We are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. The various stay-at-home orders have, no doubt, created all sorts of stress, conflict, difficulty, and emotional turmoil for many of us. Being stuck at home may create some emotional challenges for us, but it can also provide us an opportunity to work on cultivating godly emotional responses.
The two common motives that these circumstances can tend to highlight for us are anxiety and anger. Anxiety seems like the emotion that most people are discussing. That makes sense, the threat of a virus and the instability of life are fear-inducing circumstances. Much has been written and said about COVID-19 and anxiety. Brand Hambrick has written a wonderful resource here, on assessing the type of anxiety we are experiencing. Tim Keller has released an insightful video on Peace in Times of Suffering, as part of his Q & A series for Redeemer Church. We at Cornerstone Counseling have also released our anxiety video curriculum, one episode per week.
Anxiety is certainly a common response to our trying global situation, but it is not the only response. Anger is another emotion that we should be conscious of during this situation. Anger strikes because we want to be able to control our circumstances and we can’t. Anger strikes because we feel entitled to certain liberties, routines, experiences, and more and we are not getting what we feel we deserve. Anger arises because we are compressed into tight settings, with little outlet and space, and because our patience is regularly tested (sometimes to breaking point). Anger is an understandable response in some of these settings, but it can be a terrible and sinful response too. The number of reports of domestic violence during the COVID-19 quarantine have dramatically increased. On the less violent and oppressive side, we find simply that tension and hostility between spouses and parents and children is simply more common as we are forced into these tight settings. Social media gives testimony to the presentation of anger at our government, medical community, neighbors, the virus in general, and even God during this quarantine. So, needless to say, anger is another common emotion we need to pay attention to during this season of life. Cornerstone Counseling has an anger video series that may provide some help in analyzing this emotion too.
Anxiety and anger can be normal healthy responses at times. Not all fear, nor all anger, is a response of specific and blatant sin. Sometimes these responses make sense, as in times when our loved-ones are dying. These emotions can also be responses of intense suffering and pain, not obviously sinful but more blatantly sorrowful responses. Yet, it is worth taking the time to assess our responses and seek to cultivate godly emotional responses to our circumstances. The Bible invites us to reflect on our emotions, to evaluate how we are responding, and to strive to respond in god-honoring ways. Quarantine is a good time to do such emotional evaluative work.
Ask yourself several questions:
- What emotion most frequently arises in my heart, mind, and behavior at present?
- What common emotion would my family identify in me at present?
- What do I most want for my life right now? How might this desire be related to a response of anxiety or anger when I don’t get what I want?
- What sins am I most struggling with at present? How might those struggles be related to an emotion of either anger or anxiety?
- What does my relationship with God look like at present? How am I focusing on Him and His will? How am I trusting in Him?
Practice these things:
- Expressing gratitude can be a great way to fight back against both sinful anxiety and sinful anger. Set a timer for 3 minutes and write down as many things as you can think of, for which you can be thankful. Do this exercise once a day.
- Read through the Psalms and write your own version of a Psalm that personalizes the content of that chapter.
- Identify scenarios where you have responded wrongly and ask yourself both what you did and what you wanted in that situation. Then, write out what God would want you to do differently next time (most scenarios repeat themselves, the more often I identify failed responses and godly responses the more I can help myself to respond differently in the same situation).
- Reach out to a friend and ask for their support, prayer, and accountability in responding in godly ways to the most tempting situations.
- Reflect on the opposite emotion or the godly expression of the emotion. Do a Bible Study on that opposite or godly expression. In other words, if you see trust as the opposite of anxiety then look up various passages of Scripture that talk about trust and analyze what these passages teach (what do they have in common, where do they nuance or clarify one another, and what lessons can you take away from them). If you’d like to analyze a godly expression of fear then do a study on fear and assess what the whole Bible teaches and what the difference between healthy and unhealthy expressions of fear look like according to Scripture.
Great listing of helpful exercises.