“As a way to depict how you currently feel about your life, draw yourself in relation to a boat.”
A therapist used this exercise at a counseling workshop I attended several years ago, and the pictures people drew were insightful. Some drew themselves outside of the boat being pulled along by a rope, some were in the boat but not at the helm, and some were in a sinking ship.
This art exercise came to mind recently when I heard a women’s minister comment on COVID by saying, “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” People’s experiences in this pandemic vary, and from my vantage point as someone on a church staff who ministers to singles, here are some of the common “boats” I’ve seen in this storm:
Mental health issues and addictions. Struggles with mental health issues or addictions have been exacerbated during this pandemic. A lack of routine, a rise in loneliness, limitations with teletherapy (and the time it took many counselors to transition to teletherapy), and recovery groups no longer being able to meet in person—these things led some people to revert to unproductive coping mechanisms or to start new ones. Furthermore, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations have been rampant during this time, even among people who didn’t already struggle in these areas.
Remembering trauma. The lack of busyness, especially during the shutdown of March/April, created space for some to remember their trauma for the first time or to not be able to self-medicate with busyness and thereby stuff their painful feelings and memories. When life screeched to a halt back in the spring, painful memories and self- reflection became hard to avoid.
Hard living situations exacerbated. Being stuck at home has been a pressure cooker of a situation for those with hard living situations. On the extreme end, children or spouses living with an abuser haven’t had school, work, etc., as a way to get out of the house or for their abuse to even be noticed. On a less extreme end, families and roommates have had different opinions about masks, social distancing, and whether the pandemic is actually real or just a conspiracy theory—all of which breeds conflict in how to go about daily life.
Loss and grief. We’ve all experienced loss in the past six months, and we’re all grieving. There’s been the loss of loved ones, the loss of celebrations with the people you love (weddings, graduations, etc.), the loss of jobs, the loss of freedom to go and do as you please, the loss of normalcy and the list could go on. Some have experienced more loss than others in this season, but we should not overlook how grief is affecting all of us and how it will continue to affect us.
Loneliness and isolation. Since I work specifically with singles ministry, the loneliness and isolation of people has been on my radar. Whether young professionals or the elderly, those who live alone have become even more isolated without roommates or social outlets. Erring on the side of safety means that those with comorbidities, those in nursing homes and hospitals, those in prisons, and those who are more cautious about the virus have experienced a decrease in human interaction, which also affects mental health.
Racial and political tension. The racial and political tension in our country and its effects on people and communities cannot be overlooked, and depending on how the election in November plays out, it’s possible we will continue on a trajectory of polarization rather than unity.
Stress. Has anyone not felt stressed during the pandemic? Whether it’s financial stress, work stress faced by health care workers, teachers, and local government officials, or the stress families have experienced with kids doing distance learning while parents are working from home, there are plenty of additional stressors in our current season on top of the typical stressors of everyday life.
Unproductive coping mechanisms. In response to the stress, uncertainty, and suffering, I’ve seen unproductive coping mechanisms increase in people. In addition to pornography, sexual sin, drinking, drugs, and self-harming behaviors, I’ve also talked to young women about coping via gaming, excessive TV watching, over-sleeping, and overeating. Even good things like food and sleep can be used to numb rather than face our feelings about what’s happening in our lives.
Ministering made more difficult. For those of us working in ministry, we are experiencing the storm of COVID ourselves while also ministering to our people (who span all of the situations mentioned above). And we are doing all this while trying to figure out how to do church in a pandemic with members that have a variety of opinions on masks and social distancing. Personally, the number of young women I counsel and meet with for discipleship literally doubled in the months of March thru June because of the spike in counseling needs, and more than ever, I’ve felt the tension of how to bear burdens with people without being crushed by them.
So, where do we go from here? No matter what boat we’re in, how can we as Christians faithfully weather this storm, however long it lasts? Here are some suggestions, beginning with the most important …
1. Engage with God about how you feel. Culture errs toward putting our emotions on a pedestal, making them everything, and the Christian community often leans in the other direction with stoicism, acting as though expressing emotions (particularly “negative” ones) are an indication of weak faith. Neither view accurately represents what the Bible teaches about emotions, and God gives us an entire book of the Bible—Psalms—to guide us in what it looks like to grieve, lament, and feel a plethora of emotions, demonstrating how our emotions can actually be a way of connecting with Him. As Psalm 62:8 states: “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” Pouring at your heart to God is an expression of faith, for in doing so, you are trusting Him to be your refuge. So turn to Him with what you are feeling and experiencing in this storm.
2. Be the body, the church. The priesthood of all believers is a doctrinal reality, but now more than ever it needs to be the functional reality of the church. Be alert to brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling. Living out the “one another” commands of the New Testament is a practical way we can and should be the body of Christ to one another. So, be a listening ear. Send an encouraging text or Marco Polo. Take a meal. Bring flowers. Write notes. Do a grocery run. Be the body. With this, make a concerted effort to not let people slip through the cracks. Check in to see how the people in your life are doing, especially if they struggle with mental health, addictions, or trauma. Be especially mindful if you haven’t heard from them in a couple of days or weeks.
3. Ground yourself in God’s truth. We are not at the mercy of our feelings. Our emotions often speak for us, but they will also speak to us. But just because we feel something doesn’t mean it’s true. We should evaluate our emotions, and God’s Word is our measure of whether they’re true or false, right or wrong. We need to remember what Scripture says is true about ourselves and our circumstances, and then remind ourselves of the hope we have in Christ. But remembering truth necessitates reading Scripture and letting it marinate in our lives, so be diligent in carving out time to grow in your understanding and love for God’s Word.
Mark 4 tells the story of a great storm that came upon Jesus and His disciples while they were in a boat. Tempestuous waves crashed, filling the boat with water and endangering the lives of all within it. Scared for their lives, the disciples woke Jesus, questioning His care: “Teacher, do
you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk. 4:38).
With His words, Jesus calmed the storm and then turned to His disciples asking, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mk. 4:40). The disciples had failed to realize that the same One who was in the boat with them was also the God over the storm. This same Jesus is God
over our present storm, and whatever boat you’re in, know that He’s in it with you.