More from Francis de Sales

Background photo by Laura Elfrink

When I went through my files looking for words of comfort the other day, I wasn’t sure whether to share this or not. There’s a lot to be anxious about right now, and I doubt any of us feels real inner peace. Yesterday we took a break from the Lenten sweets fast. I said, “You know, sometimes life hands you Lent, and when it does, you don’t need need to make it for yourself.”

Of course, we have no chocolate in the house to speak of, so we can’t just make cookies. But we pulled out the cake pops that have been in the freezer for a year or more, and they decimated the candy jar. All the Valentine’s candy is gone. (Before Easter!)

But that’s not really the point. The point I’m aiming for today is that a quote like this *can* do more harm than good, making us feel that if we aren’t able to live up to it, we are deep failures. I spoke to a counselor yesterday for the first time in my life. Once I cleared the anxiety that dogged me for years in young adulthood, I vowed that never again would I be too ashamed to seek help. And yet every time anxiety has reared its head in the past two decades, I’ve managed to work through it on my own in a few days or a couple weeks.

When it hit last week, I knew I’d outrun my ability to cope on my own. And with a stay-at-home order in place, I am well aware that I have to have my own emotional health if I hope to support that of my children.

So I stopped reading articles on the pandemic, and asked to be removed from an impassioned family email thread; I’m not watching the news; and most importantly, I called a counseling service available through my husband’s work.

One of the things he told me is that our emotions respond to the narrative we give them. Right now I’m focused on the deprivation–concerts, freedom, unfettered grocery store runs. But the reality is that what I still have far outweighs what has been taken from me. That’s why this quote speaks to me this morning. The whole world SEEMS upset, but it isn’t as upset as it feels. However imperfectly, however often I fail, I will work to refocus on what I have, rather than what I’ve (temporarily) lost.

Anxiety, judgment, and discernment in the social distancing era

(Disclaimer: this post is written so that others might not feel alone. It is not shared as a cry for advice. Advice does not help people experiencing anxiety. Just don’t. Empathize, share your own journey, but do.not.advise. Please.)

Photo by Elina Krima on Pexels.com

I haven’t posted here in a week. I just couldn’t. What can I say?

In the past week, death by coronavirus came to my community. My kids came home from school for a four-week online learning plan that I have already told them to expect to last until the end of the year. That way if we do get to go back to school, we’ll all be pleasantly surprised.

My family is wrestling with the loss of events we had our hearts set on. The loss of freedom. The panicky sense of lack of external structure, which you can handle for a week or two, but the idea of it stretching from now until late August is enough to invoke panic attacks. (Every blessed day exactly the same, nothing, not even going to church to break the monotony.) The gut-hollowing recognition that no matter what I do, I can never provide as much structure as my daughter with Down syndrome needs in order to learn successfully.

There’s the discernment of what things outside the home need to be done, and the reality of judgment when others think we’re discerning too loosely. The terror of a person whose anxiety molds itself on scrupulousness, thus making me think I’m not doing enough to “flatten the curve” unless I lock the doors and keep us totally isolated. The discernment of trying to weigh mental health against the reality that if the kids go outside, they’re going to encounter other kids.

The recognition that way too much of my anxiety has to do with other people’s opinions.

To say nothing of the fear of what happens if the virus does land in my household.

Only a few weeks ago I was looking at my life with great contentment. And, truthfully, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Things were going too well.

I didn’t expect what we’re dealing with now.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I also didn’t expect the anxiety to hit. Because hit it did, roaring back into my life the middle of last week along with the arrival of my kids at home for Coronavirus Break. And unlike other flare-ups in recent years, this one has no expiration date.

I’ve spent a lot of hours lying awake lately with heart pounding, praying and praying and praying.

The one moment of hope coming out of all this is that, in the middle of one of my white-night prayer sessions, begging for clarity and discernment and peace, I remembered my spiritual director asking me, “Has there ever been a time when you were certain that what you were hearing was God?”

Well, of course there was.

“What did that feel like?” she asked.

Well, I answered, it felt like quiet, cool breezes by a creek. It felt like calm.

It did not feel like a maelstrom of lava pits and pounding hearts.

That recognition was so profound. And I am clinging to that reminder in the midst of these days full of anxiety I could never have anticipated.

How Does a Christian Respond to the Coronavirus?

I’ve never succumbed to communal panic about crises. The closest I came was my senior year of high school, when some dude who’d “never been wrong” in predicting an earthquake predicted the biggest one ever on the New Madrid Fault, and it happened to line up with the day I was out of town auditioning for all-state band. I think my response was to pack a blanket in the car.

So it felt very… wrong… somehow, yesterday, to go to the grocery store a day early and spend more than twice what I normally spend on a week’s worth of groceries to freeze–vegetables, snack packs with nuts & cheese, milk & pizza makings. It felt like abandoning a long-held principle.

But if things do follow recent patterns, we could find ourselves quarantined in our home for two weeks, and if that happens, well, I have six people to feed. Extra groceries seems like a reasonable precaution.

Here’s what I’m realizing this week: in the coronavirus era, more than ever, living the faith intentionally requires humility and self-checking one’s biases.

I, for instance, have been very resistant to the limitations on worship that have come down. But I remind myself that devotion to purity of worship is a golden calf just as deadly as idols of political philosophy or money. There are immuno-compromised people to consider, and their dignity is more important than the externals of worship.

We all have some hangup to get over. Some people are so certain that “on the tongue” is the only proper way to receive the Eucharist, they are unwilling to bend in the interest of public health. Others insist we shouldn’t ban the Cup or stop the sign of peace because obviously God will protect us.

For all of us, the coronavirus outbreak is a wakeup call. For years, we’ve been warned that something like this was inevitable, but we all shrugged it off.

And now that it’s here, we’re reaping the fruit of our collective failure to listen and compromise. While Americans up and down the political food chain have been busy screaming at each other about a handful of hot button issues, a bunch of critical things have been ignored. We’re not prepared for a health crisis like the one China and Italy have been facing. This morning, a family member sent the text of an article from the Economist (a British magazine which is rated “least biased” by Media Bias/Fact Check, a rare distinction), which stated that “In 2010 the CDC budget was $12.7 billion in current dollars; today it is $8 billion.”

Meanwhile, the talk in some quarters is more tax cuts. Tax cuts *might* stimulate some minor economic movement (although with everything closed/canceled, what are we going to spend it on?), but the nation is already deeply in debt. You can’t keep cutting government’s funding and expect it to be able to carry out its proper function–i.e. the protection of the population.

Our basic vocation as Christians is to care for each other. Sometimes that’s on an individual basis, person to person. But if we want to be a “Christian” nation, then we should view that as a collective, societal vocation. To accomplish that is going to require taxes. Taxes are not evil; the pandemic illustrates that some functions simply *cannot* be carried out on an individual basis. They *require*, by definition, centralized intervention. We can’t hold any philosophy, whether it’s Communion under both species, Communion on the tongue, or low taxes, so tightly that we give up the thing that’s most important–the Christian call to care for each other.