Finding encouragement in the midst of COVID-19 panic

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If your household is anything like ours, your family has just experienced a disorienting week—news of rising coronavirus infection rates and deaths in Australia, of government-recommended social-distancing measures and panic-buying, of travel bans, self-isolation and social distancing, and of school and workplace closings.

As human beings, we tend to respond to this kind of news with worry and fear. Some years ago, I heard a sermon in which a young pastor spoke of worry and fear being a sign of atheism, as it was evidence of our lack of faith in God’s presence and intervention in human life. I came away from that sermon discouraged—I am by nature a somewhat fearful person, and I felt condemned for my fearfulness and tendency to worry. But two weeks later, at the same church, an elderly pastor again spoke on the subject of human worry and fear, and I’ve never forgotten his message, which I want to share with you during this time of uncertainty.

The most frequent command in Scripture is “Do not fear!” Over and over again, God says to His people, “Do not fear! Do not be afraid!” The reason that God repeats these words so many times is that He knows that life in this imperfect world often creates fear for us, and He knows that we are fearful. He knows this, and He does not condemn us for our fear; rather, He encourages us, over and over again, to be of good courage, because He is with us even in the darkest of times. As you face the uncertainty of the coronavirus in your families and communities, remember God’s most frequent command to humanity: “Be bold! Be strong! For the Lord your God is with you!”

On a practical note, I encourage you to begin your day, not with reading the latest news on your phone, but with reading words of God’s providence and giving thanks. Neuroscience tells us that a daily ritual of gratitude changes the functioning of the amygdala, the brain’s “fear centre”. In other words, practicing daily gratitude literally rewires the brain, reducing negative emotions like fear, and increasing wellbeing. For some time now, my husband and I have begun our day (literally, while still in bed!) with giving thanks to God for all that is good in our lives. Our goal is to give thanks for 10 things each morning, but most mornings we find we’re well over 10!

In addition to giving thanks, read words of God’s providence in Scripture. This morning, we read the following passage:

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth—he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on, those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you (Psalm 33:11-22).

Take the time to contemplate the words of this and other Psalms with your family each day. As you slowly and intentionally read words of God’s providence, ask God that they might help your family be bold and courageous. Encourage each family member to listen carefully, and to identify a phrase or word that particularly resonates with them—even young children can often hear a word that is meaningful to them. Then encourage each family member to memorise “their” word or words, and to take them into their day. Writing the words on a slip of paper and tucking them into a pocket, to be pulled out in moments when reassurance is needed, is particularly meaningful for children. And before bringing your family requests to God, take time to thank Him for all that is good in your life. Allow time for your children to also verbalise the things they’re thankful for—you’ll be surprised at how many things your family has to give thanks for!

And then, as you go through your day, remember the many simple things you can do to boost your immune system. You know all of these, but I’m just going to remind you!

  • Take a water bottle with you wherever you go—dehydration makes you more susceptible to viral infections
  • Eat well, particularly whole foods, avoiding sugar and fast food
  • Be intentional in getting enough sleep each night—it really is NOT a waste of time!
  • Exercise in moderation each day—too much intense exercise temporarily reduces immunity—ideally, take a walk with your whole family, outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine.
  • Do something that brings a smile to your face—wear a colorful jumper or socks, call a friend or elderly parent for a chat, hug your spouse and children . . .

And in all that you do, remember to “Be bold! Be strong! For the Lord your God is with you!” (Joshua 1:9).

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