Jovo is feeling overwhelmed with stress during the coronavirus outbreak. Some of his colleagues have been laid off. Jovo has to work from home, and fears he might be the next one laid off. Not only must he and his wife learn how to work from home, they must also care for their primary school children who are adjusting to the new online education. Most of all Jovo grieves that he can no longer bring his family on their highly treasured visits to his elderly parents, fearing someone might give them a lethal infection.
Jovo’s anxiety is heightened by different voices telling him how to cope. His company health plan authorized him to see a counselor. He continues to discuss all the underlying issues with her. She prescribed Xanax for him, a medication that stabilizes chemicals in the brain that cause anxiety. Jovo’s pastor has a very different approach. He says that anxiety is a tool of the devil to defeat us. He advises the congregation not to trust in worldly ways like psychology and medicine, but to draw near to God in faith and resist the works of the devil.
Jovo is torn because he senses truth on both sides. He knows Jesus Christ as his savior and believes that his faith is the most important part of his life. He knows that God alone is big enough to handle any problem that comes his way. Yet he profits so greatly from the conversations he has with his counselor. She gives him suggestions he can implement immediately. And he can tell the level of his anxiety has diminished since he started taking Xanax. He asks himself, “What kind of resources can a Christian use and still be placing 100% trust in God?”
What advice would you give Jovo? What tools should he use to combat anxiety? Are there inappropriate tools he should avoid? What should you do to handle the stress in your life?
God has lovingly given us two kinds of resources for daily living: natural and supernatural resources. In the Garden of Eden God gave Adam and Eve wonderful natural provisions—food to eat, air to breathe and each other as companions in marriage. Adam and Eve would be mistaken to think of these things as “worldly” resources that prevent them from trusting in God alone. They needed to walk with God everyday and they needed to use the natural resources God had graciously given them. Today, our trust in God alone is not diminished by seeking out all the natural resources God has made available to us and availing ourselves of them. In fact, we show contempt for God’s provisions when we don’t use them, and we show ourselves to be grateful and wise stewards when we do avail ourselves of them.
There are many natural gifts God has given us to cope with stress. Today I want to talk about 3 of them: healthy routines, healthy expectations and healthy communication. After discussing these we will look at even more powerful supernatural resources: God’s promises of provision for us and access to him in prayer.
First, we can overcome anxiety by establishing some healthy routines. We are all painfully aware of the parts of our lives we can’t control. But there is still much we can control. There is a lot you can do to reduce anxiety. Get outside. Go for a walk. Eat healthy food. Get enough sleep. Set consistent times to eat and go to bed. Create a budget for your expenses. Find every form of government and private assistance that is available. Search online for ways to cope with specific circumstances you are facing.
We also need to have healthy expectations. There is a lot out there that we cannot control. You and I cannot control the spread of coronavirus. We can’t fully protect our vulnerable family members. We can’t make governments or business leaders do what we want. We can’t keep markets from falling and companies from laying off. We can’t know for sure when any of these crises will end. We have to let go of the desire to control these things and focus on the things we can control: applying for new jobs, following the CDC’s guidelines about social distance and more. When we control what we can and let go of what we cannot, we will greatly reduce our levels of anxiety.
Thirdly, we need healthy communication. This can be with family and friends, and it might also be with a counselor. When we face major struggles, friends often recommend that we see a counselor. That may be a good idea. My wife Sherry and I have greatly profited from counselors we’ve seen, both individually and as a couple. We’ve provided pastoral counsel to many and referred out to professional counselors when appropriate.
We need to make it clear that we’re talking about counselors who advocate a basic Judeo-Christian view of morality. A good counselor does not have to be a Christian. But if they don’t hold to a basic Ten Commandments view of right and wrong, they can lead you off the right path. There are counselors who may advise you to be sexually active in ways God would approve of, or do something in word or deed that is not appropriate. You need to find out in the first visit whether a counselor shares your same moral values. If not, find another counselor who does share your values and beliefs.
Professional counseling can be very helpful, but it has its limitations. Right now, everybody is stressed out. If we all wanted to see a professional counselor there wouldn’t be enough of them. Also, many folks can’t afford it. I’ve been in several Asian countries where there is a critical shortage of many urgently needed professionals such as doctors, attorneys, police and engineers as well as counselors.
When Sherry and I get sick, the physicians we see are certified by the American Medical Association. The majority of the world’s population don’t have access to this high level of quality care. They regard access to highly skilled physicians and counselors not as a norm but as a luxury. Tens of millions living in North America also lack the financial resources to see licensed physicians or counselors. Telling them “You need counseling” isn’t a very helpful response.
But there are resources out there available to everyone. Many who serve in refugee camps and other low-resource areas have profited greatly from books like Where there is no Doctor. A companion volume Where there is no Psychiatrist is helpful for those in North America as well as low-resource areas to understand grassroots mental health issues and solutions. There are also lots of free online resources on emotional health written from a Christian perspective. Links to a few of them are at the end of this blog. Please check them out!
Many people have questions about the use of psychiatric medications. One possible cause of anxiety is brain chemistry, and if so it’s possible is to take anti-anxiety medications. I met a young Latino man in Beijing whose ability to think clearly changed radically after 5 days on the right medication. I have seen positive changes in others because of using the right meds, and I have seen individuals who lapsed back into an unhealthy state of mind because they stopped taking their meds. Without a doubt anti-anxiety medication is a great blessing to many.
But they’re not for everyone. Most people can learn to cope with anxiety and depression without medication. People have done it for centuries before these medications were invented. How do you know if you need one of these meds? You need to talk to a physician who is trained and licensed to prescribe them. As a pastor, I do not have the training or skills necessary to tell whether you need medication. That is not part of anyone’s pastoral training. What I do know is that our bodies and spirits are intertwined, with each one closely affecting the other. Part of taking care of your spiritual and emotional life is taking care of your body, and that can include finding out whether you need meds.
So if you need to see a licensed counselor and have the ability to do so, please do. But whether you do or not, everybody needs to talk to someone. Keeping our stress bottled up inside just lets it ferment and grow. Sharing our concerns with others helps us let go of them. This is a time of social distancing, when we can’t get together with others like we want to. But you can find ways to communicate. Today more and more people are learning to communicate by phone, Zoom, Facebook, texting and other means. It’s not helpful to complain that we’d rather be meeting face-to-face. Meeting digitally is the best way for most of us right now, and we need to use these tools God has given us.
You already know that not everyone is equally helpful to talk to. Some people aren’t good listeners, and some just want to tell you their opinions and advice. You want to look for someone who is an empathetic listener. And you want to become an empathetic listener who asks others questions to find out how they are doing.
These are a few of the natural resources God has given us to manage anxiety. But there are even more powerful supernatural resources available to every Christian. They include God’s promises of provision and access to him in prayer. God’s greatest provision for Adam and Eve was not food, oxygen or marriage, but his own presence with them. The same is true today.
Here’s an amazing promise in Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Part of God’s antidote for anxiety is prayer. We begin by giving thanks in the middle of our struggles. Then we request God’s help and provision. The result? A peace “that surpasses all understanding” guards our hearts and minds. When we say that it surpasses all understanding, we mean that people who don’t know God can’t figure out where you get that peace. You still have the same problems—a pandemic out there, people losing their jobs, needing to stay home with the kids and more. But suddenly you have peace while the storm is still raging. That doesn’t make any sense—UNLESS you know God is in charge and will give you all you need.
There are ways in which this pandemic is a blessing in disguise. When all of our needs are met we become complacent and don’t sense that we desperately need God. We are so busy with so many other things that faith gets crowded out. Sometimes in mercy God sends us hardships to make us fervently seek his face. When those anxieties come, we should do what Paul tells us—prayerfully ask for all we need in an atmosphere of thankfulness.
Peter puts it this way: 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” What are the biggest burdens on your heart right now? List them and bring them by name to God. Imagine that your worries are a heavy backpack you’ve been hauling around day and night for weeks. Now imagine placing that backpack on Jesus’ shoulders. He’s a lot stronger than you are. Guess what? Now you’re not carrying it anymore. I’ve never seen a backpack built for two. Once you place it on his shoulders, it’s no longer on yours.
You need Jesus to carry your backpack. And you need other people to help carry it too. We at Global Youth Interchange would be glad to talk with you. You can email us, leave us a voicemail or send us a message on Facebook. Reach out to us today!
Here are helpful links to help you in seeking God and coping with coronavirus: