Coping with Isolation
It seems that we are currently ‘living through history’. I realise that, in one sense, we are always ‘living through history’, but this feels like one of those periods that people will refer to in the years to come; one of those ‘big’ events where not only individuals but the whole world has been affected. I anticipate that there will be days to come when we say to ourselves, “we managed to get through this, so we can get through x”, whatever x may be. It is likely that there will be changes in how we do life after recent months and who knows (God aside) what life going forward will look like?
‘Living through history’ sounds exciting - until it happens. The reality is that the last few months have been difficult. I have noticed that other people’s reactions have had an impact on me. At their best, they encourage me and spur me on. At their worst, they drag me down, or make me feel ‘less than’. I find it most encouraging when people have shared with me both the good and the bad. For example, that they are enjoying the sunshine (which has been lovely), but finding aspects of social distancing difficult (because I can relate to that). Also, I value how they are coping with it, because then it is not all doom and gloom. Let’s face it, who needs more bad news at the moment?
So, what have I found helpful?
Turning the pain into a longing for eternity
At times, the lockdown period has been really hard, and I have found myself longing for a return to ‘normal’ life, such as wanting to be able to go to the swimming pool, see my friends, go to the cinema, leave the house more often and even to go out to work. As I have felt that longing for a return to so-called ‘normality’, I have let that point me towards the deeper desire that I have for the new creation, for the day when Jesus will return, and when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away” (Rev 21:4). Pain is not new to me (and I suspect that I am not alone in that among this readership). I have often found myself longing for eternity even before Coronavirus. But being locked down has deepened that longing, and for that I am grateful.
Hearing what my fears are communicating
I read a book called “Untangling Emotions” (by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith) earlier this year, and have found it helpful. There is a chapter in it on fear, which was for me the most helpful chapter in the entire book. Fear goes by many names, including anxiety, apprehension, worry, panic, and terror. I have felt anxious at times during this period (e.g. about my mental health and the impact that lockdown will have had on it, and about how long social distancing will last and whether there will be further restrictions on what we can do). This book helpfully tells us that fear communicates to us that something we value is under threat, making it a helpful tool in identifying what matters most to us. The fears around my mental health tell me that I value well-being. The fears around further restrictions tell me that I value freedom. Knowing that fear communicates has given me a curiosity when I have felt anxious. I have started asking myself, “what is this particular anxiety telling me about what I value?” Becoming interested in what my emotions are telling me has lessened my fear.
Lifting my eyes
I have also found it helpful to lift the focus off myself and the difficulties of my current circumstances. A few weeks into the lockdown period I started praying through “Operation World: the definitive prayer guide to every nation”. At a time when I had been in the house far more than I would have liked, I found it so encouraging to read what God is doing in other parts of the world, including countries where being a Christian is difficult and where sharing the gospel is hard. I have been particularly encouraged to read about the growth of the church in places where I would not have expected it.
So, even at a time when we living through a challenging time in history, we can remind ourselves that we may be “chained”, but the gospel is not.
This article is based on a short video testimony given at the Never Alone online conference in Summer 2020. The video was prepared during the early COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend, under the title "Living Through History". Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Autumn 2020 edition of Ascend