Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How To Thrive Spiritually In A Pandemic!


Dear Friends,

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I snap at her, “I have the patience of a Saint.” She rolls her eyes and calls me “Saint Impatient” for the rest of the day.

She and I seem to have a misunderstanding about my wonderfulness that we’ve not been able to resolve. When I take a selfie, I’m always surprised that I don’t see a golden halo over my head as portrayed in the icons of the ancient saints. She and other loved ones see me as a cranky old Christian curmudgeon and I fail to understand how our perceptions can be so different. I pray that their eyes will be opened to the truth.

Okay.. The truth of course is that, from time to time, we all suffer from the sin of impatience. We confess that we sin daily in “thought, word and deed” and it’s those minor sins of gossip, anger, pride, an unloving attitude, desiring what others have, etc. that disqualify us from wearing the golden halo. But it’s the minor sin of impatience that’s creating major mental health problems during the pandemic. 

..it’s the minor sin of impatience that’s creating major mental health problems during the pandemic.

Impatience is a lack of tolerance and acceptance in any given situation. The “Closed” sign in the above photograph was funny six months ago. No more. We were willing to tolerate a Covid lock-down for a month or so but we’re now at the end of our patience as nothing has changed and there is no end in sight. Hairdressers, restaurants, retailers and even pastors have run out of patience and reopened when it was not safe or legal to do so. I have no tolerance for masks. They severely test my patience as I hurry through the grocery store, lifting up the bottom of the mask every so often to take a breath of fresh air and then ripping it off my face as soon as I’m outside.

We can’t blame our lack of patience on the pandemic – we’ve become a culture of impatience. We honk our horn at the car ahead of us two seconds after the red light turns green. We’ve lost interest in detailed news stories and prefer summaries and sound bites. I know people who won’t read anything longer than a text and a good friend, who is even more impatient than I am, doesn’t use those tedious and unnecessary things called “words.” His texts to me often consist only of acronyms and emojis. Our cultural impatience demands instant gratification, creates our sense of entitlement and we are only happy when things are done our way and in our approved time-frame. Our impatience is what’s causing our stress and unhappiness with the “stay at home” restrictions that interfere with our day-to-day lives and personal freedoms!

But it’s this very lack of tolerance and unacceptance of our temporary circumstances that’s causing our mental health problems today. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as a direct result of the Coronavirus, the percentage of men reporting depression rose from 7% to 22% and depression among women jumped from 10% to 33%. The number of adults considering suicide has doubled in just the past few months. Younger people (18-24) are in a time of great crisis with nearly half reporting depression and in the past 30 days, 25% of them have seriously considered suicide because of the pandemic. Many report the “prison-like” conditions of stay-at-home and social distancing restrictions being the cause of their anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness.

What both prisoners and monks have in common is that at some point they made a life-changing decision that resulted in their strict living conditions. Whether their day-to-day life is tightly controlled by an abbot or a prison warden, they must accept the consequences of their choice with patience, tolerance and acceptance or their mental health will be greatly impacted. 

Of course our Covid restrictions today are not the consequences of a personal choice, but our living conditions are now tightly controlled by government authorities. When we can leave our house, where we are allowed to go, how we eat meals outside our home, what we can and cannot do, whose house we can visit, how we worship at church, what we must wear on our face, where we are allowed to walk, stand or sit outside our homes are all under control of State and County health officials. And for the betterment of our own mental health, we need to embrace our temporary circumstances with patience, tolerance, acceptance and grace.

The obvious difference between the criminal and the monk is that one went to the ugliness of a prison against his will while the other went to the beauty of a monastery according to the will of God. We may protest our perceived “prison-like confinement” at home during the Coronavirus but perhaps that perspective would change if we were to welcome the monastic-like living conditions in which we find ourselves. The closest experience any religious person can have to live in God’s house would be a monastery or convent. A place of peace. A sacred, holy place where we come into the presence of God. 

