Lessons from Isolation: COVID and Jesus

As many of you may know, I am a nurse and I work in the Emergency Department at a local hospital. When the Coronavirus started spreading, my wife and I decided that she would stay with our parents while I remained at our home so as to keep her and our children safe. My last day of being at home with my family was March 17th. On March 29th, after getting home from a night at work, I came down with a fever, chills, cough, GI issues, and no appetite or taste. The next day I was tested for COVID-19 and within 24 hours I received a positive test result. Fortunately, my symptoms proved to be mild, and after 3 weeks I made a full recovery and was cleared to return to work.

This all sounds like a really great story, but there was a lot more that came with those 2 weeks of isolation. I was hit with waves of fear and anxiety. I felt depressed. I felt alone. I dearly missed my family, and I was losing hope. And remember, I felt all of this came while experiencing minor symptoms. I am someone that is always on the go—my wife and I have 3 kids under the age of 6. I work full-time, am in graduate school part-time, and try to spend time with my church family. I am not used to being isolated and idle, and for 3 weeks I was sitting still but my mind was racing.

Over the past year, The Lord has really been working on my heart, and during isolation I struggled with the question, “Why me?” I was in a bad place mentally, emotionally and spiritually; but the Lord began to answer. There was a ton of support from my family and I had coworkers reach out but the one thing that really stuck out to me was the love and support that my wife and I received from our church family. I knew I had a ton of prayer warriors doing battle for me. We received letters, texts, gift cards, and food—it was astounding and overwhelmed my heart. It uplifted and encouraged me at the exact time I needed it. The Lord was using His people to touch me in ways I didn’t know I needed. I have always enjoyed doing for others, but it was the work of my church family that has spurred me to make it a priority in this difficult season.

In this dark season, I learned some lessons about myself and the Lord. I have to say, my wife is an incredible woman, and I am so proud of her and have the utmost respect. The Lord laid profound truths on her heart and what she shared with me was exactly what I needed to hear and learn. I shared with her that I really like to find stories in God’s Word that I can relate to, especially when facing difficult seasons of life. She told me to re-read the story of Peter walking on water (Matthew 14:22-33). I did and I felt like I could connect with it in a different way than I had before. Peter was focused on and trusted in Jesus enough that he took the first step out of the boat. A lot of times we are able to take that first step of faith because we are focused on the Lord. However, once Peter took that initial step and was standing there on the water, he took his eyes off Jesus and his focus shifted to the storm. He was overcome with fear and quickly began to sink. How often do we take a leap of faith and are suddenly hit with adversity, disease, or even death? How often do we let what we are up against be “bigger” than our God? How often does our focus shift from the Lord onto what we are going through? This is when we begin to sink. This is exactly how I was feeling. I was letting the storm–sickness, isolation, fear–become my focus. It left me feeling depressed and anxious. I was so focused on all the things going wrong in my life that I forgot that the Lord was there with me. In the next part of the story the Lord really spoke to me. As Peter is overwhelmed with fear and sinking, he literally cries out “Lord, save me” and Jesus reaches out his hand to take hold of Peter. Jesus looks at Peter and says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So, let’s break this down. Peter throws his pride aside and cries out to Jesus. I learned I needed to go ahead and let myself cry out to the Lord and ask him to carry me through this tough season. I needed to refocus my attention on Him and not the storm. In doing so it resulted in more trust and hope in who He IS and not in the situation I was going through. It also hit me that when Peter cried out for Jesus, He responded by reaching out his hand. The Lord responds when we come to Him broken, torn down, and ready for throw in the towel. We see this in 2 Corinthians, where Paul pleads for deliverance from the thorn in his flesh. He didn’t realize that this was a gift from the Lord. Jesus replied to him by saying that His grace is sufficient and that His power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul later went on to say that he is “content” with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities because when he is weak, then he is strong. When we are at our lowest point, why is it that we don’t go to the one that is at the highest point—the Lord? Paul was able to be content when he had everything or nothing at all because his joy was found in the Lord and NOT in the temporary things of this world. Too often we look for joy in what we have been “’blessed with”.

The night before Easter Sunday, my wife and I spent hours talking on the phone, and looking back on the conversation, I knew the Lord was reminding me of these truths. On Easter morning, we went to the church property where a large cross was built. Pastor Will joined with his family, and during the devotion he shared the same things I had been learning. The Lord reminded me that He is more than enough. My wife challenged me with the idea of, “Could I still say God is a Good Father if I woke up tomorrow and lost everything and everyone I loved?”. The Lord tells Paul that His grace is sufficient, yet so often we don’t look at it as such. We live in America and our perception of persecution and adversity is drastically different than that of many other Christians in the world. I realized that I was placing all my hope, joy, and contentment in my family. Now don’t get me wrong, family is very important; however, I had been placing my family above the Lord. It took being in this dark place–this low point in my life– to be able to see this clearly. It is so easy to place our family above the Lord but that doesn’t make it right. I realized there were areas in my life that still needed some prioritizing. It took getting sick and going through this season to “wake me up”. So the best thing I can encourage each of you with is that no matter what your season looks like right now, take this time to: re-prioritize your life, see what the Lord is teaching you, and ask yourself the same question….“Could I still say God is a Good Father if I woke up tomorrow and lost everything and everyone I loved?”

Mental Health in the Age of COVID-19

To say COVID-19 took us by surprise is an understatement. One minute we were making New Year’s resolutions and the next, Coronavirus crept in like a thief in the night. This pandemic has brought fear, anxiety, and depression to many throughout the world, and forced isolation has fueled the deterioration of mental health across the United States. How can we, as Christians, cope with the complexities of mental health in a way that leads to growth? My hope is to provide useful tools to manage issues related to mental health. Even though it’s a strange time in human history, the Lord is still working.

Anxiety and depression have affected mankind since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. When sin became a reality in our world, mankind experienced deep consequences and ailments—all of which can be attributed to the initial rebellion of Adam and Eve. Not only do we have to fight off various diseases—from the common cold to cancer to COVID-19—we also deal with persistent mental health issues. About 40 million Americans struggle with anxiety disorders, making this one of the most common mental health concerns; and, when coupled with depression, we find a multitude of people searching for solutions and coping mechanisms.

Developing coping mechanisms can help with managing symptoms associated with depression and anxiety. Both disorders can develop from environmental, experiential, and genetic factors, and we must be proactive in offering help. The age of COVID-19 is unique in many ways and societies across the world are adapting in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus. Social isolation and distancing can stem the tide of COVID-19, but it can also contribute to increased anxiety and depression. We must ask ourselves: how can we deal with these troubling times and reactions? As someone who deals with Major Depressive Disorder, I have put together a short list of coping strategies that have been helpful in navigating a difficult season:

Journaling

A lack of human interaction can lead to pent up emotions and thoughts that can be detrimental to our well-being. Although not a substitute, journaling is a common coping mechanism for many people dealing with depression and anxiety, since it allows a person to express thoughts and feelings without revealing deep personal thoughts that could result in embarrassment. Even though I spend time with my wife, I continually journal my thoughts and feelings. Journaling helps us to avoid bottling up our emotions, which can lead to increased depression and anxiety and unwanted aggression towards family and friends. With technology, we can journal on a laptop or, making this accessible and convenient. If a person enjoys the physical act of writing, then it is simple to grab computer paper or a cheap notebook to record thoughts and emotions.

Exercise

I live in beautiful Virginia, which makes engaging in outdoor activities simple. Even with our current “stay-at-home” orders, Virginians are still able to spend time walking, hiking, or exercising; and, I am grateful that our state government recognizes the importance of exercise during this season of distancing. Exercise is proven to lower symptoms of depression and anxiety. In March 2019, Harvard Medical School published an article on the benefits of exercise for those dealing with depression, indicating that low-intensity exercises sustained over time produces proteins called neurotrophins which causes the nerve cells to grow and make new connections within the brain. The growth of brain cells occurs in the hippocampus which is the part of the brain that controls mood, and exercise helps reduce depressive thoughts and feelings while simultaneously promoting healthy brain function.

People seeking exercise as a coping strategy must understand this is not an overnight fix; instead it must be sustained over time meaning people should choose an exercise they enjoy.
My wife and I enjoy walking though our neighborhood each day, and love taking trips to the park where we can walk the trails. Some people do not have access to these types of activities, and for those who cannot go outdoors, there are many online resources for in-home activities like exercise and yoga. Simply start small—five minutes of exercise each day can go a long way to creating healthy habits.

Music

Music is another effective strategy to help improve anxiety and depressive symptoms. Right now, I have a Spotify playlist that is labeled ‘Peaceful Piano” and is a must for me when I am struggling with my mental health. The soft piano helps calm my nerves and thoughts, offering comfort in difficult moments. If you struggle with mental health issues and enjoy music, my encouragement is to put together a playlist to help when needed.

Breathing Exercises

Like calming music, breathing exercises allow the mind to reset and the nerves to settle in tense moments. These exercises slow a person’s heartrate, effectively lowering elevated blood pressure associated with anxiety. A simple breathing exercise to try is to escape to a secluded room where a person can lie down and practice deep breathing, which consists of closing your eyes, breathing in through the nose long enough for the chest to rise, holding the breath for 6-10 seconds, and slowly releasing the air through the mouth repeating as needed. As with exercise, there are many online resources readily available.

Praying and Reading

Prayer and spending time in God’s Word are easily the best strategies for a Christian. For me, there is great comfort in knowing Jesus deeply understands the struggles of our lives and the inner workings of our mind. God wants us to be in direct and honest conversation with him daily. When I come home, I tell my wife about my day. Why? Because I am deeply in love with her, and my love compels me to tell her about every detail of my life. Likewise, our love for Jesus should drive us to communicate with him daily. Christians should not start off with hours of prayer time if their prayer life is dry. Again, start small—five minutes at the beginning and end of the day is a good way to developing a healthy prayer life.

We need to be constantly reading and meditating on Scripture as well. Being constantly reminded of God’s goodness and His promises gives us perspective to see the bigger picture. Understanding that COVID-19 is temporary and not eternal comforts the mind in knowing that ‘this too shall pass’. During this season, Psalm 79 serves as a constant comfort for me and my wife. In this Psalm, the writer is in the midst of trial and tribulation, and the struggle in his life has driven him to have an honest conversation with God. He asks the Lord, “How long will this last?” and like many Psalms, he is reminded of God’s person and work—He delivered Noah from the flood and Israel from Egypt. Our God saves and delivers, but he does this work in His timing. We can find comfort that no matter the circumstances we encounter, the Lord will deliver us once and for all!