Let fear dictate your path and there won’t be a path to dictate.
In 2019, we visited our neighboring province at the end of October. “Why on earth would you do that?” some may ask, as Saskatchewan is not known for being a vacation destination due to its austere scenery. We happened to be on our way back from Manitoba, where we attended a seminar for my husband’s work as a pastor. We decided to take a day and explore Regina. Even though it wasn’t very wintery where I live in Alberta, I decided to throw in my winter wear as a precaution. Canadians know that winter often shows up unannounced, without regard for your preparedness, especially when you’re still sporting shorts and flip flops. On that note, last winter I did something I haven’t done in 20 years. I bought a new winter coat and not just any winter coat, but the mother of all winter coats. It’s a burgundy puffer jacket with a faux-fur trimmed hood that effectively turns me into the lion king. My daughter has informed me that it makes my head look like a shriveled pea, not a very attractive thought, but, let me tell you, I put that baby on and go outside and, despite the cold, I still feel nearly, and delightfully, feverish.
We drove into Regina in a blizzard with a wind-chill of -19° Celsius. The next morning, we spent the day wandering around a boring, but toasty, shopping mall. No, we didn’t! We’re Canadians. I put on my Super Coat, my fuzzy scarf that’s as big as a towel, my felt hat with the flower, a pair of heavy-duty mittens, and boots with such thick treads they make me look like a jacked-up truck and we trudged around in the snow. I told my husband later, after we’d put on what I’m sure was 20,000 steps that this coat was probably one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. It makes me feel impervious. At least to the cold, anyway, and this is a desirable thing in the throes of a Canadian winter.
According to Miriam Webster, one of the definitions of impervious is “not capable of being affected or disturbed.” Unfortunately, what works for the cold, doesn’t transfer to other areas of life. Who knew that a couple of months later, I’d be feeling as fragile as a china doll? Most of you who’re reading this are aware that my dad passed away at the end of December. You may read about my experience here. The grief coupled with the stress of preparing and attending the memorial service was enough to fray my nerves, but the drive home through mountain passes was almost more than I could bear. The roads were covered in sheets of glazed ice and snow. Our family was split between two vehicles. Travel was slow and I was okay as long as I could see my husband, but, unfortunately, we were separated. I ended up making a wrong turn, driving an hour out of my way, and having to back-track. My mistake would mean that we, my son, daughter and I, would have to drive into Creston, BC in the dark. Creston is located in a valley between two mountain ranges. There’s no stopping or turning around. It was the longest, most harrowing, downhill crawl in a vehicle I’ve ever had to make. I had a line of cars behind me. My young people were arguing about what cheerful song to play to ease the tension. I was trying to keep the fear from coming up out of my mouth. It’s possible that I was visibly shaking. Death was a looming possibility and the precious lives of my children were at stake. How did I get through it? My eldest daughter did kindly take over when we finally arrived in Creston, but the whole way, I prayed without ceasing. I called out to God in my mind for hours. I cheered and praised Him when we entered Alberta and the roads started to flatten out. I prayed through, drove through, lived through the fear and came out the other side victorious by the grace of God.
Some fear is good. It makes us cautious. It’s meant to keep us from harm, but some fear is irrational and not just annoying, but paralyzing. My drive through the mountains was daunting, but doable with ample doses of determination and patience. If we allowed our lives to be ruled by fear, we’d never leave our homes. We’d never ride a skateboard, pedal a bicycle, drive a motorcycle or car, travel on an airplane, play sports, hike up a mountain, ski down a hill, swim in an ocean, go white water rafting, skydiving, hang gliding, or parasailing or do anything that might endanger ourselves. We’d also never give a presentation, a speech, or a sermon, sing a solo, act in a play, or do anything that has the potential to challenge or embarrass us. We certainly wouldn’t speak out against oppression, push someone out of the way of a moving vehicle, dive in to rescue the drowning, care for the infectious, run towards a burning building looking for survivors, or go to war. Yet, many of us do these things. It’s in facing our fears, great and small, that we grow.
Now, here we are, people all over the world collectively facing a crippling fear of tiny bits of genetic material that aren’t even considered to be living things. These “things” and their ability to hijack our bodies have the power to decimate the human herd, weeding out the weak among us and it seems our salvation or doom will come at our own hands, literally. We are a handsy group, human beings. Never before has keeping our hands to ourselves been as crucial, as the virus is spread through touch. No more swiping the sleep from the corner of our eyes, or picking that booger when we think no one’s looking, or licking that chocolate from our fingers, unless we’ve lathered and thoroughly scrubbed our digits. Even if we keep our hands clean, we’re at the mercy of other people’s hygiene or lack thereof. What we used to touch without concern, like door handles, grocery carts, and credit card terminals, we now touch with trepidation or we try to avoid using our hands altogether. I now turn lights on and off with my elbow, I’ve been flushing the toilet with my foot, and I’ve a new appreciation for automatic doors.
