Saturday, July 18, 2020

Stages of Grief and Covid-19

Suppose you come home one day, and the water is overflowing from your kitchen sink. Instead of turning off the water, you say:

1. I refuse to believe that's water. (And do nothing.)

2. I wonder who turned the water on? Wait until I get my hands on the person who did this. (And do nothing.)
3. I would call the plumber, but he's an idiot, and I'm not listening to him. He needs to listen to me for a change. (And do nothing.)
4. My floor is flooded. It'll never be the same. (And do nothing.)
5. The water came on by itself and may continue coming on when I am not looking. I'll do my part by turning it off and calling the plumber. (Yay! You are taking action.)

I could go on, but you get the drift and probably recognize I am comparing this to responses about Covid-19. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. People process grief in different ways and at different rates, and we must be patient with people. However, by recognizing what we are doing, perhaps we can get through these, so that we can, at least, come to an acceptance. 

So, briefly, these have been our responses (and this is not an exhaustive list of all our various responses, but I believe it covers the most common).

1. We pretend that Covid-19 does not exist, that it's a conspiracy theory, or that it's nothing more than the common cold. If we were to accept such a radical change in our environment, it would be disconcerting, to say the least. Folks are grieving for a past we may never recapture and refuse to believe Covid-19 is real.

Some people are still stuck at the first stage of grief. The problem is that we cannot move forward until we become unstuck. By now, most of us are aware of friends or family who have or have had this disease and, unfortunately, know people who have died. It's time we pulled our heads out of the sand...err... got our heads above the water, and admitted this is a serious illness. (There's no need to debate how serious--we need only agree it is serious so that we can move forward.)

2. We become angry at the wrong things--where the virus originated from, for example. Perhaps this is something we will want to investigate in the future, but for now, we must deal with the consequences. 

Other people direct anger toward state mandates--such as social distancing and the wearing of masks. Some refuse to listen to the experts and even attack their credentials. 

Many are stuck in their anger and refuse to move forward. Yes, this has disrupted our lives, our economy, the lives of our children, and our normal routines (and the list goes on and on). 

Let's be understanding of this--Covid-19 is a new disease, and scientists are scrambling to find out as much as possible. Our anger is misplaced or, at least, is being directed to folks at the wrong time.

By this time, doctors have accumulated much knowledge. They know the virus is airborne. Because of this, they know masks and social distancing help prevent the spread (note, I said help, not entirely prevent). 

Anger rarely helps a situation, and in most cases, contributes to chaos. Heed the words of Paul: 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. ~Ephesians 4:31.

3. We try to turn this into "you do something" and then "I'll do something." When the economy reopens, then I will cooperate, for example. Or, listen to me. I know more than you do.

Our government officials are dealing with something they have never dealt with before, and they have and will make mistakes, but that does not mean we know more than they do.

We have very few previous scenarios to compare this to, and we can say until the cows come home that not re-opening schools is a mistake or, on the other hand, schools must be re-opened. We all know of the blind men who did not know what an elephant was. One felt the trunk, one the leg, etc. Depending on your perspective, each of us will come up with different answers on how we deal with this. Does the mental health of children, the need for socialization, out trump the possibility some will become sick, some will carry the disease home to grandparents or others? It's a difficult question with no easy answers.

And let's keep that in mind. Officials, from the president to the mayors of our towns, have to make difficult decisions with little precedence. Here's something to consider--they have more access to information than we do and more experts weighing in on their decisions. 

Consider Philippians 2:3:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (ESV)

Let's take stock of ourselves--are we scientists, doctors, health care workers, psychiatrists, pediatricians? Do we know more than the experts? 

If not, and if we are indeed Christians, let's realize the difficult time these people are having. Let's not disparage the experts unless we ourselves are experts (and even then, we must be careful!). 

4. And then many of us have entered this phase--depression. We feel hopeless and see no end in sight. How can we overcome this?

According to Eric Barker, we can be happier by doing these things:

a. Learn a lesson about gratitude: Forget your Dodge Dart. Be happy that it is wrapped around a telephone pole and you are not.

b. Learn a lesson about savoring: Wanting more good stuff all the time is a trap. Take a moment to deliberately appreciate what you have in the moment.

c. Learn a lesson about health: Be a conductor, not a driver.

d. Learn a lesson about relationships: Who did you miss? Schedule something with them right now (maintaining social distancing) before you get distracted and your brain powerwashes everything you just learned out of your head.

Read more on his blog, 4 Rituals To Keep You Happy All The Time (Pandemic Edition).

5. So, if we can navigate our way through the stages of grief, we can make it to the other side. We can accept that Covid-19 is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. We must be willing to adapt our behavior to make this easier, not just on ourselves, but on others around us. Going back to Philippians, we read in verse 4:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

You may still believe Covid-19 is hyped up. You may still believe it was brought here to destroy America. You may still believe you know more than the experts. You may still believe this will never end. 

However, please consider Paul's words seriously and think of others. 

Here's a question--If I knew that wearing a mask and maintaining a social distance of 6 to 12 feet would prevent ONE PERSON from getting seriously ill, would I be willing to do it? Even if I hated wearing masks. Even if I wanted to hug my friends. Even if I wanted to celebrate an event. 

My answer is YesI am willing to sacrifice personal comfort in the hopes of preventing one other person from becoming ill.

