Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the demands of life but some situations can push us beyond our ability to cope. Everyone reacts differently to difficult situations. It’s normal to feel stressed and worried during a crisis and the effects of COVID19 pandemic are not any different.
Despite our best efforts to deal with the situation, we may find ourselves feeling helpless, sad, angry, irritable, hopeless, anxious, or afraid. Some people may have symptoms of anxiety and depression, have trouble concentrating on typical tasks, changes in appetite, body aches, and pains, or difficulty sleeping or may struggle to face routine chores. When these signs and symptoms last for several days in a row, make one miserable and cause problems in daily life so that it is hard to carry out normal responsibilities, it’s time to ask for help. Ensure you get the help you need!
Here are a few ways we can keep well:
The Wages I waited for
Growing up, I had this mentality that God owes me! He owes me for the suffering He allowed my family to go through and for the hard work my mum put in to get us to where we are. I thought God should pay us for we pledged allegiance to Him, the storms we faced notwithstanding.
Today I know better. I know with utmost certainty that in spite of everything, God never left our side. This school of thought has built up a strong conviction in my heart to be grateful to God in all situations. Now, it is definitely easier said than done, but it is the way to go.
Part of my conviction has also been formed by Scripture and friends that God has brought into my life. Through their testimonies, my perspective has continually deepened.
In this world, you will be petrified by evil and lack even a branch to cling onto. You will face persecution and agonize in suffering ‒yes at times you will feel as if the air around you is thinning and you almost fail to breathe.
People will fight against what you stand for and some will bargain for your neck, literally. You will lose loved ones to terminal illnesses and accidents, if not to murder; and your faith will be tested to the point of death. We are in a fallen world. Our only relief is the hope that we have in Christ; eternity with God.
God will come through for us when we call upon Him during suffering, but even if He does not in the manner we expect Him to, let us be resilient, and let us endure.
His Perfect Plan
God is Sovereign and we may never fully comprehend His works, but He expects us to trust in Him. He wants us to let go of our fears and focus solely on His power and Grace. I cannot help but constantly marvel at Joseph’s story as portrayed in Genesis from chapter 37 all the way to chapter 50.
He definitely did not have a normal life from the age of seventeen. His life, graced with hatred from his jealous brothers to false accusations by Potiphar’s wife, was characterized by excruciating pain. Yet he chose not to dwell on it but on God’s Sovereignty through it all.
One profound statement he made was when he met his brothers once again when they had gone to Egypt to buy food during the famine. And instead of taking it out on them for all they did to him, he wept for he could not hold it together and said
“Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…So then it was not you who sent me here but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” (Gen 45:5, 8).
Wait a minute; did Joseph know that God was in it from the very beginning? Well, the better question would be, “How do we hold on to God and His promises during suffering?”
Lessons out of Suffering
Have you ever reminisced over certain events in your life and at that moment feel this heavyweight being lifted off your chest because you wonder where you might be had things not taken the direction they did? And at that moment you get convinced deep down that God had something to do with it, for your own good?
Truth is, this conviction does not happen during the trial period, oh no, during that time what you feel is grief, unimaginable pain, abandonment, and total darkness. During this time all you want to do is give up. While it is natural to feel this way, it shows maturity to exercise trust in God, while we are at it.
Let us always keep in mind that God, out of His Sovereignty allows suffering to come our way and that He is right by our side through it all. While we should pray for Him to remove suffering from us, we should also ask ourselves His purpose of allowing it to come our way.
In the richness of His mercy, God has blessed us with opportunities for relationships. There are blessings in interacting with one another. What would the world be like if we, like Adam, had only animals around us? Who would even crack jokes for us, create memes and make those Indian tutorial videos on Youtube? Where would all the manufactured make-up go?
But how do we relate with each other, really? Our need for relationships is at times met with hatred and violence and we are left with pangs of loneliness and self-pity. We have many broken people around us. The world has changed some of us, causing us to exhibit behavior as that of villains. What would begin as a small misunderstanding would turn out to be a huge fight between two or more social beings who ought to be looking out for each other? People are out of tune when we really need them to resonate.
Being in full capacity human, we react swiftly in a negative way than we do positively to our tagged ‘villain’ neighbors. When we are frustrated, the heart rate, arterial tension and epinephrine production increases, and cortisol (the stress hormone) decreases, and the left hemisphere of the brain becomes more stimulated (SINC, 2010).
Our psychobiological responses are quicker than our logic patterns in response to people’s annoyance. Another common reaction is the auto-branding of people with an irrevocable tag. They are already condemned in our hearts; like a salty water river that has no hint of freshness in it. It is even more difficult if you can’t get rid of them. If you are taking instructions from them, you’d be thoroughly demotivated to undertake the tasks assigned. If they are esteemed by others, your brain has to go through a huge amount of clog to find the slightest good feeling about them.
The Grace Undeserved
But then Scripture keeps shouting about God’s grace here, His love and Mercy there, and many other attributes of His generosity all around us. His abounding kindness is beyond our exhaustion. God sees our disgraceful expressions of brokenness but in place of wrath, He gifts us with patience, the kind that according to Peter should quicken us to repentance.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person. God however demonstrated His love to us through that sacrifice. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8). We have received such great mercy and grace in our Lord, why then do we deny it to our ‘offenders’?
