated subject. But it does help to make the story more interesting. And it’s important to realize that we humans possess all of the negative tendencies attributed to the devil. Most temptations are about keeping our demonic nature from taking over.
Jesus was hungry and thirsty from fasting — going without food and water for days. It’s hard enough for me to miss breakfast. I know from experience that fasting takes a tremendous amount of will power. The devil apparently knew that Jesus was vulnerable and invites Jesus to turn a stone into bread. This invitation doesn’t mean as much to you and me since we don’t possess this power. So substitute a power you do have, like a 2nd doughnut when you know that a salad would be better for you.
Jesus turns down the invitation. And what Jesus says is as powerful as it is confusing. Something about not living on bread alone. But hold that thought. Instead, Jesus reminds the devil that it is God’s Word that brings life. Maybe so, but when I’m hungry, and bread is all there is — I’m just saying.
The Prophet Isaiah offers another response for propositions that come with unlikely promises and hidden costs. “Why spend money on what does not satisfy.” Instead, Isaiah points to God’s ultimate solution to our anxiety. Come to me, and you will have life!
Why spend money on what does not satisfy.
This month’s series is called Invited. We’re looking at some invitations that are helpful during this time of extreme anxiety. If you’re feeling stressed from the pandemic or for any other reason, this series is for you. You can read about our series in our newsletter or online. I pray that you will join us online or in person. Be aware that we follow social distancing practices without exception. Free face masks are available and must be worn in our building.
You can join us online via webinar, through Facebook live, or you can call (929) 436-2866 and enter the meeting number — 324 841 204. We go live at 10:30 am. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
1 Cindy Lamothe. “How to Cope When Every Thing is Changing.” © NY Times Sept 7, 2020.
2 Emma Bruehlman-Senecal and Ozlem Ayduk University of California, Berkeley. “This Too Shall Pass: Temporal Distance and the Regulation of Emotional Distress,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology © 2015 American Psychological Association 2015, Vol. 108, No. 2.