Put on your mask. Maintain social distancing. It's a small way to say I love you.

At a distance. 

All pictures courtesy of

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Why Pain?

One of the most common questions from atheists is this: If God exists and is good, why did he create pain (and/or evil from which pain arises)?

One can know, from a careful reading of the Bible,  God is not the originator of pain. But wait, you may say. If God is the great creator, did he not create pain? 

Many cultures (including the Christian one) hold the belief that the world arose from chaos. We, of course, are viewing this from a Christian perspective. Let's look at the first couple of verses of Genesis to glimpse the chaos:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Note that the earth was formless--in other words, in a state of chaos. Let's consider an analogy. Take a typical artist's studio. What would you see when you entered? Unless the artist is very unusual, you would see paint splattered on the easel, walls, and floor; tubes of paint, some half-used, some almost full, lying around; jars full of various paintbrushes; and perhaps you'd see the artist, not well-dressed, but wearing an old paint-spattered smock or apron. 
What would be the word to describe such a state? Chaos. Is the chaos evil? Of course not--it is neutral. 
A typical set-up for an artist
The artist selects a blank canvas and begins the process of painting. Perhaps the artist creates a painting such as this:

Most of us would agree it is a nice painting, a beautiful painting some would say. From chaos, came an object of beauty. 

Consider another artist enters the SAME studio, uses the SAME paints, the SAME easel, the SAME brushes, and changes the painting to create this:

Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder, and some may prefer the last painting to the first. If so, simply reverse the two paintings. The point is that two artists may enter the same chaotic environment and create two vastly different paintings. 

How is it that two individuals within the same studio are capable of producing objects so diametrically opposed? The answer is simple--they possess free will and can use the paints, the brushes, the canvases in any way they wish. Both positive and negative objects or intents may come from neutral chaos.

God created a perfect world, one he pronounced good. He then created humankind and gave them free will. Within this perfection, humans are free to take chaos and create whatever they wish, and all too often, that is pain or evil. I am not discounting the work of Satan but am only saying we have free will to choose good or evil.

Also, some may protest that not all evil comes from people, that often it comes from nature. Because of the fallen nature of humankind, nature was changed into a more hostile environment. Exposure to certain things in nature will produce cancer, or the exposure to certain things in our environment will create mutations, the vast majority of which are harmful. (Although where do most of these come from? People concentrate them in our environment)

Consider those things, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, that we think are beyond us. In truth, they can be mitigated by humans. Vast destruction comes about when humans fail to properly plan. Houses are built on beaches with no thought of anchoring them to withstand the storms. We once lived in a house that had an anchoring system to withstand hurricane-force winds even though we lived hundreds of miles from the beach. The person who built the house made it hurricane proof and mitigated the effects of other type of storms.

Let's consider another analogy. Fire is chaos. Out of the chaos we have either a great creative force or a great destructive force. People can use it to warm their homes and cook their food or to perpetrate great evil. 

Our lives are filled with many more such chaotic forces (money, sex, power, children, family, marriage, etc.), in and of themselves neither good nor evil. It is our choices, the exertion of our free will that will bring about good or evil. 

Our former minister, Mark Littleton recently share a three-minute video on Facebook that gives us some insights as to how to behave as Christians when faced with pain. In this video, Mark makes the point that we do not blame others (and that includes God) for the pain and evil in the world. Instead, we roll up our sleeves and get busy to alleviate the pain.

We tend to want to assign blame and, along with that, attempt to make a person or God into someone who is evil. God, of course, is perfect good. We, as mere humans, tend to be neither entirely good nor entirely evil. We make wrong choices that lead to more pain or right choices that will alleviate pain. 

Here is the important point: God created us in his image--and that includes as creators. We have the power to reach into the chaos and create either good or evil, either alleviate suffering or add to it. 

The United States (the world, for that matter) is in a state of chaos as we deal with Covid-19. We want to assign blame, whether it is against the Chinese or other countries (conspiracies theories abound) or to our president and governors. 

During this time, we can contribute to the greater good, or we can join with the voices that create greater chaos and division. We are told in the Bible we will have trials and tribulations in the world. Our job is to trust in Jesus who says he has overcome the world. 

I have one further thing to say and then will wrap this up. Our Declaration of Independence grants us the Right to Life. However, our government is not responsible for my safety and well-being. I am. If I am sick, it is me, myself, and I who need to get me to a doctor. 

Covid-19 is a disease arising from the chaos, and it is everyone's job to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. The temporary stay-at-home orders were NOT to stop us from ever contracting the disease. That would be an impossible task. Instead, it was to prevent our health-care system from being overwhelmed. And not just our health-care system. If too many workers contracted the virus at once, vital businesses would be shut down. 

Allow me to repeat that: The government will not, cannot, keep us from contracting Covid-19. It is up to us to safeguard ourselves, and even if we practice good hygiene, chances are we will contract it. 

It is not up to others but to us to choose wisely, choose carefully, and choose as Christians to alleviate suffering and not to add to it.

Stay blessed!

(After watching Youtube videos from Jordan Peterson and Roger Scruton, who recently passed away, and reading C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, and others, I began to glimpse an answer to this question and wish to credit them with these thoughts. Also, the pictures used in this post were found on Pixabay.)