An overall heaviness weighs down our world, doesn’t it? In the first two weeks of pandemic life, I read more news articles in one sitting than ever before. Story after story lured me in, and I’m not quite sure what I was looking for: a trace of hope, a shred of good news, an end in sight? But I didn’t find it. Instead, my mind filled with negative notes of anxiety, uncertainty, and sadness.
The input was too heavy for my soul. I couldn’t simply “think positive” or “look for the silver lining” to counterbalance the depth of my emotions.
Maybe you can relate?
The first thing I did was answer the nagging question: Do I have the need, or even the right, to cope? I then penned a coping mantra (3 Things to Consider as You Cope).
Next, I needed a plan—something with a sturdier foundation than “think positive” written in glittery letters. Feel-good messages weren’t cutting it because…
My ability to cope is a battle of faith—I must be intentional about lifting the heaviness in my heart with the Truth, or I remain in the depths.
So how do we cope when our hearts are heavy?
I’m not a mental health expert (find resources from the experts here), but I’m an ace at creating acronyms. To help guide us through waves of emotion, we remember the word COPE.
First, we strive for inner calm when the seas of uncertainty rage.
God’s Word is an anchor to temper our anxious thoughts. We are to dwell on what is “true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable,” and things that are of moral excellence and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). One thing I’ve been mindful of is not running way into the future with my thoughts. Instead, I ask “What do I need to do today? ” The Bible tells us, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). How perfectly timely.
We also need to create a calm dwelling space for ourselves and our family. This doesn’t mean tackling every home improvement project you’ve been putting off. Simply focus on comfort and function. With children schooling at home and spouses working from home, you may need to shuffle some furniture around to create designated learning and working spaces. It may look like cleaning off the chair in the corner of your bedroom so you can have a place to retreat to when needed. For our family, decluttering the bar countertop at the end of the afternoon helps create a calm kitchen. While this is not the time to fuss over a Pinterest-worthy interior, it is the time to look around your space and notice where functionality and comfort are needed. For simple resources to help you renew your home and heart, download my free ebook.
Obedience to the One
Obey is a word we don’t really like. Toddlers don’t like it. Teens don’t like it. And even as adults, we tend to struggle with authority. As Christians, we are to obey the One of highest authority—God. When all seems uncertain (and we’re unsure what to do), we find comfort in this: we can obey God. The Bible tells us to love God and love others, and very practically—we love when we are patient, kind, not rude, and not selfish (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
For most of us, living out the 1 Corinthians definition of love 24/7 is challenging, especially during difficult circumstances. I’ve repeatedly told myself over the past few weeks, “You can control your responses.” And I can. It’s not always easy, but how I respond to others is within my control. During a pandemic, when so many things are out of my control, this is important to remember.
Perhaps you are like me and don’t always respond in the most loving way or fail to obey God’s instructions in every situation. I encourage you to pray. Seek your loving Father in your weakness. Ask him for strength and endurance to reflect him. Focus on one aspect of Jesus’ character today (his love, patience, grace, mercy, compassion, forgiveness) and strive to emulate him. He is with you and will help you. Trust and obey.
Prioritize God’s Promises
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this pandemic (and most other difficulties) is the unknown outcome.
How long must we wait?
When will things return to a new normal that we are comfortable with?
How bad will it get?
There’s a long line of fears waiting behind our thoughts.
For me, it’s helpful to open the door to the fear. If I don’t, fear keeps knocking like an obnoxious vacuum salesperson, and I can’t focus on anything else.
So I let it the fear in.
Let’s see how big and bad it really is.
Sometimes once I acknowledge it, my fear seems relatively minor. Sometimes, a fear seems small, yet its expansive shadow looms across my heart. And sometimes that fear runs in, and I have to play hide-and-seek with it, struggling to define it clearly. Once I do, though, I can deal with it.
Defining a fear gives it a framework, so we know its size and substance.
Some of my anxiety with the coronavirus revolved around food shortages. So when I say, “I’m worried my family will not have enough food,” then I can clearly see my fear and address it. I respond to it by saying, “We have plenty of food in the pantry.” Also, I can apply a promise to it: “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24 NIV).
Name the Fear + Respond Rationally + Apply a Promise
Getting to the promise is essential.
The Bible gives us ample reasons to hope. I’ve always loved the book of Psalms—the emotion, the honesty, the lyrical beauty. The author, King David, opened the door to his fears, then laid them out before the King of Kings. It’s a beautiful process to read, thousands of years later, and exercise in my own heart. David praised his God in the midst of fear, and we can do the same—by prioritizing the promises of God’s Word every time fear knocks on the door.
I need encouragement. You need encouragement. Our families need encouragement. The neighbor you pass on the sidewalk needs encouragement. When hearts are heavy, a smile and friendliness can infuse significant hope in another.
The definition of encourage is:
1. To inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence
2. To stimulate by assistance, approval, etc.
3. To promote, advance, foster (Dictionary.com)
Do you need a bit of courage to face a new normal?
What about a dose of confidence as you step in an uncertain direction?
Do you hope to look back on your actions and know you promoted God and his goodness?
That is the work and gift of encouragement.
But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception. —Hebrews 3:13 CSB
Have you seen the effects of deception creeping into your thoughts? Our enemy wants to extinguish our hope. And he uses whatever he can to do it, including a shortage of toilet paper—of all things!
But we do have hope!
When we encourage another in love, even in seemingly small ways, we help fan the flame of faith in our hearts.
And that’s what I call coping well.
*** As a gift of encouragement, I created the Cope in Hope ebook for you—it’s a gentle guide for your heavy heart. The guidebook features a soothing color scheme, inspiring images, and encouraging content to infuse hope in the midst of your difficult circumstance. As a nod to the comforting truth that we are not alone, I’ve collaborated with other writers to feature their words of hope within these pages along with my own. Our prayer for you: this gift will encourage and equip you to hold on to the hope of Jesus when circumstances weigh you down. Click here for more info, or sign up below.
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