One of the most frequent calls in all of Scripture is “Fear Not!” or one of its many parallel phrases. Perhaps were are not fearful per se in these, concerned for sure, but these are definitely confusing, stressful times. This pandemic affects numerous facets of life from the personal to the societal. It impacts each person in different ways. Whose life is not disrupted? Children from pre-K through college are at home as the educational institutions adapt to the digital classroom. Churches are closed. The local gathering spots offer take-out at best. Sports have disappeared from ESPN – well, live sports anyway. Cocktail hours, retreats and business meetings are now on Zoom. Your gym, YMCA, and the like are closed. Here in Tampa the bicycle shop business is booming, but only one person at a time. Not too often you see a line outside a bicycle shop. There is stress just managing the changes. There is stress wondering if the next person you meet is infected but asymptomatic, the next door handle tainted, and… well, you know your own stress risers and anxieties. Now imagine you are facing this uncertainty and have a mental illness. How much more challenging must it be to navigate this uncertainty?
In talking with parishioners in these last few weeks, while they feel the strong call to prayer, they experience distraction as the stress creeps into their consciousness. Seems to me there is a need to remind people about managing stress. Searching through online recommendations, here are a few of the things you can do to manage stress
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly adds to the stress.
- Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Get up from the desk/computer/social media at regular intervals.
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and non-prescribed drugs.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation.
- Don’t contribute to the spread of rumors and don’t follow those on social media who are passing along the rumors. Some herds run right over the edge of the cliff.
- Take a break from the 24-hours news cycle and excessive “googling.” What makes the news reports is generally bad news – how many people were infected or died in today. There never seem to be stories about those who recover or those whose symptoms caused suffering but these things passed at home.
These are just general ideas for you, but there are other dynamics in play for children, medical professionals and first responders, people quarantined, people just out of quarantine, and more. And for busy parents now tasked with some degree of homeschooling, there is another layer of stress to pay attention to. In any case, if you can reduced the stress, prayer will become more fruitful, more intentional.
And the prayer should be shaped not only by the needs of family, friends, and associated, but also by our Faith. What is a faith response to these times? First and foremost: pray and then pray again. Here is a partial list of lenses by which to consider the question.
Protect Human Life – We are a Church that is pro-life, life that begins with natural conception and ends with a natural death. It is why we stand against abortion and the death penalty. These times remind us that pro-life means just that: support life in all its shapes and measures. That is why there is a moral obligation to avoid actions, behaviors and attitudes which permit the virus to spread and threaten the life and health of others. Social distancing, staying in place and avoiding crowds and contact with others are not options, but obligations. Those who ignore or resist such protections are not simply endangering themselves, but others and the larger community. Taking precautions and following directions to avoid spreading this virus is “pro-life” and a moral duty. Did we as a society delay closings, cancellations and stay-at-home orders because of economic impact. One wonders if we in Florida allowed the beaches to remain open for spring break when they should have been closed. How many visitors caught the virus and then took it home to other states? Life is a gift from God. Pray that we all are “pro-life” in our behaviors and actions.
Be generous – there is enough for everyone. Don’t stockpile and hoard supplies. I wonder how many face masks, hand sanitizer bottles, and the like are sitting on shelves at home when they are needed elsewhere. Generosity is a reflection of our belief that God provides enough of what is truly needed; the problem is the human distribution of those gifts from God. Pray the people will become generous in their buying and donation patterns.
Protect the vulnerable – Scripture makes clear and our bishops have repeated: ultimately we are judged as people and a society on how we treat “the widows, orphans, aliens, and strangers among us.” Vulnerability comes in the form of health, finances, child care when work demands the attention of the adult, and so many more things. Sometimes it is as simple as choosing between gathering with a larger group of friends and visiting your grandmother. Pope Francis has said: “the measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” Pray that we as a Christian people reach out beyond family and friends to those on the margins.
Adopt a renewed spirit of sacrifice. These are habit-busting times when societal rules and regulations change our lives. You can grumble or embrace the inconvenience.or disappointment. Think about your complaints. Think about being interviewed for national news and you’re the college student who remarked about spring break on the beaches of Florida, “but we had already planned the trip…” We are in the midst of Lent about to enter Holy Week to celebrate the One who sacrificed everything that we might have life and salvation.
Make “love your neighbor” real – thank those on the “front lines,” check in on isolated or vulnerable neighbors with shopping and errands. Take their dog for a walk! Be the one who is the calming influence. Faith is a trust in God that leads to action. Always. This is why Paul doesn’t just talk about Christians having faith, he says we “live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Galatians 2:20) and “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7). This is why James, can say faith is shown in works (James 1:18). And this is why Hebrews 11 is full of people who didn’t merely have faith, but acted by their faith (“By faith Abraham…By faith Moses…By faith…”). Pray that we can each join the saints in their trust of God.
Listen in love. No matter what turn a crisis takes, one of the most enduring and powerful gifts we can offer is to listen. By listening we embody the love of the sacred, the love of a wider community, the love of life itself. Compassionate listening is exactly what people need when they are faced with the overwhelming, uncontrollable circumstances of a crisis. Pray that we are a people who compassionately listen.
There is certainly more, but its enough to get started with intentional prayer well suited to these times.