Tag Archives: #pandemic

Where is God in the hopelessness of Groundhog Day?

OK, trick question. We know that God is there always, even in the time of global pandemic lock-down. But I pose it because recently I had about two weeks where I felt completely without motivation. Obviously at the moment this is coronavirus related, but this can happen any time.

Everything was the same. Every day. Wake up. Do parenting. Start working from home. Do more parenting. Go to bed. Repeat. I felt myself slide into some kind of stupor. Like I was running on auto-pilot. I didn’t even have any highs or lows of emotion – it was like I was just existing and wafting between days that all looked the same.

It wasn’t until someone recognised it as “Groundhog Day” that I understood what was affecting me. Groundhog Day (if you don’t know it) was a movie from 1993 and involved a rather unpleasant character who, in the course of his working day as a weatherman, is forced to live the same day over and over again. Eventually, he becomes a fine upstanding character and gets the girl (it’s Hollywood after all) but the fascinating stretch of the film is the emotional waves he goes through. Someone has worked out that he lives the same day for 8 years, 8 months and 16 days. The same day.

He goes through waves of investigation, trying to escape, acceptance, bravado and arrogance, grief, energetic thriving, careless wickedness, depression and many others.

It was the depression part that struck me when my friend said the words “Groundhog Day”. I wasn’t feeling depressed but I realised I had that sense of purposelessness. No goal. No change. No point.

And that is a problem. When you feel like there is no point because nothing is, or will, change, then we are losing hope.

I wasn’t losing hope, but I could see I was on the road to that kind of thinking. But how do you get yourself out of it? When you can feel yourself in an emotional stupor, how can you get out? It’s like being in a hole without a ladder. How do you force yourself to have motivation when you have none?

We know that God is there – we know it in our heads. In fact that can make us feel worse. Here’s me without motivation and with hope oozing away through the cracks in my purposeless day, and he is watching me. And I am doing nothing. Now a sense of shame compounds a sense of purposelessness and the immobilization gets worse.

In the Bible it tells us things like “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (1 Cor. 3:23) and “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) and other famous passages that we use for inspirational cat posters.

So even though we know these to be true, these also make us feel even worse. Its a reminder of all the things I am not doing.

The thing is with Groundhog Day is that its a rut. And while we feel shame, its also a very comfortable rut. The motivation it can take to get out of the rut can seem insurmountable. I know I should work heartily for God but I don’t want to. I know I can do all things through God, but I don’t want to. I can, but I can’t.

How do you break the cycle?

I’d recommend not looking to “inspirational biblical memes”. They are true, but not necessarily helpful in your current state. But, the Bible has lots to say about things which are helpful.

For example, look at what the Bible has to say about:

  • God’s quiet uplifting presence. Isaiah 40 is a wonderful passage. This is spoken at a time when God’s people are going to be coming out of exile in Babylon. They have been in exile for 70 years and God is going to bring them home. The passage is gentle and loving. It is a reminder of how small and temporary humans are but at the same time how big and wondrous God is – and how he tenderly holds us and protects us. Critically, in v29 is the reminder that while we grow weary – God never grows weary and our hope and strength will be renewed in him.
  • Patience. Romans 8:18-39 is a great passage to reflect on the patience we need to endure before we meet God in heaven – and how to conduct ourselves while we wait. This is not a “should do” passage but powerful words that inspire enough to compel a shift in mind-set.
  • Hope and faith. Hebrews 11:1-12:3 gives us a picture of those who have gone before us who remind us of our hope and lift us up in our difficulties. All those people – just like you and me, living their lives imperfectly – witnessing to us and fighting for us. It reminds us that we are not alone.

Reading the words God gave us will shift our hearts. And when our hearts are shifted, we can pray more honestly, and more frequently. And it can spur us to change some things that will get us out of that rut. Even if its just doing one new thing a day. It can spur us to sit in a different place, call someone, go for a walk in the sun – anything that begins the process of lifting us further out of the sense of hopelessness. And God will be with us every step of the way.

We are not in stasis while in isolation – we can grow and thrive despite our circumstances

OK we’re into the second or third week of working from home, home schooling, online church and gatherings limited to 2 people. It seems a bit surreal. We got all geared up like we were preparing for a couple of weeks of weird holiday and now things are starting to settle, the reality that this is our normal for the foreseeable future is setting in. That means that the current “survival mode” is how things will be for maybe 6 months.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be in survival mode for months on end. That means treading water. That means just existing.

