2013 0602 life on purpose rest

I was reading an article on stress the other day and the symptoms were all too familiar. Stress affects us all. But for most of us living in and around the NYC area and Long Island, the symptoms of stress have become all too familiar since the pandemic hit our area hard over two months ago.

Local businesses have been either reinvented or closed down for the NY Pause initiatives. Most of us are experiencing some kind of financial setbacks because of the closures and some people have lost their livelihoods altogether.

For family caregivers, this time is particularly stressful. For those of us who are caring for vulnerable family members who require our advocacy in the healthcare environment under “normal” circumstances, this pandemic has created additional challenges of restrictions of family members’ involvement with patient care for the protection of both the patient and caregivers from the spread of this virus.

It’s been a trying time for all of us.

Good things have emerged from this time as well. Families are spending more time and eating meals together at home. Long-awaited projects are getting done and people are honing new skills. Raising chickens anyone?

But the reminders of the pandemic are all around us too: in sky-rocketing unemployment, shortages at the grocery stores, and empty restaurants and churches.

Many of us fear that we have entered a new normal that just won’t go away.

As I read the details of re-opening in the US and in particular in New York, I sometimes feel like I’m reading excerpts from a dystopian novel where people are under the control of a despot rather than accounts of a civil society which was fashioned with constitutional protections.

Then there are the regular life stresses which the pandemic didn’t stop. For some of us regular life includes caring for sick family members, accessing cancer treatments, or dealing with accessibility for disabilities.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been witnessing the telltale signs of a neurological issue in my daughter. Slurred speech, motor decline, and seizures caused me to reach out to our doctors in NYC. Under normal circumstances, we would travel to NYC for brain scans and neurological exams to determine if there’s bleeding in the brain or a shunt malfunction.

But pandemic times add a new dimension to the risk/benefit calculations of even getting a brain MRI. Does the risk of exposure to the virus outweigh the benefit of a more thorough examination of these symptoms? Two weeks ago – maybe – but, not this week. The need for the brain MRI clearly superseded concerns of contracting the virus, so we go armed with prayer, masks, and hand sanitizers for this week’s diagnostic tests and evaluations.

Most everyone agrees that ongoing stress and anxiety can have catastrophic effects on one’s health and life. It’s important to develop and maintain healthy habits like exercise, eating right, and connecting with the natural world to protect against the effects of stress in our daily life and in these unprecedented times.

The apostle Paul recommended a remedy for anxiety which I can readily attest to as a means for greater mental and spiritual health which affects wellbeing overall.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your kindness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with gratitude, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

I imagine the apostle, Paul had to say it over (and over) again- “Rejoice”- assuredly because he was talking to himself. It is long understood by scholars that Paul was writing this letter to Phillipi- the first Christian community established in Europe- from prison. Paul was likely NOT preaching to the choir but rather to himself and then to the newly baptized Philippians.

“Rejoice!” is not a greeting I would necessarily use when writing to a prisoner or to people in quarantine for that matter. Some people might consider the two a fair comparison.

But it definitely helps!

Paul outlines a strategy for choosing to rejoice in struggles that explains the why and how of this eternal perspective:

Acknowledge the presence of God. I can tell you without any shadow of a doubt. God is near. I have known God’s presence in my life from a young age and I’ve learned to discern His voice whispering in my heart. I’ve seen God’s hand at work in miracles as well as in the strength provided in trials. But you have to be willing to see Him and listen for His voice. Like the knowledge and sense of the presence of loved ones who are close to us even when their physical presence is not immediately felt- the Lord is near. Speak to God from your heart and ask Him to reveal Himself to you and don’t stop asking to know- really know- the Lord is near.

Be kind. Kindness opens hearts, beginning with our own. If we want joy in our lives, we need to start by spreading it through acts of kindness.

Don’t worry about anything by offering all your concerns to God with gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful anecdote to worry, fear, and anxiety because it opens our minds to recognize the good things we already have and helps us to remember the silver linings in the bad things.

Paul ends his how-to instructions on joy and gratitude with this promise: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (vs 7).

Worldly peace is based on an absence of conflict and it is in short order in these pandemic times. But the peace of God which Paul describes as guard and protection against worry and fear is based on a relationship of trust.

Jesus also promised peace to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”(John 14:27)

My daughter Johanna is a witness to me of the power of this word from Philippians. She always chooses joy and if given the opportunity- she chooses to sing through her struggles. I’ve watched her sing her way through hospital admissions and into recovery from brain surgery and even singing to relearn how to speak after being in a coma.

The results are miraculous.

I’m not going to tell you that when you have a relationship with God, you will never fear or worry. But I can promise you, that when I choose to rejoice and hand my concerns over to God in gratitude- I always experience a peace that is not of this world and find the strength to take the next step.

In these troubled times, find something you are grateful for and choose joy! I promise that you will experience the presence of God and a peace that surpasses all worldly understanding and endures in these times of struggle.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen