Life is uncertain. We all know this, but there’s nothing like a tornado and a pandemic to drive it home. You may not have weathered a literal storm as we have here in Middle Tennessee just two weeks ago, but you’re likely weathering your own storm of one kind or another. Now the coronavirus has added another layer of disruption and fear to whatever level of sadness, grief, or anxiety you were already experiencing. In times like these we’re reminded of just how little we actually control in this life, which can lead to even more unrest and anxiety. How can we stay grounded in faith, hope, and love and experience peace in the midst of such unsettling and uncertain circumstances?
There are many possible responses to this question—so many helpful ways to care for our souls in the midst of chaos. Reminders to meditate on God’s promises, get outside, be present in the moment, and do things you love are so important. We all need to do each of these things and practice good self-care. But as I’ve reflected on what I might write about, I’ve continued to come back to two simple habits that have made a profound difference for me personally and that, I believe, can be especially helpful in the midst of uncertain times.
Traditionally these basic postures have been part of a prayer practice called the Daily Examen, and often they are described as noticing what is life-taking and what is life-giving. I’d like to slice them a little differently here with some additional insights about why and how they can be incredibly healing for us in the season we are in now. These habits are basic and simple, yet I believe that often the simplest measures are the most effective.
Habit #1: Share what’s hard.
When life seems chaotic and fear and anxiety are rising, our tendency is to focus on the what-ifs rather than to live fully engaged in the present moment. Although being concerned about what might happen is natural, fearfully ruminating on imaginary scenarios only increases our feelings of fear and anxiety. We’ve all had plenty of firsthand experience, including sleepless nights, to know this is true. There’s no question that worry is counterproductive, but sharing what’s hard right now is different. Talking about what’s happening and how we feel about it is actually helpful and healing.
There’s no question that worry is counterproductive, but sharing what’s hard right now is different. Talking about what’s happening and how we feel about it is actually helpful and healing.
When something’s hard, we might experience a variety of emotions—fear, anger, sadness, loneliness, or even guilt (survivor guilt is real). Sharing how we’re feeling is necessary if we want to be truly seen and known. This is even more critical when we are feeling isolated because of social distancing. Opening our hearts is how we connect with God and others and experience real intimacy. It’s what allows us to receive comfort, which in turn makes us feel safe and secure.
The image that comes to my mind is a child who is hurt playing outside. The natural response is to run to a parent or caregiver for comfort and help. But if the child doesn’t do that, he won’t have the opportunity to receive those gifts of love and care. Even as a child grows up and becomes a self-sufficient adult, she still will have that basic need to be loved and comforted—especially when the hurts are internal rather than external.
In addition to opening ourselves to connection and comfort, sharing what’s hard helps us to process our emotions and discern whether we are moving toward a healthy response or an unhealthy one. It’s incredibly difficult to move out of a destructive emotional pattern if we are unaware of how we are feeling, why we are feeling that way, and what our emotions have to show us. Take fear, for example. It might be alerting us that we need to plan or prepare in some way. But if we find ourselves obsessively or excessively planning and preparing—such as buying a year’s supply of toilet paper—that’s probably a clue we’ve moved toward an unhealthy response and need to stop and process our feelings. Being able to share what’s hard and how we feel about it plays a critical role in helping us to choose healthy responses as we stay grounded in faith, hope, and love and begin to move from anxiety to peace.
Often we skip this important step, jumping ahead to action. But action alone cannot alleviate our fears. It may give us the illusion of control, but what we really need is to be reassured that regardless of our circumstances and our own internal state, we are seen, known, and loved by God and by others who care about us. We need to know that we are not alone and are not “in it” alone. Whatever may be hard and however we may feel about it, God meets us right where we are. God cares about what is happening in our lives and promises to comfort us and carry our burdens. Besides calming us with His loving presence, God sends others to listen, comfort, and encourage us as well. Again, it is the act of sharing our feelings about whatever is happening that opens us to receive love and compassion.
It is the act of sharing our feelings about whatever is happening that opens us to receive love and compassion.
This may sound like common sense, but the truth is that many of us have learned to keep our feelings to ourselves—sometimes even refraining from being authentic with God. We need to remember that sharing how we’re feeling is not the same thing as complaining and does not mean we are weak in our faith. While some may think that talking about feelings is unproductive and even can result in getting “stuck” emotionally, it’s actually more like opening the value on a pressure cooker, helping us to process and release in a healthy way as we deepen our relationships—both with God and with others.
So, when circumstances are difficult and anxiety begins to settle in, a healing habit is to talk about how we feel. The psalms provide a beautiful example of how to do this with God, showing that it’s possible to be real about our emotions while holding onto faith, hope, and love. Reading and meditating on a particular psalm that resonates can be a good starting point for opening our hearts to God. We also may find it effective to personalize a psalm, rewriting it in our own words as we communicate authentically with God. (If you’d like to try this, here are a few psalms to consider: 22, 23, 27, 30, 40, 46, 55, 56, 70, 71, 91, 121.)
