Pastoralia Suffering

On Coping (or not) with a Crisis

I’ve been trying to work out why I’m feeling existentially disconnected from Covid-19-related fears. I’m taking it seriously, but it’s not registering in any deeply personal way. Partly it’s that my routines are largely undisrupted. But as I reflect on people’s reactions I think there’s more, because a lot of these feelings have been my friends for more than 2 years now. 

Early in December 2017, I had a fairly epic nervous breakdown. The reasons are unimportant. But the consequences were horrible. We’re all different, and in no way was my situation as bad as a global pandemic or the most severe health risks of contracting the virus. But I look at people’s reactions and changed circumstances and think: Been there, done that. (Or: Am there, doing that.) 

Unexpected, radical change in circumstances? Check. Terrifying (and potentially life-threatening) change in health? Check. Utterly debilitating acute and chronic anxiety? Check. Enforced and unwelcome social isolation for a long period of time? Check. Sudden loss of work and income? Check. Crippling financial worries, including fear of homelessness? Check. Wonderful, supportive friends and family? Check. Painfully unhelpful and pressuring advice? Check. Horrific, dark nightmares and fear of sleep? Check. Radical despair about the present and radical fear and uncertainty about the future? Check.

I say this not to ask for sympathy. Nor to offer wisdom or advice for coping: I don’t have any, and have no idea how I “coped” or even if I did. The best I can say is that I’m still here, and that life is much better now than it has been for years.

I have no idea how the Coronavirus crisis will play out. I have no real idea of the short-, medium-, and long-term consequences for our families, churches and society, though my sense is that in the medium-term it could be really stressful and scary. Of course, it will be different for different ones of us and we’ll all respond in our own peculiar ways. My point in all this is different, and simpler. But I hope more profound. 

Here’s what I’ve learned, and I hope it can help someone today.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 is a fairly literal description of my experience of 2018 and parts of 2019, including the autumn and early winter: 

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.

I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. I never want to go through it again. But here’s the thing: I’m not sorry I’ve been through it. Because, if 2018/19 was that experience, by half way through 2019 I was also realising the reason for this particular providence in my life.

Paul explains why he found himself half-dead: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (v. 9b). What a gift!

I’ve learned to view being burdened beyond my strength and feeling the sentence of death as a gracious and comforting gift from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all comfort (vv. 3-4).

I didn’t want to learn not to rely on myself. I like being (or at least seeming!) impressive. But for more than two years, I couldn’t have been more unimpressive. And yet…it’s been the most liberating thing to be brought to the end of myself and to learn—in desperation—to rely on the only One who can raise the dead. The One who did raise our Lord Jesus from the dead on the third day. The One who, in Christ, does raise the spiritually dead today. The One who has raised me from this deathly experience.

So, today, my testimony is that having been through 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, I can also say verse 10: 

He delivered us from such a deadly peril and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

The Holy Spirit is calling on us to pray for one another at this time with thankful expectation (v. 11). 

But really my point is just this: in lots of ways, I don’t feel these wonderful realities day to day. To be honest, I don’t feel an awful lot at the moment—probably because of the battering my limbic system has taken. Maybe also because of the medication I’m on. But although I don’t feel much emotionally, deep in my bones I know this to be true: The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ raised him from the dead. Christian: he has raised you, and he will raise you. One way or another, in death or in life, he will deliver you from this deadly peril. 

This is true: Our Father did not fail me in December 2017. He didn’t fail me in 2018 and 2019. He has never failed me. And he never will.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; 
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion” says my soul,
therefore I will hope in him.
The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:22-26