Greater economic hardship. Relational disconnection. Loss of loved ones. Uncertainty. Job loss. Xenophobia. Racism. Lack of safety. The effects of COVID-19 are endless, and ruthless. These effects not only threaten our physical health, but our mental, relational, and spiritual health. They threaten our ability to win mentally and emotionally.
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No matter what you are facing during this time, you are not alone. You were not meant to be alone. You were never intended to experience this reality. You were made to thrive, created in the likeness of God with infinite worth, designed for healthy connection with Him and others. You were designed to experience the assurance of safety, to know that everything will be ok.
But the reality is that what we are experiencing in our world today doesn’t fit that bill, that need, that longing. So what do we do in this time of loss, pain, and hurt? How do we process what we are experiencing, to not cave to our anxiety, hopelessness, and pain? How do we choose health, rather than merely coping by binging Netflix or endlessly scrolling social media, overeating/drinking, or viewing pornography? How do we navigate our pain, loss, and uncertainty? How do we find a way to move forward and thrive?
After years of personally experiencing anxiety, emotional turmoil, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts before finding hope and healing, I want to share the process that has helped me win mentally and emotionally.
This process shouldn’t be rushed, and sometimes taking weeks or even years. But I want to lay this out to encourage you and remind you that there is hope. Things will get better! There is a way to limit the pain you are experiencing. Not in a way that minimizes it, but in a way that helps you to not be alone, or fall into the lies and traps of our enemy.
The losses during this time are immense. Loss of financial income, death of loved ones, uncertainty, disconnection from others, loss of normal routines, activities, and hobbies, to name a few. The pain you are experiencing is real. Be honest with yourself about your fears, feelings, questions, hurts, and struggles. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to grieve and mourn the reality of what you are experiencing.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 reminds us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” It’s okay to not have it all together and to mourn. In fact, it is healthy to do so. I’m reminded of how Jesus wept in John 11 when His friend Lazarus died. If He, God, took time to feel and grieve, how important is it for us?
I encourage you to write down the losses you are experiencing. Let yourself feel those emotions. Sit with them and talk to God about them. Be honest with Him about your hurt, frustrations, and questions. Visualize Him being with you and comforting you.
Identify The Messages
Loss, painful experiences, and uncertainty lead to messages we start to believe. But these messages are often not true. Maybe you’re experiencing economic hardship–you’ve lost your job or business has slowed down. What messages have you started to believe from those experiences? Perhaps, “God doesn’t care about me,” “I’m not good enough or gifted enough because others weren’t laid off but I was,” or “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t provide for my family. I’m inadequate.”
Maybe you’ve experienced loneliness because friends, family, and co-workers haven’t reached out to you, and you feel disconnected. What messages have you believed here? Is it “People don’t care about me,” “I’m unwanted,” or “I must not matter.” Lies and losses come in all shapes and sizes.
This has been the enemy’s tactic since day one in the Garden of Eden. To twist the truth, deceive us, and get us to believe lies about God, ourselves, and others. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve fell for a lie from the enemy and disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
They ate the fruit and were immediately filled with shame, believing not just that they had done wrong, but that they were wrong. The lie that started about God, ended in a lie about themselves, too. The enemy wants to use whatever he can to get us to believe lies, often using our losses and painful experiences. Let us not be unaware of this key tactic in our lives.
Reframe The Messages
What is the truth about your current situation? For example, in economic hardship, remind yourself that events are taking place that are out of your control. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Remember that God will provide for you, because you are so valuable to Him.
In loneliness, remind yourself that Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Remind yourself that in Christ you are a beloved child of God (1 John 3:1), chosen and wanted (John 15:16), and God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10), whether others acknowledge that. But also remember that others may feel lonely or unwanted as well, and that you have the opportunity to reach out to them so that both of your needs are met.
Sit with God and experience this truth intellectually and emotionally. Savor what it feels like to be loved, accepted, and adequate. Come back to these truths and experience them when sadness, shame, or the lies surface again.
Connect With Others
Share with safe people the losses and pain you are experiencing. Connecting with others releases dopamine and oxytocin in our brains, leading to a sense of connection and satisfaction. It also affirms the reality that we are not alone and that we are understood. Text or FaceTime a friend or loved one. Go for a walk with someone you know, with appropriate social distancing. Schedule an online meeting with a therapist, coach, or mentor, if needed.
Remember, we need one another. In the creation account God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Hebrews 10:25 goes so far as to instruct us to “not neglect meeting together,” because of how important relational and spiritual connection is for each of us.
Hold On To Hope
Think back on challenges you’ve faced in the past and how God got you through them. You’re still here. You’re reading this. You made it through! Think of how you might be able to help others through their struggles in the future, because of your own. Try to get a vision of what God might do in your life through this.
Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, showcases the power of a future vision. Frankl found the strength to continue fighting for his life in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Overworked, underfed, struggling to survive the bitter cold winter, with friends dying all around him, he began to envision one day being free from the concentration camp, lecturing to crowds on the psychology of concentration camps. All of his challenges became experiences that informed his future work. He found purpose in his pain, and a greater reward to strive for.
In contrast, those who lost hope around Frankl began deteriorating, succumbing to illness and mental breakdowns, losing the will to go on, and surrendering to hopelessness and death. Frankl survived, eventually being liberated by American soldiers. He went on to write books, earn his Ph.D., and give lectures all over the world.
We also witness the power of vision in the life of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2, who “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” That joy was receiving “all authority on heaven and earth” (Matthew 28:18) and giving you and I the “right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
You can take heart because Jesus sees you, cares, and mourns with you. He has overcome the world (John 16:33), is ruling and reigning over all that is going on in this time (Psalm 47:8), and will one day make all things right and new (Revelation 21).
Lastly, let me encourage you to take these next steps to win mentally and emotionally during COVID-19.
1. Work through the five step process in this article, starting with one loss or painful experience.
3. Check out josh.org/resolution for more resources about our new global initiative to help people overcome hurts and struggles, and thrive.