Just the thought of a red light on your car’s dashboard probably raises your anxiety. Now, think of that light coming on when you’re driving in the middle of nowhere. With no cell phone reception. Then you run out of gas.
That’s a metaphor for our situation today: You were already feeling stretched and tired by challenges in your life, you didn’t have your friends’ support and then global COVID-19 came out of nowhere. Life already felt out of control. Now the entire world feels out of control.
“Control” is a myth. We like to think we have control — over our lives, finances, careers, families. But we soon realize self-control is the only control we can have. With that wonderful gift of self-control, we can pay attention to the gauges on our soul’s dashboard.
These six gauges (or dimensions of our life) become like a trellis — a structure on which to grow the branches and fruit of our life.
Gauge 1: Spiritual formation
Have you noticed that, though Jesus was God, he intentionally positioned himself to hear from the Father? In fact, he often tried to avoid people so that he could find solitude and silence to pray (Matt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:35; Lk. 6:12). We learn from Jesus’ example the foundational practices of spiritual formation are solitude, silence and prayer.
This is a good time to remember that Jesus’ name “Emmanuel” means God with us (Matt. 1:23). Say “God with us” slowly several times before you rise each morning and as you retire each night. While many might be asking Where is God? we have the assurance to know that he is right here with us, and also right there in the midst of the suffering and loss that is present everywhere right now.
Gauge 2: Emotional formation
During this crisis, most of us are experiencing some anxiety, fear, sadness, depression, loss and even a deep sense of trauma. In fact, we all are experiencing “Present Traumatic Stress Disorder.” This stress is dangerous and damaging to our souls, especially if experienced too long. It also makes us more vulnerable to our past wounds, hurts and issues.
When this gauge of your soul is lit, the best thing you can do is honestly and vulnerably name what you’re feeling. Putting words on feelings will make you aware of their presence and allow you to take next steps. Externalize those feelings in a safe environment.
If your feelings are severe, see a professional therapist or counselor. If milder, you might discuss them with a spiritual director. At a minimum, spend some time journaling your feelings and thoughts. These externalization processes will bring healing to your emotions that feel out of control.
Another healing practice is lamenting. Over a third of the Psalms are Psalms of Lament, in which the author cries out to God in confusion, frustration and even anger. It is comforting to know God is not surprised and can handle even our most intense emotions. A global pandemic is a fitting time to spend reading these Psalms. You might write your own psalm of lament, individually or as a family.
Gauge 3: Relational formation
“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) is not a marriage verse but a relationship verse. About 60 commands in the New Testamenttell how we relate to “one another.” This is strong proof of the importance of people in our lives.
Yet while social and physical distancing, spending time with people is difficult. One helpful practice is to find a “soul friend” — someone you trust and feel comfortable talking with about anything.
Since you most likely won’t be able to connect in person, the old-fashioned phone call works. For those more tech savvy, video conferencing options like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom are great. There are even apps like Marco Polo to send videos to others.
Whatever you choose, do something to connect with others during this time of increased isolation.
Gauge 4: Mental formation
This gauge will help you see how much of your thinking is healthy and how much is toxic. What you allow into your mind greatly affects how you think. Romans 12:2 says you are “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
A great place to begin avoiding toxic input is the news. We all want to know what’s going on in the world, but limit your intake to a couple times a day for an hour total. Fill your mind with Scripture about your identity (e.g. Ephesians 1-3, Colossians 1-2). And memorize Scripture — not just verses, but passages — to get God’s words into your mind.
This is a great time to start a gratitude journal (either personal or family). Or choose a book or podcast to help you have a healthy perspective.
Gauge 5: Physical formation
Our bodies are like batteries. Most of us pay close attention our phone’s battery and know when it needs charging. And in a time when we’re either attempting to avoid getting sick or fight off the virus, the best thing we can do is keep our immune systems strong.
Our bodies are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19). How are you taking care of your temple?
A key place to start is sleep. We need a minimum of 7 ½ to 9 hours of sleep each night. Since our schedules are different now, this is a great time to learn healthy sleep patterns like going to bed early or not waking up with an alarm.
Next, implement healthy rest rhythm. A sabbath rest was important enough for God to model it on the last day of creation. “Shelter in place” can be like a forced sabbath — a time to rest from our hurried lives.
Paying attention to what we eat is always important. Each year my wife and I do a spring cleanse/detox by eating only vegetables, fruit and clean proteins for a month. It also is crucial to exercise each day as much as you are able.
Pay attention to your breathing and take time for reflection each day. All these will help your stress awareness.
Gauge 6: Missional formation
The kingdom of God is always thriving, and we know where and how God’s kingdom is at work. In Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Jesus tells us the good news is that the kingdom of God is available to those who seek it and enter it.
Some practices you can engage in even though distancing are:
Finding out what neighbors might need help or assistance.
Organizing a neighborhood video conference.
Reaching out by phone or text message to a family in your community each evening to ask How can we pray for you? (then pray for them with your family that evening).
What if this crisis is also a time to reimagine church? What if many of our church buildings closed for good and we had to go out into our cities in new ways? Someone aptly posted about this time, “Jesus has left the building, and the church decided to follow him.”
Many of us have space in our lives now. Think of ways to make it a blessing. In a sense, it’s as if on a forced retreat. We’ve been given a unique invitation to rewire the ways we live and interact with others. Let’s accept it.
Dr. Michael G. Bischof, President of SOULeader Resources
Dr. Michael G. Bischof (M.Div., D.Min.) is Founder and President of SOULeader Resources, an inter-denominational ministry established in 2000 to empower transformational wholeness in leaders, churches, denominations and organizations. Michael uses his experience through coaching, consulting, training, and writing.