(Original post date: May 2, 2020)
“People have lost their minds.” That seems to be the theme in social media posts, news articles, in hospitals, and in police stations.
The verbal assaults on social media and news reports are rampant. The trend to try keep it under control is to look at how many people now have to post, “I’m not looking for a debate,” when trying to post or comment. Even then, people have retreated in fear of others and an abundance of caution from word-based social media, and instead have headed to safer pastures of cat memes and pictures of flowers.
My Citizen app, which informs me of local police activity, is now full of reports of assaults. Before COVID-19 restrictions, assault crimes were rare. Lately I’ve seen almost daily reports of knives being pulled on grocery store workers, punches being thrown outside convenience stores, and families duking it out in their front yards.
On the flip side, some people have just disappeared. They are completely off the grid. They’ve retreated in hopes of preserving some sense of sanity because the world, and the way people are acting, doesn’t make sense right now. They don’t know who to trust, so they’ve decided to trust no one.
And then there’s those who are struggling with sadness. They can’t get motivated. They’re barely making it out of bed every day. The raging and constantly-changing views on social media and in the news is overwhelming to them, and more than anything they need a safe, calm community to support and encourage them. That’s gone. Tears flow daily.
What makes people “this kind of crazy”? GRIEF and LOSS
It took me a while to figure it out (lots of “What in the world?!” moments), but having grieved for 4.5 years (so far) after the sudden death of my oldest daughter, I think I’m finally understanding what I see and what I, myself, am doing and feeling. Suddenly all the conversations, all the irrational reactions, and all the arguments make sense. People are in denial. People are angry. People are depressed. People are bargaining. We are all in the process of trying to accept a life that we do not want. THIS I understand.
In the past six weeks of our “Safe at Home” lifestyle here in California, I’ve struggled through all of these feelings. Like everyone, I’ve fallen into the traps of saying and doing wrong things on social media and in my own home. I have forgotten who I am in Christ (Col. 3:1-3) and in the midst of my hurt feelings, have forgotten to love others as Christ has called me to (1 John 3:13-24).
Here are the Simple Steps I am taking to keep my heart and mind focused on Christ, while processing my losses and the losses of those around me. I hope they are a blessing as you consider your own circumstances:
1. Take the log out of my own eye
I have been shocked by the angry attacks I’ve received on social media (some with reason behind it, some random), and it would be easy for me to get judge-y about how others are acting, but how many times in the past six weeks have I become angry and irritable with those around me? How many times have I yelled at someone in my own thoughts? The anger and fear that has been tossed at me as pixel-filled hand grenades is no different than the grenades that I have been lobbing at those in my house and on social media. I can try to justify it as “not as bad,” but my sin is no different. Praise God that my sins are forgiven by my gracious Savior! (1 John 1:6-9)
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:5
2. Cover a multitude of sins
The loss of our lives as we know it, and the uncertainty of the future is scary and frustrating. The lack of unity and trustworthiness among experts and politicians just adds to our feelings of insecurity and discontent. As each new moment of uncertainty is felt, I find myself having to fight the anger, frustration, hopelessness, and fears. I have to constantly remind myself of the truth of who God is and who I am. (Simple Steps to Processing a Pandemic)
We are all, in inglorious splendor, displaying our sin tendencies based on our personal idols a lot more clearly as we keep getting “squeezed” by our circumstances. Just as I will want to be granted forgiveness and grace as I blow it, I need to be ready to grant grace and forgiveness to others. Over and over. And over and over (Matt. 18:21-22). I will not just need to whitewash the sins of others, I will need dump a cement-mixer full of concrete over the sins of others so they can never be dug up or seen.
I know I want my ugly sin to have never happened; I want it to disappear and for others to forget it (Ps. 103:8-14). I need to, as it has been said, “Breathe grace” for others as I would want grace “breathed” over me (2 Cor. 9:8, Rom. 2:4).
Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.1 Peter 4:8
3. Preserve the unity in the bond of peace
Families in grief have a reputation. Siblings fight over what is left behind by their parents. Each one is afraid of not getting what he or she “deserves.” Stuff becomes more valuable than relationships, and emotions run high as each person struggles with the loss of the parent as well as a childhood home and memories.
When a child dies, many marriages are split apart — divorce rates rise and emotional instability in the family becomes the norm. As each person struggles with loss, the norm is to lash out at the others in the home with suspicion, blame, and acts of self-preservation.
Loss rips our hearts out because we were created for eternal relationships and a permanent physical home. Loss reminds us that this world is not our home and no matter how much we grasp to hold on to it and the people in it, we will fail (Job 1:21).
Families who come out stronger after loss are ones that take care of each other. They don’t point fingers. They forgive readily. They cry together. They give graciously. They lock arms and walk together, taking turns pulling each other along when weakness prevails (1 Thess. 5:14). They reach down and pull each other off the floor when one or the other stumbles and falls (Heb. 3:12, Jam. 5:19-20). My brothers-in-Christ and sisters-in-Christ, as well as the unbelievers God has put in my life, need this same care.
Jesus’s prayer for His disciples and for all those who would believe in Him in the future was one of unity and peace for the glory of God in a watching world (John 17:22-23). He knew that we would naturally bite and devour each other instead of loving our neighbors as ourselves (Gal. 5:13-15). I need to keep Jesus’s priority as my priority: unity.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1-3
4. Tear down my idols
Anger is always an indicator of an idol. I started taking a hard look at what made me angry in the middle of all this. It’s pretty clear: my idol is information.
I feel safe when I have information. If I know what’s going on and can make sense of things, I feel in control. For example, after my daughter died, I gained great peace by spending an hour on the phone with the medical examiner so I could understand the findings of the autopsy. When my parents have gone into the hospital for one thing or another, I have drilled the doctors until I understood the conditions and all the options. When COVID-19 hit, I started reading. I read EVERYTHING. I read every perspective and every report I could find. When a reporter would cite a study, I would read the study because I wanted to understand it myself, not trust someone else to interpret it for me.
If I can make sense of something, then my grief is lessened. I feel less angry and hopeless. I feel like the world makes sense again.
I don’t know what your idol is — maybe it’s food (If I have the right food I’ll be okay), maybe it’s entertainment (If I have stuff to do it’ll be okay), maybe it’s money (If I have enough money, it’ll be okay), maybe it’s government (If the right person is in power, I’ll be okay). We are very creative in the ways we choose to sin in this way. Something… anything but God… seems to be the answer to make us feel better.
Yet none of these things provide real peace because none of these things have the power to make things better. As our idols fail us, our grief increases. Our golden calves are thrown into the fire of destruction and we are left with the reality of our powerless selves and our great God (Ex. 32).
I find myself very irritated when people don’t worship at the altar of my idol. I try to comfort them by giving them information. But this gets in the way of their idols. My information doesn’t satisfy their need for money, or entertainment, or exercise, or political stability, or…, or…, or…. In fact, my idol threatens their idol, and before I know it we’re arguing.
Shakespeare’s Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream says, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Like the foolish characters in the forest running after their “true loves,” we run after the idols of this world, none of which will satisfy (Psa. 135:15-18). I must throw my idols in the fire.
“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”Exodus 20:3-6
I have no idea how the next days and months (and years? Lord, give us strength…) will play out. I will struggle daily to throw my idols in the fire, seek unity, identify and confess my sins, and grant grace and forgiveness to everyone. By God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, this IS possible. What an amazing opportunity we have during this time!
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.Galatians 5:16-26