Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

A PILL for the Virus

In times of great uncertainty we are prone to doubt, worry, and anxious thoughts in larger quantities and with greater intensity than our “normal” is comfortable with.  Most of us are having that “normal” greatly stretched with the recent events of a world-wide virus pandemic.  Although fear may be a helpful reaction when faced with potential physical harm, fear can become a dangerous virus of its own taking the form of chronic unsettledness, discontent, and confusion.   I would like to prescribe the following P-I-L-L for reducing fear and anxiety.  

P- Pursue God.  
The first dose of any solution to our human problems is to cry out to God.  Dating back to ancient times, we have history showing us how God has been faithful to the human race he created.  Most of the Psalms were written about 3 thousand years ago, but are incredibly relevant to today.  Psalms have been read, spoken aloud, silently meditated on, sung, memorized, dramatized, and fully engaged in other ways by generations of people before us.  The authors faced real-life circumstances causing them to seek God, pursue God, find God, and put their trust in God for their Refuge and Salvation.  Besides relating to God through the Bible, calling out to him in prayer (both as an individual and in the company of other people) is an  essential first step to combat fear.

I- Influence Restriction.  
A second dose is to cautiously limit the negative influence of fear mongers.  Fear of loss is a powerful motivator of human behavior, and there are forces in our world using this trait to manipulate for evil purposes.  For example, the traditional news media is a powerful influencer of public opinion, and have been often hijacked to promote false narratives and fear-based propaganda.  Years ago, I personally quit watching TV network so-called news for that reason.  For a while I naively thought I could watch it, sort out fact from fiction for myself, and not have the fear-based influences affect me.  I discovered a person’s best conscious efforts cannot completely overcome an emotionally manipulative message to create fear.   Especially in times when great energy is needed to reduce toxic stress, it’s not worth the risk.  Consider your circumstances to discover other negative influences to restrict (ie. so-called social media, gossip, conversations with people who condemn others).  Avoid speculators, and limit information intake to the facts.  

L- Love as defined by God.  
Jesus summarized the ten commandments into two, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important command.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; CSB).  When our identity is rooted in God, we can know who we really are, and we can be released to love others in the way we are loved by God.  Loving others gives us our deepest meaning and purpose in life.  Besides distracting us from our own fears, looking out for the needs and interests of others helps lower others’ fears.  Love is a catalyst for good in the face of evil.  

L- Live in Faith.  
Faith is the ultimate cure for fear.  God is the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2).   As “author,” is the source and provider of faith.  As “perfecter,” God is the protector and multiplier of faith.  In order for faith to be alive it must be growing continuously.  For growth to take place, there must be a transformation of old to new and smaller to larger.   With a garden vegetable plant for example, a seed must be placed in the ground.  Then the seed becomes a sprout.  Then the sprout makes an appearance as a short stub of a plant.  A few days or weeks later, it may be a few inches high.  Then more time passes and it becomes a foot or more taller or sprawling as a vine.  Then fruit first appears as a bud, and then growth of the fruit occurs.  Good growth (“perfecting”) depends on good conditions (“authoring”) of soil, water, and temperature.   So it is with our faith in the hands of Almighty God.  The faith in our heart grows through a transformation and progressive sanctification, lifelong process.   A life of faith in God, is a life committed to inside-out change as a life time adventure.  
Fear is the greatest enemy of faith.  While faith has its source in a good God, fear has its source in an evil adversary (the devil).  Going all the way back to the creation of mankind, unbelief,  doubt , and confusion were used by our chief enemy to lure us away from God’s love.  As long as we live in this broken world, we will not be totally free of the potential harassment of fear, but through Jesus (who defeated all our enemies once for all), God’s love is fully accessible (simply by believing, John 3:16).  
We must face our fears with faith.  This is called courage.  With courage, we can choose belief over unbelief, confidence (in God) over doubt, and clarity (of identity and purpose in God) over confusion.  The temptation to fear may not be eradicated, but the courage to respond with faith can grow stronger.  Struggles, trials, and tests develop our perseverance (see James 1:2-4).  As we grow stronger we develop our capacity for larger struggles and trials.  As we witness the global scene become more tumultuous, the possibilities wrought by increasing our resilience (body, mind, soul, and spirit), through faith, should give us hope for facing the future.   (See more on the topic of Emotional Capacity in an earlier article at: ).
Although there is no actual P-I-L-L for the virus called fear, it can be conquering through pursuing God, restricting bad influences, loving (God, self, and others), and living in transformational faith.  We can declare with confidence, “virus be gone” by swallowing this pill.  

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Overcoming Grief and Loss

As I write this, looming as large as a pandemic of coronavirus outbreak, is a pandemic of grief.  I’m not talking about the obvious grief of those losing a loved one who dies.  I’m talking about the grief caused by more generalized losses.  These may include  sudden illness, public safety, home safety, necessities of life (food and shelter), physical health, life routines, peace of mind,  emotional security, employment, business ownership, trust in people, privacy, social interaction,  faith in science, faith in God, self-image, self-worth, and a host of identity issues and beliefs questioning who we are and where we’re going.  There is no shortage of loss these days.  I used to think of grief in terms of mourning the death of someone in close relationship, but have learned that grief applies to all types of losses and hurts.  For loss to be recovered (large and small losses alike), loss must be grieved.
When things feel so out of control, as in these times, how should we respond? As a Christian, the obvious answer is to turn to God.  But in our human condition, what does that look like?  We see in the Bible that Jesus bears our grief and carries our sorrows for us (see Isaiah 53:1-6).  Jesus came to redeem us from our sin and to bear the pain of the consequences of sin in our world.  Although Jesus accomplished this work for us, it is often very difficult for us as individuals to surrender to His way of working it out in our humanity.  Processing grief can be hard work, but it is essential for our well being.  Grief is something everyone is going through in the midst of pandemic, whether they are willing to admit it or not.
Grief is the process of engaging loss, making adjustments, and recovering new hope for meeting life’s needs.   Let’s briefly consider these three elements.
First, consider your losses.  Identify them, and make a list.   Name not only the tangible losses like job, finances, school, time, health, relationship, too much or too little personal space etc., but also name the intangible (emotional)  losses that go with each tangible loss.  Intangible losses may be things like confidence or competence level, sense of safety or security, degree of peace of mind, personal dignity, self-sufficiency, sense of control, beliefs about God, other people, or self,  trust in people or institutions, and self-worth and values issues.  Making this list may sound like a goofy idea, but it will have a huge payoff in the long run.  If you don’t name, you don’t know what to reclaim.  There’s no recovery without discovery.  It’s that simple.   An exercise in naming losses requires some time alone and free from distractions.  It can be emotionally draining, so take a break if you feel overwhelmed.  
With a written list, you now have something to return to as you go through making adjustments which is the core work of grief.   Making adjustments involves stepping through at least four phases of re-orienting yourself to life.  As many counselors do, when I explain grief, I usually draw an inverted bell-shaped curve on a blank sheet of paper.  The curve slopes downward on the left side, and back up on the right.   
Beginning on the left, the first, initial impact phase is the shock of it all, likely including some numbness, denial, and maybe even some  erratic emotional reactions.  Second phase, wrestling with reality, is where the anger and fear may kick in with searching for answers, and sometimes some panic feelings with an incident of high impact.  A third phase, dealing with the pain, is at the bottom of the curve.  This Is where the feeling and emotions need to be identified and worked through to resolution.  Things like guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, loneliness, abandonment, powerlessness, depression, and confusion are normal responses and felt in varying degrees by different people.   Resolving to a tolerable degree of  pain may take time--hours, days, months, and years for deeper losses.  Time periods for grieving losses  are also unique to the individual.  
 This process is much too involved to completely describe here, but an important key is to permit  yourself to feel.  That might sound strange, but most of us have been taught to ignore, deny, or minimize, as much as possible, the emotional part of our being.  Dumbing down emotions without first discovering the message they are trying to relay to us, is a perilous mistake.  Be honest with yourself and name the feelings and emotions.  This is the phase of grieving where many people get stuck.  Even if you give up (intentionally or unintentionally) on grief, grief will never give up on you.  Grief is real.  If not processed through, it can haunt you the rest of your life.  If the unpleasant emotion is too hard to work through, seek out a good counselor to help you to recovery.
Recovery is on the way when you can start to look back and see your quality of life returning in a positive direction to what it was before the loss.  Recovery is a process of re-organizing your life and finding new hope for the future.  After job loss, for example, a person may develop a new skill, or discover a hidden  talent that helps them find a more suitable job than their previous employment.  Recovery is being able to say, “If I hadn’t lost my job, I wouldn’t be in a better place today.”   Things like new skills, new relationships, new beliefs, and ways of seeing things around you, all provide hope.   Hope is what keeps us going.  The journey isn’t always a smooth ride neatly progressing through the phases.  There may be some degree of victory, and then another reminder, negative event, or trigger raises more concerns or things to process.  Re-processing is not to be considered a setback, but growth.  Growing involves periods of stretching.  
As believers in Christ, our true hope is in the Lord, as our Bible tells us.  God is at the center of this entire process and as we walk with Jesus, he transforms our heart along the way.  The inner person healing journey is very similar to working through grief.  New understanding and practice of forgiveness is often a part of this. Refer to my previous articles for more on pursuing transformation and sanctification.  

 The process of grieving losses described above can be as reflective and prayerful as you choose to make it.  The greater the seriousness you give it, the greater the potential blessing God has for you on the recovery side.  Grief can be viewed as a gift to give us an invitation to press into God to know him more, and be known by him.  

Whether you work with God to respond  to loss, or not, there is one more thing to consider.  Unresolved grief produces high levels of toxic stress.  When this stress becomes intolerable, very unhealthy things occur.  One of three scenarios is likely--victim, survivor, or rescuer.  A victim interprets life from a poverty mindset and acts out by rejecting (victimizing) self or others.  A survivor stuffs the pain, and appears to have survived with a decent level of functionality, but losing control is always a threat.  A rescuer turns to unwittingly helping others out of their pain to compensate for their own lack of pain processing.   Examining ourselves to see where we may have tendencies of victim, survivor, or rescuer can make us aware of unprocessed pain.
           Although I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic, please give it more consideration.  If you are struggling, you are not strange and you are not beyond hope.  Reach out to someone you trust today.  If you want someone to pray with or discuss this more, give me a call.  If I can be of help to your group (online or in person when we are allowed to return to gathering), please call.  I have helped many people through this process, and I have my own grief to process as well.  
My prayer is that we are willing to do the hard work of grieving losses, to become more resilient and better prepared to help as help is needed in our communities.  

Note:  Sometimes accumulated losses (many losses in a short period of time) can have a similar affect as a traumatic event.  Trauma complicates this process and puts you at greater risk of doing harm.  If you are having lingering thoughts of suicide or hurting someone else, call for emergency help immediately.

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry