My husband sent me an article for clergy people today put out by the Congregational Consulting Group. It was about Clergy exhaustion related to having to deal with Covid 19, but as I read the article it occurred to me there were observations that were general to all of us dealing with Covid 19. I don’t really know anyone who isn’t worn out with this pandemic and exhausted from the stress of not knowing when this will be over. So here are a couple of useful takeaways.
The author, Lawrence Peers, says part of our weariness with our current circumstances is what he calls mind traps. A mind trap is a reliance on a familiar coping strategy that works well in common situations, but may not work at all in something as complex as a pandemic.
An example of one type of mind trap is telling “Simple Stories.” We all tell stories to ourselves to explain what’s happening in our lives. We say this is just like something that happened in our past, or like something that is happening currently. Naming a story we know to which we can compare a current crisis is reassuring. We know stories have a beginning, a middle and an ending. So we can draw comfort from the fact that we are somewhere in the middle and the end may be just around the corner. Some people tried to do this comparing early on with Covid 19 by suggesting it’s just like the flu. Unfortunately, Covid is not the flu. We haven’t experienced anything like this since the Spanish Flu of 1918 – 1920 which was a strain of the H1N1 virus. The United States lost 675,000 people to this virus. We have currently lost 441,000 to Covid 19 in 11 months of pandemic. If any of us could remember the Spanish Flu, we could say it’s like that, but mostly none of us were alive in 1920 to remember it. Covid 19 cannot be understood by a simple story. We need to accept that this complex pandemic is going to require a complex combination of solutions that may take time to find and implement.
Another mind trap is that we think we can control the pandemic. I think this is a particular trap for capable Presbyterians. Every Presbyterian church I have served has been full of smart, ambitious, organized, capable people. We are full of people who can overcome anything through energy, intelligence and sheer determination. Of course we’ve never tackled a pandemic before. Lawrence Peers suggests a better strategy than trying to “control the pandemic” is to seek to release the motivations and the energies of others! In other words, we need to lean on each other in looking for a way forward. We need to listen to those in the know and encourage and support the efforts of people who are making headway with a good plan. We cannot control this pandemic by ourselves, but if we work together as a church and a community and a nation we have a chance.
It seems to me that both of these mind traps are common traps for people of faith. They are really both about controlling our story and controlling our world. How we long to be in control. Our faith reminds us that the only one who is in control is Almighty God, and we have to accept that fact that we often don’t know what God is doing until long after the fact. So we need to trust that God is at work and God is with us. So in the midst of all the complexity and confusion, we lean on our faith and we lean on each other. We will get through this confounding time together.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3: 5-6)
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