Feel like you're riding an emotional roller coaster lately? I feel the full range of emotions, from joy to fear to sadness, crashing relentlessly like waves onto the shore. One moment I am fine and the next I am in tears. There are days that our self-isolation to contain the spread of the virus seems manageable and the family seems settled into our new routines. Then there are other days where it feels like there is no end in sight to our struggles and we wonder when life will ever return to some semblance of normal. Losses, even deaths, seem inevitable. And those moments can ebb and flow within minutes leaving me reeling. We move from feeling in control to being angry and sad over all that has been lost in the process. We struggle to look ahead because we fear for the future and the thought of losing those that we love. As days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months, our hearts ache to hold our loved ones close. We miss our favorite places and the company of those who have brought us joy. Our isolation takes an emotional toll. We need some healthy ways to cope.
First, acknowledge this is strange and difficult. No one knows precisely how to navigate because we've never had mass distancing before. We all walk in new territory without a road map. Feeling challenged is a normal response to a not-normal time. We have a lot of unanswered questions and it is unclear what the best options are for going forward. It is easy to see other people as short-tempered or foolish, but they too are navigating the best they can. Others might look like they have all the answers, but Pinterest perfect is always an illusion. If we acknowledge the pressure that everyone is facing it will help us respond with grace.
A few deep breaths can quiet our racing emotions and help us connect to our bodies and what we are feeling and experiencing. Deep breaths can help us to pause and reset so we can respond rationally to the world around us instead of reacting out of emotion. It is in the stillness that we encounter God and find our identity as his beloved child. Stepping outside for a breath of fresh air can reconnect us with our Creator God and remind us that he is still in control of the universe.
Regrets over the past or fears about the future can cause us to squander being present in the moment. Our responses to today's challenges are actually all that is within our control. We can’t change the past and the future is not promised to us, but we have choices in this moment about how we live our lives and engage with those around us. And right now is a time that we can enjoy. Yes, we wait for a return to "normal" perhaps, but taking today's not-normal by the horns might make for some innovating fun.
We can be very hard on ourselves. The inner thoughts that we replay in our heads can be toxic. We would never speak to another person the way that we speak to ourselves. Choose to interrupt negative thoughts and redirect them. Take each thought captive to God's word and take to heart to his words of affirmation. We are called to follow Jesus' example of forgiveness for ourselves as well as others.
In the emotional upheaval, we may lose sight of the toll that stress can have on our bodies. It is important to practice good self-care by tuning in to care for our physical health. Regular exercise and healthy eating habits can give us strength for facing the challenges before us. Restful sleep routines and staying away from substances like drugs and alcohol are good habits of self-care that boost our physical health.
Prayer is essential for the life of every Christian and it is all the more important in seasons of crisis. We take our problems to God as he desires to carry our burdens.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29
God is no stranger to our emotions- he made us and he knows our form. Jesus lived on this earth and experienced the full range of emotions. He wept tears over those who had died and he cried out to his Father when feeling abandoned on the cross. We have a God who understands our emotions and cares about each tear that falls. He has promised us a day that is coming when he will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
We may feel isolated on our emotional roller coaster, but the truth is that we are not alone. God is always with us and he blesses us with the gift of community. Our same feelings are being experienced by others and we can lighten each other’s burdens as we share our feelings with one another. Letters, phone calls, texts, and video conferences are all opportunities to safely draw close to one another and foster community. Use technology to reach out and connect with people you can't be with in person.
In the Psalms we hear the lament always circling back to trusting in God and placing our hope in him. We can join the psalmist in saying, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God" (Psalm 43:5). For Christians, our hope is anchored outside of our circumstances in the God who created and sustains this world. He is all powerful to transform our circumstances and he loves us with an everlasting love that will not fail us.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema