As the pandemic has unfolded, so has a two-fold anxiety: anxiety over contracting the virus and anxiety over giving it to someone else. With the pandemic, I became very sensitive to articles and new stories about the horrors of the virus. I noticed a defensiveness inside me about it all. I was always pushing for discussions over the progress we have made and the hope that could be found. So I wondered where this defensiveness was coming from. One day, in the midst of a feisty discussion with a friend over COVID, my defenses finally broke as I realized that underneath it all I had immense guilt and worry over giving the virus to a loved one without knowing it. I had been working throughout the entire pandemic and have loved ones with health conditions; I felt a heavy weight upon me to protect them. I constantly feared the worst. What if my scratchy throat was secretly COVID, what if I was exposed at work and had no idea, what if….
We can deal with the anxiety of infecting a loved one by communicating our fears to our loved ones about it. As hard as these conversations are to have, I believe they are so important. In the beginning of the pandemic, I did my best to keep my mom from coming over. She was upset and didn’t understand why until I finally communicated that I was afraid of putting her at risk. She confidently told me that seeing me and her grandchildren was well worth any risk there was. There was a peace within her about it, which gave me peace also. I was still going to be as careful as possible and do my part to try not to get the virus, but it helped to know that we were on the same page and I wasn’t putting a risk on her that she hadn't already accepted. If I had never taken the opportunity to communicate my fears I would never have been able to receive the peace my mom had given me.
Another way to deal with the anxiety of giving someone you love COVID is to discuss the expectations that you both have. If you are choosing to see people in your circle, you should be on the same page as much as possible. Do we wear masks when we see each other? Do we tell each other every time either of you have a sniffle? Do we wait a certain number of days to see each other if either of us has done something that puts you at a greater risk? You can’t assume you both feel the same way about any of these issues; take the time to communicate where you both stand and what expectations you have for each other if you are part of each other's lives. There are many opinions, so discussing expectations and having a common respect for one another can ease the anxiety of possibly exposing each other to the virus. We can show Christ’s love when we make decisions that sacrifice our own comforts to protect others. There will be people in our lives with a greater risk from the virus than we might have, so we can seek to decrease the risk we might bring and keep their needs in mind.
Control what you can, and let go of what you can’t has been a phrase I have said over and over to myself during this pandemic. Controlling what you can could look like taking precautions such as social distancing, washing your hands more, and getting creative to find ways to decrease the risk of infection when around others. These precautions could also mean being upfront about any symptoms you might have, and quarantining for the appropriate time you are instructed to. Controlling what you can could be wearing a mask in times when you believe it’s necessary, and in times when you might not believe it’s necessary but are around someone else who could be directly affected by your choices. We should always be aware of how we can minimize the risk we are causing for those around us. We will never regret being over cautious in our consideration of others.
God is the one in control. He knows the plans he has for us. No matter how hard we try, a great deal of life is simply never in our control. “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life- whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27). God isn’t surprised by this pandemic, it’s all within his plan. This doesn’t mean that it will be an easy road. Yet when we commit our mindset to "thy will be done" and trust that he will never leave us nor forsake us no matter what we face, there is peace.
Praying and reading the Bible might sound like an easy answer to anxiety, yet there is much power in it. I have prayed and read my Bible more in the past six months than I had in a long time and it has changed me. Philippians 4:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” When I talk to God, vent my worries, and pray his will be done, I find peace. When I am before the king of the universe, the one who made every star in the sky and yet knows every hair on my head, I am reminded how much bigger God is than all of this. Suddenly, I see there is a much bigger picture, and at this moment I am just a small speck of it. When I read my Bible, I see God’s faithfulness time and time again. When I see the bravery of believers before me who have obeyed God in the times of confusion and chaos, I am encouraged to be brave and seek to obey God in all of this also. God’s word reminds me that I am far from alone. In these times of isolation and confusion, I need this reminder more than ever.
What if you make a mistake and you infect someone? There is forgiveness there. Maybe you down-played symptoms because you needed to go to work or wanted to be at a social event. Or maybe you didn’t quarantine because you were stir crazy and decided to go out anyway. Or maybe you failed to mention you were recently exposed and spent time with others who later ended up infected. There are many areas we can sin as we continue to wrestle though this pandemic. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all sinners, and will make mistakes, and when we lay down our pride and admit our wrong, God will always forgive. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). After we confess our sin to God and others, we need to repent, turn from our sin, and commit to walking in the right direction again. There may be consequences we have to face because of our sin, but God’s grace means we can move on without shame because he carried all of our guilt to the cross. God’s grace means we can find peace again.
If you are anxious over giving a loved one the virus, most likely it shows that you are trying to consider their needs before your own. “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Your heart is in the right place, and you are looking out for the welfare of others instead of just your own. I believe at the center of this all that is truly a beautiful thing that shows the nature of Jesus. Yet, we can’t allow anxiety to take over. We need to pray and seek full surrender to the will of God. When we rest in the will of God, we will find peace in a time when the world is telling us there is none to be found.
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster