The first six months of the year 2020 have been challenging in a number of ways. For months, many have been shut away in their homes due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Millions have become unemployed, some for the first time in their adult life. In an effort to stay informed, the tendency is for us to spend more time than normal seeking news and information about the Pandemic and when it might end.
More recently, media sources have brought us scenes of violent protests, riots, looting, and even killings. Again, in an effort to understand what’s happening, many find themselves consuming far more news than is normally the case. Whether you’re still stuck at home or actively involved in what’s happening, in challenging times it’s easy to become overwhelmed by constant reports of widespread illness, death, and unrest. It’s not helpful that media sources tend to focus on the most extreme and sensational events taking place.
Challenging times, especially over an extended period, have a way of unsettling the human soul. It’s as if we find ourselves carrying a heavy weight around all the time. Left unchecked, this can lead to trouble.
It’s likely that Jesus spent much of his early adult life in a quiet routine away from crowds. After his public ministry began, however, things quickly changed. Suddenly Jesus was the center of attention. Large groups of men, women, and children followed him everywhere, and leaders challenged his claims. Even early on, some who heard Jesus teach wanted to kill him. So how did Jesus deal with the chaos and unrest that suddenly surrounded him? The fourth and fifth chapters of Luke offer some insight.
After a time that involved a great deal of public teaching, healing, and being surrounded by crowds, Jesus met a man with leprosy. It appears from the context that this was an unusually quiet moment. After healing the man, Jesus requested that he not tell anyone about it. It appears that the man did not follow these instructions. In the NIV, Luke 5:15-16 reads:
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Think about this for a moment. Even Jesus, God incarnate, sensed the need to get away by himself to pray. In a number of similar passages the context makes it clear that Jesus took these times to pray, listen, and to come to decisions. This includes the moments recorded in Luke 22:39-46 that Jesus spent on the Mount of Olives before his arrest and eventual crucifixion. Again, Jesus withdrew from others in order to seek guidance and wisdom in a time of extreme stress.
My role as a global security advisor is not an easy one. There are some long times of relative calm, yet these are punctuated by security incidents or crises that necessitate a great deal of focused time, attention, and sometimes travel. The stakes during such times can be high, and the outcomes uncertain. These situations can drag on for months, and offer little opportunity for rest.
I recall a time back in mid 2017 when things were more stressful for me than normal. After a lengthy time with little rest, I was able to get away for a few days. I spent them hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. I captured the image above during one of these quiet moments as I sat alone beside a river deep in the woods. I vividly recall the amazing sense of stillness and peace I experienced during this time as I prayed, listened, and reflected on life. It was one of those moments spoken of in Psalm 23 that says, “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”
It’s not always possible for us to get away to such quiet places. In fact, I have been unable to do so since that time in 2017. And yet, no matter who we are or the level of stress we experience in our lives, it is possible for us to take at least some time for quiet reflection and prayer each day. This is always a wise thing to do, and yet it’s especially important during times of chaos and stress like we’ve all experienced so far in 2020.
Without such times of quiet reflection, the tendency is for us to be slowly stressed and eventually become overwhelmed at a deep level. This may not be obvious, yet it will be noticeable if you look close enough. Common symptoms include thoughts of anger and hatred. We’re often tempted during such times to make poor decisions, and to act in ways that are unusual for us.
Many of us serve in security roles that involve a great deal of stress on a regular basis. We deal with this in a number of ways, and make do. And yet, during extraordinary times, even individuals who have to regularly make decisions under stress can start to be overwhelmed. At such times it’s especially important that we take time to pray, listen, and to quietly reflect on life.
I recently sensed that I was watching too much news in the evenings. I decided to make a few changes. I now choose to watch or read the news long enough to get the information I need, and yet to balance this with other activities. These include listening for 20-30 minutes most days to a recording of the New Testament I downloaded, and walking with my wife for longer periods than usual. A few nights a week we also choose to watch something that helps us focus on things other than what’s happening in the world right now. Our favorites have included the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, and the Poirot series with David Suchet.
If you’ve found yourself spending much more time than usual consuming sensational news reports lately, consider cutting back a bit. Yes, it’s important to know what’s happening, and to consider how to respond, yet it’s often not helpful to flood yourself with sensational news and images. Let us know in the Comments section below what helps you deal with stress, and to make good decisions in these challenging times.