No. There has to be more to this time than that. If nothing else, so we can keep our mental health strong, there has to be more than just existing.

So what to do?

I’m about to mention 3 people who we are definitely NOT, but they serve to illustrate a point.

William Shakespeare is thought to have written King Lear while in some form of quarantine from the plague. We don’t know if that’s true or not but its plausible and certainly possible. Between 1603 and 1613, because of plagues and sickness, Shakespeare’s theatre (the Globe) and other theatres in London were shut for more than 60% of the time. So it’s not unrealistic to say he did a lot of writing while in some form of lock-down.

The reconstruction of the Globe Theatre in London. Source: https://teach.shakespearesglobe.com/fact-sheet-third-globe

In 1665, there was more plague and Sir Isaac Newton went to Woolsthorpe Manor to get away from it. He was there for 18 months and he started to develop his theory of gravity there, as well as working on his revolutionary theories in calculus.

Woolsthorpe Manor - west facade.jpg
Woolsthorpe Manor. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolsthorpe_Manor#/media/File:Woolsthorpe_Manor_-_west_facade.jpg

Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon while in prison. We know these as canon, of course, but for Paul, these were just letters. Legend surrounding Paul’s time in prison says he performed a miracle there which suggests that he was active in his evangelism as well as his written pastoral guidance.

Ancient prison which housed St Peter re-opens in Rome
Carcer Tullianum, Rome’s oldest prison (3,000 years old) where Peter and Paul are said to have been held. Source: https://www.thelocal.it/20160714/ancient-prison-which-housed-st-peter-re-opens-in-rome

Now I don’t know about you, but I am not going to invent some mathematical theorem – I can’t even help my 8-year old son with his year 3 homework. And very few of us are Shakespeare. Even less of us are Peter and Paul.

But what these people show us is:

  1. They went from existing to living life and even thriving. I’m sure that going to Woolsthorpe Manor or hunkering down somewhere in London required some modification of behaviour given what they couldn’t do. But then they clearly then moved onto what they could do.
  2. They used their skills. Shakespeare wrote. Newton did deep thinky brain work. Paul guided. These were all skills that they took into quarantine with them and they allowed to breathe within those confined spaces.
  3. They used their brains. They thought, they worked, they stretched themselves which takes people beyond existing and into thriving.
  4. It involved new things. In so doing, they created new things, even learned to do new things. This is so key in mental health. It keeps our view on things bigger than our current situation. It gives us a focus on possibility, hope, a larger world.
  5. They saw opportunities. When in quarantine or prison, if you can’t do this, then maybe I can do that. Paul couldn’t visit the churches so he wrote to them. Charles Benson Barnett was a missionary with the famous James Hudson Taylor. When he was forced to return to Australia because of ill-health, he founded Sydney Missionary and Bible College. He couldn’t go, so he trained others.

Jesus himself told us that he came so that we might have life to the full. There is no caveat to that – he didn’t say “unless there’s a pandemic and you’re in lock-down”. He came so we could have life to the full all the time. That is what is available to us no matter where we are.

So how can we use our brains? Where can we see opportunities? In saying this I recognise that Shakespeare, Newton and Paul either didn’t have children or had someone else taking care of them – and they didn’t have another day job that they were working-from-home on. But within the restrictions that we have, how can we look upwards and outwards? How can we do something new?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Decide on a goal that you have for your isolation time, for example:
    • I want to grow as a disciple
    • I want to learn a new skill
    • I want to expand my brain
    • I want to build community
    • I want to strengthen others
    • I want to spread God’s word
  • Then, depending on what goal you have identified, you can set out some tasks you want to commit to, like:
    • Commit to listening to a podcast series that is edifying and will expand your thinking and your faith. Try Lionel Windsor’s Lift Your Eyes or Risen Motherhood. I listen to these on Spotify but they’re available wherever you get your podcasts
    • Start looking at YouTube videos if you want to learn how to knit or crochet or learn the rules of cricket or how to draw cartoons
    • Get online books to work through an author or series (I’m currently working through the Narnia books)
    • Work through a devotional book with your family and/or an online group who you’ve never met with before
    • Write letters of encouragement (on your own or with your kids) and post them to your neighbours
    • Meet online with someone who’s on the church periphery to read the Bible and pray together
    • Start a blog or a journal to map your life during this time – it may make for a pretty interesting record in a couple of decades!
    • Look for ways to support others who are less self-sufficient. These are strange times and these are scary times. For some of us, it’s trying to do normal work and life from home. For others it is losing our jobs and potentially a lot more. If you are in the former group, what can we do for the latter? Even if its making an extra meal once a week, sending notes to those who live alone, or committing to buy a few extra groceries for someone every week, or forming a prayer triplet to pray for those you know in your church doing it tough – all these are good. What else might there be?