Journaling is another form of heartfelt prayer that enables us to share authentically and deeply about what’s hard with the One who can heal us. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to make sense of our experiences and stories in light of God’s love for us, which brings both emotional and spiritual healing. When we don’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else, a journal is a safe place where we can confide in God. As Luann Budd explains in Journal Keeping, the Spirit is both a witness and a conversation partner when we journal, helping us give words to our feelings so that we can understand them. The very act of writing helps our brains to integrate experiences and emotions. Journaling has been an invaluable tool of spiritual growth and healing for me personally, which is why I wholeheartedly recommend it to others.
Opening our hearts to God may come more easily to some of us if we combine prayer with physical exercise, music, or some other kind of creative expression. I’ve found that walking helps me to clear my mind and connect with God, and listening to instrumental music while I journal or pray often takes me to a deeper level. I encourage you to experiment to find what facilitates your own connection with God, allowing you to be your most authentic self in His presence.
Sometimes sharing our hearts first with God makes it easier to share later with a safe person we trust. Other times sharing with a safe person first gives us permission to talk honestly with God later. What’s important is simply that we are intentional about both. Although personal contact will continue to be more limited in the days ahead, we still can reach out to others on a regular basis via technology when being together is not possible (keep in mind that a video call or phone call is preferable to text when sharing from the heart). Whether we’re sharing with God or with people, the truth is that all healing happens in relationship, and God desires each of us to experience the connection, comfort, and peace that come from being seen, known, and loved just as we are in the midst of what’s hard.
Habit #2: Look for life.
So often we rush through our days without being fully aware of the world around us or attentive to our own inner lives. Paying attention to the ways we are seeing and experiencing life is a healing habit that increases not only our peace but also our spiritual awareness and discernment. While it’s a great habit to practice every day, it can be especially helpful and healing during times of uncertainty when we need extra reminders of God’s presence and activity within our world and our lives. My friend Allison Vines, who is Director of Care at Providence Church, captures this practice so beautifully with this simple phrase: “Look for life.” I love that. Regardless of the challenges that may surround us at any given time, we can always find signs of life.
Although there are still huge piles of rubble throughout my community—lingering signs of the devastation of an EF-3 tornado—there also are many signs of life, including golden daffodils, yellow forsythia blooms, and white Bradford pear blossoms. Besides these heralds of new life, other signs of life are visible in the outpouring of volunteers as neighbors help neighbors. The community is coming together in unprecedented ways. Signs of life are all around us, even in the midst of widespread destruction.
Similarly, while the coronavirus crisis has resulted in social distancing and the scarcity of certain items, friends and neighbors are generously offering to share what they have with one another. Businesses, churches, and other organizations are complying with best practices to help flatten the curve and care for the most vulnerable in our communities. Parents are sharing ideas for entertaining, educating, and enjoying restless kiddos. Individuals and families are taking advantage of a slower pace and simple pastimes at home while reaching out to those they care about. Signs of life are everywhere, even in an atmosphere of great uncertainty.
When we look for life, we shift our focus from fear to hope. Paying attention to what is life-giving around us helps us to see Jesus in our midst.
When we look for life, we shift our focus from fear to hope. Paying attention to what is life-giving around us helps us to see Jesus in our midst. After all, He is life (John 14:6, Colossians 3:4). Signs of life remind us that He is with us in the details, always bringing hope and working things for good because He loves us.
So, when fear comes calling, a healing habit is to look for life. We’ll find it in abundance in nature, animals, children, music, art, literature, laughter, creativity, relationships, forgiveness, scripture, and so many other life-giving things. Looking for life can be a daily habit as we talk with God and others about what we’re noticing with gratitude. As we become aware of the signs of life around us, including the things that give life to us personally, we can name them in conversation, prayer, or the pages of a journal. The more we do this, the more attuned we will become to God’s presence and love.
Children are natural curators of signs of life. When my girls were little, often they would call my attention to something that had captivated them, such as a beautiful flower, a caterpillar, an interesting bug, a rock, or a myriad of other things. They also were quick to make it known when a particular moment or experience delighted them, filling them with joy. Rather than collecting worries and problems in these uncertain times, as we’re prone to do, why don’t we follow the example of children and become curators of life, seeing how many life-giving signs and experiences we can notice and “collect”!
The days ahead are sure to have challenges. Life as we know it is going to be different for a while. But God’s unfailing presence will be with us—always. God sees us, knows us, and loves us just as we are. And God is continually at work, bringing life and hope. My prayer is that each day we will share what’s hard and look for life. May these two simple habits be healing to our hearts and souls as we draw closer to God. After all, it is our connection with God that is the source of our peace, because peace is a Person.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.
(2 Thessalonians 3:16 NIV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
God’s comfort and care: Isaiah 66:13, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7
God is our help: Psalm 54:4, Psalm 121:1-2, Hebrews 13:6
God brings good: Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 32:40, Psalm 27:13-14
For a journaling exercise to help you share what’s hard and look for life, subscribe now to receive the March edition of the “Be Still and Know” community email (see Home or Contact pages), which will be going out soon!
For more about the Daily Examen, see my October blog, “Waking Up to God’s Presence.”
For a safe space to share your story, including what may be hard right now, schedule a free video or phone consultation.
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.