Worse than any new gymnastics we’ve been forced to adopt in public, we’ve been told to stay home and play keep away. We, who as infants fail to thrive without sufficient kisses and cuddles, are being told to stiff arm each other in the name of health. No more friendly handshakes, fist bumps, high fives, pats on the back, hugs, contact sports, or sweaty dance parties. Sure, families who are sticking together and are symptom free can still enjoy closeness, but as a healthcare worker who has a spouse with an underlying condition, I don’t feel comfortable taking that risk. I’m feeling sorely deprived. I know I’m not alone in this. If we’re heeding our government’s orders there are also no more visits to the library, drinks at the pub, dinners with a big, extended family, gatherings to celebrate birthdays, concerts, graduations, weddings, or funerals, the events that make our lives fun and meaningful. We’re visiting our elderly through windows. We hug through plastic. We connect via the glare of a screen. For some of us, we’re even forced to say our final goodbyes over the phone.
It turns out, in the face of this pandemic, my coat is a worthless rag. I’m affected and disturbed, nay, afraid and I’m going to name my fear here, because I read a book recently that said writing about traumatic experiences is a healing thing. Here we go:
- I’m afraid of contracting the virus. I don’t like being uncomfortable. I don’t like pain. I really, really like breathing deeply and freely. Death by suffocation resulting in organ failure, I’m not into it. I would prefer to keep living. Most people get sick and recover, but it seems there’s no knowing going into it who of us will come out with a big thumbs up or a big toe tag. Part of the stress involved is the uncertainty. Of course, life is always uncertain, but we try to control things as best we can and the fact that this impish adversary is invisible doesn’t help the situation. We’re doing what we can to avoid it, but no one’s perfect and people are contracting the disease despite their best efforts. The waiting is agonizing. Will I get it? Will my loved ones get it? Will we struggle through it or succumb to it? Sure, we can push these kind of thoughts down with one more cinnamon bun or another inane movie, but they’ll come up again, like nasty acid reflux. I’d rather deal than stuff!
- I’m afraid my casual approach to cleanliness will result in someone’s suffering and death. My hands are prematurely aging from all the washing, but what if it’s not enough? What if a few of those insidious germs sneak by, I touch my face, and I infect myself and others? Those of you who know me know that I’ll never be described as a clean freak. Of course, at the hospital, I do what’s required of me, but at home, I’m not wiping things down, nor am I disinfecting my groceries. We as a family have stopped meeting friends and limit our visits to the store. So far, we’re healthy. If someone I cared for at work died of Covid-19 or one of my family members passed from it, would I go to my grave blaming myself for not being fastidious?
- I’m concerned:
- for seniors experiencing the ache of loneliness.
- for those dying without their families around them.
- for those who don’t have a home to hide in.
- for those who’re desperate for childcare or struggling to homeschool their children for the first time.
- for those having to work from home and grapple with the constraints of technology, even as I continue to go to work.
- for those who have lost their livelihoods, who’re going bankrupt, falling into despair, and considering suicide.
- for the violence, vandalism, and looting that could happen when people are stretched beyond what they can bear.
- for our psyches. Will mental illness explode along with the contagion? What will be left of us after this scourge has finished its deadly work?
- I fear the length of my imprisonment. This isn’t going to be over in a couple of months. There’s no flu shot that’ll protect us from this teensy terrorist who we now know can work quietly within us before showing itself, while we unknowingly share it. Scientists don’t believe the warm weather will curb the spread and a vaccine is a year to 18 months away. The government is strategizing as to how they’ll loosen the restrictions, because the strain on our economy must be mitigated, but as a health care worker who takes care of the elderly and has a vulnerable spouse, I won’t, in good conscience, be able to hang in a restaurant or browse through a store for long while. Others will be free before I will and I hope I won’t be given over to envy, negativity, and complaining. Please pray that God will help me to endure my captivity with patience in peace.
The only way to imperviousness is through trust in and subsequent rest in the all-sufficient God. In order to combat the fear that lurks at my fingertips and affirm my faith in the One who is Love and casts out fear, I’ll declare what I know to be true about Him:
- God has a plan and His plan will prevail. God says to the Israelites in Isaiah 46:10, “I declare the end from the beginning, and ancient times from what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and all My good pleasure I will accomplish.” This pandemic, and every other catastrophe that’s roused humankind from the beginning of time, is playing out with our benevolent Father’s knowledge and allowance. Nothing happens that isn’t sifted through His will. God is mysterious. I can’t figure him out and that’s a good thing. There’s so much about Him, this life and this world that confounds me, but I’m His child and there are some things that aren’t for me to know. It’s my job to submit and trust Him. I cling to the truth of Romans 8:28 that His will benefits those who love him.
- God is trustworthy! David extolls His goodness in Psalm 103:2-5 saying, “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” God is forgiving, loving, compassionate, and generous. It’s his desire that we be free, whole, and healthy, but we live in a fallen world and we groan as we wait for things to be set right. Suffering is as much a part of our human experience as breathing, but suffering is no match for our Savior. His suffering was redeemed at the cross and He means to redeem ours, too. He builds our character in the process, turning us into more gentle, compassionate individuals, as we humble ourselves, recognize our dependence on Him, and yield to his pruning.
- God is our rock, our fortress, and our refuge. (Psalms 62:5-8 NIV) He’s stable and unshakeable, a firm foundation on which to confidently plant our weary feet. He is the one to run to, the almighty protector, who shields us from danger and shelters us in our distress. We are holed up in our homes, wrestling with uncertainty and fear, but I encourage each one of us to hole up in the one who is truly capable of holding us secure no matter what the future holds.
- God leads us and journeys with us. The 23rd Psalm, probably the most popular psalm in the Bible, describes the Lord as a shepherd, a vocation David knew well. In biblical times, the shepherd hung with the sheep, leading them to water and the best pastureland, watching out for a number of things–changes in the weather, predators looking to pillage the flock, and poisonous plants. He knew their peculiarities and they knew his voice. He also knew when one of them was missing. Jesus called himself the good shepherd in John 10. He is with us in the green, goodly times, where provision is abundant and refreshment is regular, but what about the dreaded “valley of the shadow of death”? Does he go there, too? I had a patient once, a middle-aged man who had a brain tumor. He was terminal and he seemed to be alone. I found out later that his wife had left him before he entered the hospital, filing for divorce. I don’t know what their marriage was like, but I couldn’t help feeling heartbroken for this man abandoned in what was probably the darkest, most frightening time of his life. Be assured. Jesus knows the way through death valley. He’s walked it and He journeys with those who look to Him. Believers with Covid-19 may have to enter the ICU without the comforting presence of their families, but the idea that they die alone without someone who knows them and loves them is false and need not be perpetuated. The Holy Spirit is present in the stark, ominous reality of that hospital room, consoling them and crying out to God when they can’t and He’s more than capable of sending them out in health or seeing them off to glory.
- God wants our worries. We all know that too much worry is incapacitating. It also muddles our thinking and dampens our immune systems. We’re commanded not to do it. Philippians 4:4-7 exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Always is right now, tomorrow, next week, next year, and even forever. Always is not dependent on our circumstances, on whether we think we have cause to rejoice. God thinks we always have cause to rejoice in Him, pandemic or no, and the verses following give us the reason why. God is with us and God wants our worries. We’re to approach Him with our irritating, repetitive thoughts and our over-stimulated nervous systems, with that ugly scribble of anxiety hanging over our heads and 1 Peter 5:7 says we’re to “cast” it on Him, not an easy giving over, but a heaving motion. Maybe, we’re too much like Frodo and his ring from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Our worries become precious to us as we over-rehearse them. Unlike Frodo who couldn’t let go of the ring, we need to hurl those worries onto the one who can do something about them. We’re to do this in a spirit of gratitude and we’re to rest in Him, expecting His peace. Not just any peace, like that which accompanies favorable conditions, but a surprising peace able to settle on us in a storm, a gift we can only accept and marvel at as being from the very heart of God.
- Lastly, God wants us to fix our minds on what’s good. Philippians 4:8-9 stands as a reproach to social media, the nightly news, and any other platform, group, or individual that would have us focusing on this pandemic. Though I believe it’s important to be educated, we must not allow this wee foe to take our minds and our emotional well-being the way it’s taken our freedom, our health, our jobs, and our way of life. There’s as much beauty and truth and light in this world as there ever was and we need to keep looking for it, pointing it out, and praising it. How we need to praise our Lord for He is worthy! Let’s worship Him continuously, unabashedly and see what happens, see how we’ll be freed and lifted up. Then, let’s put our minds to something creative and constructive, like giving our neighbors help and hope.
Am I feeling impervious these days? Sometimes and sometimes not. I imagine I’m like everybody else. I’ve had moments of joy and peace, especially during devotional times or times spent with family. I’ve also been scared, scattered, confused, disoriented, and weepy. I’m like Peter who got out of the boat and started walking on the lake to Jesus, but sank when he let his gaze rest on his whipped up surroundings rather than his Lord. A friend of mine recently challenged me to stop thinking, talking, and posting about the virus. I explained that I’d been working on this post since the stay-at-home ruling began and I was intent on finishing it. It’s been very hard to write. Some days, I was only able to squeak out a few sentences and, some days, I wrote nothing at all. I’m glad I pushed myself, though, because it caused me to step back from the cacophony of news surrounding the Coronavirus and look into the Word of God. I was reminded that God is big and powerful and there is no thing, anywhere, ever, that can best Him or frustrate his purposes. I was also reminded that my trust must be firmly anchored in Him, not in a coat or scrupulous hygiene or my ability to follow a government directive or even in a vaccine. I’ve accepted my friend’s challenge and I challenge you, as well. From now on, it’s my plan to pursue imperviousness as I practice trusting in my Lord and fixing my eyes on Him and there find rest.
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