There are lots of ways we can use our brains and thrive as individuals, as families and as a community so that during this time we aren’t just treading water. We want to come out of this stronger, not having just existed. Not exhausted from the work and the home schooling and the parenting in isolation (although many of us will be), but having found opportunities to thrive. Not beaten down from the fear and the worry (although that is a definite factor), but finding ways to live life in the kind of abundance that Jesus talks about. Being in him. Growing in him. Reaching our families, reaching our communities, thinking bigger than ourselves.

Lets do what we need to do. But then lets use our brains, and our skills. Lets learn new things and look for opportunities. Lets set goals – even small ones. Lets keep our eyes upwards an outwards so we take care of ourselves and our families, but always look for ways to look beyond ourselves.

In Christ, well that is thinking bigger. It would be easy, in a time of uncertainty, to keep our eyes down and do what needs to be done. But lets make sure we keep our eyes on him. If we look to him first, we can live and survive, but we can grow and thrive too.

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:9-11)

Lock-down schooling (and working) and the one thing that was a total surprise

OK we’re not strictly in lock-down yet, but the COVID-19 cases in our area are starting to climb so I decided last week to keep the boys home from school. I’m a pretty organised person – my day job is project managing and directing – and I’m relatively smart so I knew it would be hard but do-able. I saw many pictures of friends’ kids sitting at their new home work stations with big beaming smiles – yeah, this is do-able.

Well, my home schooling began with a trip to the supermarket because, as a staunch anti-panic buyer, I was running low on some basics. For some reason my relatively well behaved kids turn into the spawn of satan at the supermarket, so while taking a conference call, wrangling an uncooperative shopping trolley and trying to wrangle my equally uncooperative children round the shop while trying to sound cool and professional on the conference call, my first home schooling day started with me in hysterics in the car park and my kids staring at me like I’d gone insane.

That was generally the tone for the whole day.

You see I’m a single mum and I work full time. I can’t afford to cut back my hours – I am supremely blessed to be in a job that is secure (at the moment). What that means is that I was trying to mum, to work and to teach all at the same time and I felt like my brain was imploding with the mental and emotional load of it.

On top of that, we’re all going through something completely new. There’s fear and uncertainty and things are changing every day. The mental real estate needed to process all that means there is less left for dealing with other things. Doing this on my own means also there is nobody to turn to to share the mental and emotional load or divide the attention that the kids need while you’re trying to do other things. And when you’re pouring a lot into little people, with diminished mental real estate that don’t leave much for yourself.

People told me not to worry about their schooling. But in actual fact my 9 year old gets extremely anxious and needs the security of knowing he is following a structure. My 8 year is a crazy Tigger-like guy and for all our sanity he needs structure as well.

But two things have really helped. First, a lovely couple in my Bible study group sent this:

This helped. It really helped.

Second, and this was the super surprising thing, was our family devotions.

My kids attend a beautiful Christian school and they start every day with devotions. I decided to try and follow so I asked the boys to pick a song and then after that we would do a Bible study together.

My 9 year old picked this, which I thought was a great pick for the reality we’re living at the moment:

Another in the Fire: Hillsong United

Then we did a Bible study together using I Can Learn the Bible. I read the lesson and then they wrote down the memory verse and we talked about what it meant and how they could see it applying in our daily lives. And then we prayed.

It was simple and short. Maybe 20 minutes all up. But I felt a wonderful connection with them as we followed this together.

Me and my household, we serve the Lord. We church. We talk about God and God’s community a lot. We read Bible verses. We talk about Jesus. We pray every day at different times. But we had never before spent time in this organised way and it was a real surprise to me. Stupid really, because I know this. Grounding in God is the first and best thing of parenting. I know that. And I know the positive effects of being in his word. But right now, in this moment, this was a new thing.

In among the chaos and uncertainty, the world stopped for 20 minutes. It was just me and my boys and God.

It re-focused. It anchored. It connected us to each other and it connected us to God. He enfolded us in his peace. And so I am wonderfully grateful to God for bringing us light in the darkness and bonding us together.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Ps. 127:1)

As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)