A standard app comes with an Apple watch that leads the person wearing the device through a deep breathing exercise. The app begins with instructions to relax and concentrate on your breathing. The watch vibrates in a way that signals taking air into your lungs and then changes to signal that it’s time to exhale. It is a straightforward exercise that only takes a minute unless you signal that you want to extend your time.
With several decades of experience behind us, many of us catch ourselves looking back to a time when life was less stressful. But the pandemic is taking a toll on us. We are stressed out! Every one of us. Some are coping better than others.
Many of us are suffering from panic attacks, depression, poor diet, and a lack of human touch. The pandemic, the on-going protests against racial injustice, foreign governments messing with our elections, promises that turn out to be fiction, and more. We can’t get no relief, or so it seems.
A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August cited elevated levels of substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, particularly among young adults and racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers. The reported noted a 31% increase in anxiety and depression symptoms among adults in the United States. I’m guessing that none of this surprises anyone reading this article. 1
The researchers from the CDC who conducted an online survey of around 5,400 people discovered that the prevalence of anxiety symptoms was three times high and depression symptoms were four times as high as a similar survey found a year earlier.
The age group most affected, according to the survey, are young adults, 18 to 24 years old. A group that is substantially less likely to suffer illness from the virus. Yet, 63% of the respondents in this age group reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. One possible explanation that interested researchers are whether tolerance levels for uncertainty contribute to more adverse symptoms. 2
But what can we do? The answer to this problem carried out by large numbers is finding a local bar where hundreds of others feel the same way. The next day’s hangover seems like a small price to pay. Testing positive for the Coronavirus after infecting several other people is the price that others pay for this one night of relief that they missed out on.
Before beginning work on this article, I found myself reflecting on my own anxiety. As I replayed my week’s highlights, the number of different activities that I participated in felt overwhelming. I concluded that it wasn’t the number of activities as much as a fear that my abilities were insufficient that fed my anxiety.
Since I was recording my observations in my prayer journal, I naturally considered what sort of reaction Jesus might have to my assessments. I imagined sitting around an open fire with other followers listening in. I responded to His question, “How was your week?”
I knew that it was useless to gloss over the times that I felt anxious and inadequate. After all, scripture reminds us that Jesus already knows the answer. He likely wanted to help me become aware. “I’m feeling overwhelmed,” I responded in my reflections. “Why do you think that you are feeling overwhelmed,” Jesus asked.
I had to dig a little deeper before I responded. “Why?” is a hard question under any circumstances. This question uncovers motive and intrudes into our most profound insecurities. “Do you trust me,” Jesus asked to break the silence. Busted!
I have confessed many times that I’m often in over my head. I’ve wondered many times why God sent me to Flint. Why this neighborhood? The problems are beyond my ability to solve. There has to be a lot of pastors more qualified than me. I frequently feel as though the load that God has asked me to carry is too heavy.
And then the pandemic hit. And week after week, there is news of law enforcement killing persons of color. The numbers make it clear. Racism is also a pandemic. COVID helped to bring what people of color already knew to the public consciousness. Wasn’t the water catastrophe enough? Isn’t the economic devastation leftover from General Motors abandoning Flint enough?
One of my favorite stories found in the gospels is about a time when Jesus was in a boat with several friends during a storm. Panic was setting in as the storm raged. Meanwhile, Jesus was sound asleep. Finally, they wake Jesus up. “We are about to die,” they complain.
I thought about this story, as I reflected. After Jesus calmed the storm, He asked His followers, “Where is your faith?” Busted!
When the storm rages, it can be difficult to calmly say to the thunder and the winds, “I’m not afraid because I have faith.” Likewise, when uncertainty abounds, and our load feels too heavy to carry, we look for someone to offer a hand rather than claim our faith as the solution.
Jesus often spoke about the power of faith to overcome difficulties. In chapter 11 of Matthew, He says, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” This sounds like a great invitation. Cyndi and I just got back from a week’s vacation, and I already need rest.
At the base of the Statue of Liberty, there are words written by Emma Lazarus in 1883. Emma was a poet known for helping refugees arriving in the United States. The inscription ends with “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Another great invitation. A promise that helped shape and defines our country.
Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
Fortunately, what humans cannot honestly give, God offers each of us without qualification. Rest from our burdens. God does not promise that there will be no more storms, or pandemics, or prejudice, or systems that oppress, but a promise that we don’t need to do it all on our own.
Let’s reenact the breathing exercise app on the Apple watch. First, take a deep breath. Second, remember and believe what Jesus said about rest from heavy loads. Now, commit yourself to accept God’s invitation to trust that God is in control. Now imagine yourself letting go of your worries, if even for a moment. This is the rest that each of us is promised. Jesus is always in the boat with us.
This month, our series is call Invited. 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 Mark E. Czeisler et al. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, June 24-30, 2020.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 14, 2020.
2 Jim Hoffman. “Young Adults Report Rising Levels of Anxiety and Depression in Pandemic.” © New York Times, August 13, 2020.