It is true that what they do is not ‘fine’ and may never be ‘fine’ at all. But aren’t we equally broken and imposing our brokenness on others as well? Isn’t it easier to believe God’s justice against our offenders and great pardon for us? While I can’t find the best anthropological response aside from the problem of sin amongst us, I can only refer to God’s requirement for us in such circumstances. We are constantly reminded that a good tree bears good fruit. It is possible that some of our responses are out of what is abundant in our hearts.
When we feel stabbed in our hearts, it’s sometimes the wake-up call to check whether our hearts are guarded or not. Many at times we see how wrong others are and fail to see the same in ourselves. It is true that we have been cut deep by the claws of self-righteousness. Seeing someone at their brokenness would arouse variety of thoughts. Inwardly, we are thankful that those problems are not in us. It is as though we pat ourselves on the back and say, “congratulations for not being like that guy.” We start evaluating how excellent we are at things others struggle with and begin to enjoy the higher pedestal.
But when we will begin to read God’s word without biasness, we will definitely realize God’s invitation to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit even in how we relate with one another. Gentleness is difficult when we are burning with fire, even for justified distress. But God fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control to overcome the darkness inside of us. God does not show our brokenness to us for our condemnation but so that we can draw to Him for sanctification and hence transformation.
We can offload the pride that deceives us into self-righteousness to a merciful God. It is a perfect opportunity to pray for patience when someone is condescending on you. We can seek His guidance for self-control when we are in a ruthless exchange. When the Helper’s voice is louder than the deceiver’s speech, we begin a journey of liberation in the freedom of Christ. It is us that should seek God’s help before pursuing the ‘wellnesses’ of the offender. May God help us to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry and above all to love one other.
The outbreak of Coronavirus that is rapidly spreading all over the world has worried many. Most people on earth today have never faced such an existential threat as they are now, hence panicking. To make matters worse we are not sure to what extent the disease will spread both locally and globally or even when an effective cure or a vaccine will be readily available. As we watch the events unfold, one thing that is evident is that the world as it is today is not a premium place to live, and the idea that the world is not our home is reinforced even further.
This is a world of pain and suffering evidently proved by a major share of problems and dangers we have experienced just within the first quarter of the year 2020, including: global and national conflicts, locusts invasion in Kenya and other parts of East Africa, political fights, earthquakes, and now the current outbreak of Corona Virus disease. It feels like the world is no longer a safe place to live.
A world of plagues
What we should put in mind is that this is neither the first nor the last time the world will face an existential threat in form of a disease.
Just slightly over 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu swept through the world, infecting about 500 million people (or 25% of the world population then). While the world was way much different than it is now in terms of globalization, the Flu was able to make its way around the world fueled by the First World War, with cases reported even here in Kenya.
Back in the 14th Century, The Black Death swept through Asia and Europe and it should be the deadliest pandemic ever reported. In Europe, it is estimated that it caused deaths of 30 – 60% of the entire population.
Going back earlier to the 3rd Century, a pandemic swept through the Roman Empire in the years 249-262 AD, christened the Plague of Cyprian after the Bishop of Carthage who witnessed and documented the plague, it is not clear what it could have been, and at some point, it was causing more than 5,000 deaths every day in Rome!
There are many more plagues that have taken place. Here in Africa, we may not have a good record of how things were in the Congo basin in the year 1020, but we know from stories and folklore that humanity has often faced similar threats to COVID-19.
Responding to COVID-19
If COVID-19 makes human beings recognize that they are under threat from millions of viruses that exist on earth but have not jumped into the human body yet, then, in some way, it is reminding us of a vital reality; we are nothing without God. The world today needs hope, and it is found in God alone.
God wants to use you and me to bring that hope to the world. We can use this moment to offer a lasting hope that is pegged not on material things or anything that can perish, but on God. This pain and suffering should move people to turn to God. In the Bible, we see people turning to God whenever a calamity struck (book of Judges).
It would be wise for those who have never considered the Christian world view to now give it a chance. As C.S Lewis puts it, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” This COVID-19 pandemic has compelled us to reflect more about death and eternity.
The Big Picture
The world is fallen, but in the end, God has promised to make everything new once again. Not just in the future, but starting from now. He has called us to be part of his grand plan to restore the world back to him, and this is an ongoing plan which we are part of as believers, and will culminate in the glorious day when Christ’s reign will be restored.
I concur with CS Lewis when he says that “Our world today is an enemy-occupied territory.” and that “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed; you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”
As we sabotage the work of the enemy and his agents, we should expect that the enemy will fight back. We should, therefore, act in wisdom, seizing every moment for the glory of God (Eph 5:15-16). As believers in the marketplace and institutions of higher learning, we need to be responsive and act. We need to show people how the Gospel is relevant to the questions they are asking. We must do it with gentleness and love. We must be on the frontline, as ambassadors of Christ especially when circumstances call for urgency to share hope in the Good News of our Lord and Savior.