Few of us would describe our homes as a place of peace. Fewer still would describe where we live as a sacred place. That’s because we compartmentalize our lives and schedule our worship for a specific time in a specific place that we call “church” on Sunday morning. But we haven’t been able to do that for the past six months and some of us have become spiritually dry. Without our church to nourish our souls, some of us may even be starting to feel distanced from God and what will always close that gap is our return to our worship of Him.

Our soul cries out for worship and watching YouTube church services may be interesting, edifying and even entertaining but it’s not what the Bible describes as worship.(see footnote) Scriptures referring to “worship” always describe it as active participation by a person. Worship is what you do. Not what you watch someone else do on your phone or computer. When was the last time you worshiped your Lord in your home? Sang hymns or songs of praise and worship? Knelt down to pray? Stood and raised your hands to pray? Danced to the Lord? Spoke to God aloud and gave Him your words of praise and thanksgiving? These are some of the actions our Bible describes as "worship." In the monastery, worship and work are inseparable and flow together intertwined throughout each day. Community prayers take place at certain times but individual prayer becomes the background music of the monastic’s life as they “pray without ceasing.” 1 Thess 5:16-18 

Moving from a Coronavirus home-bound prison environment to a sacred monastic environment in your home requires nothing more than a change of heart and the welcoming of a time in your life to become closer to God. In His presence, any anger and impatience at our living conditions fade away and we accept these new circumstances with grace. Hope rises and overcomes feelings of despair as we now wait with patience and look forward to what God is doing in our lives during this new season.

“Patience is a virtue,” we’re told and patience (also translated as longsuffering) is listed as one of the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT. Galatians 5:22-23 Patience has been defined as “waiting without complaint” and when we do so, we inherent the promises of God through our faith and patience. Hebrews 6:12

While we’re patiently waiting, we don’t want to waste an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth so we ask ourselves: What is God showing me during these temporary circumstances? Is God showing us the ugliness of our anger over trivial things that used to be only mildly irritating? Are we seeing our lack of patience with our loved ones? Are we willing to work on those minor sins in partnership with God? 

Is God redeeming the scourge of “social distancing,” and showing us through newly opened eyes how important our family and friends are? What do we miss about those who don’t live with us? Meals? Conversations? Hugs? When the pandemic is over, how will your relationships be permanently changed? With both church and shopping mall doors locked for the past six months, which doors are the ones you long to see reopened? What’s God showing you as you think about that last one?

Perhaps the most helpful thing for us to do during this time of patient waiting is to keep reminding ourselves that these present restrictions of our freedom and lifestyle are temporary. Redeem these many months of waiting by allowing God to make this time a teaching moment for us. As we journey down the path of becoming more like Christ and less like us, what are those minor sins that God would like to help you remove from your life? Confess those sins of thought, word and deed at the end of each day and receive His forgiveness. When you slip up during the day, confess that sin immediately to God and you will find that those “sin slip-ups” become less and less frequent.

And every day come into His presence with your worship. During this time when you can’t go to church, bring the “church” into your home. Intertwine your worship with your work and pray without ceasing by keeping God in your thoughts throughout the day. Sit down with your Bible at least once a day and feed your soul by immersing yourself in the Word of God. Tune out the negativity and chaos of the world and focus your thoughts on the goodness of God. Worship Him by expressing our words of thankfulness and gratitude to Him. Turn off the news media that fills us with stress, anger and sadness and fill your home with wall-to-wall Christian music. You can rename your home by calling it your church, your monastery, your cathedral or you can even call your home: “SAINT ________’s CHURCH OF THE REDEEMED” (insert your first name in blank space). 

The social distancing that keeps us at home is our opportunity to spend more time in God’s presence and feel His peace. And as we respond to the present circumstances in the rhythm of the divine, we will wait without complaint and respond with His grace.  Amen?

________________

1 What the Bible Says About Worship

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