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How I’m fighting selfishness while staying at home

On bad moods in a pandemic

It was Easter Sunday, the day of joy and triumph when Christians around the world celebrate Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death, and I could not shake my annoyance with everyone and everything. I missed being with my church family in full, bodily form. I missed gathering for a celebratory meal with friends who have become family. I missed observing communion together. I missed having a reason to get out of my pajamas. But everyone was experiencing this difficulty; why was I the only one who was in such a bad mood? Surely if Jesus could defeat the powers of sin and death, I could get over my selfishness and snap out of my bad mood.

Our church small group meets via Zoom on Sunday evenings. My pride forced me to join that night, but my heart was not in it. I had no desire to talk to anyone. I told my husband I felt like I just needed to go to bed and wake up in the morning, hoping I would be less mad at everyone and everything.

But it wasn’t just this day that was hard. In truth, the longer we’re at home, the more reclusive I have felt and the less I want to be around anyone or even check in with people. There are days when returning a text seems like it takes so much effort. Between working and homeschooling and cooking 45 meals a day, hopping on another Zoom call just feels like too much. This, I tell myself, is just because I’m such an introvert.

When we joined our small group call, I forced myself to seem happy to be there. We were looking at Hebrews 4:14-5:10, which focuses on the role of Christ as our High Priest who deals with us gently because he knows what it’s like to be tempted as we are, yet without sin.

As we began discussing the passage, a friend said she was struggling by withdrawing from productive life. She said the more time she spent away from people and productive activities, the less desire she had for those things. Then another friend chimed in with a similar thought, saying he felt himself becoming more reclusive and having less desire for connection.

All of this caught me by surprise. I assumed I was the only one struggling with these things, that it was some outflow of my selfish personality and introversion. But I had another conference call later this week with several women from various stages of life, and many of them echoed my same feelings. We all have days right now when we feel no purpose and have no desire for connection.

But doesn’t it stand to reason that the more we go without meaningful connection and embodied interaction, the more we will miss it and want it? Why does the opposite seem to be true in many cases?

In Luther’s Lectures on Romans, he describes the idea of the Latin phrase “Incurvatus in se,” or “curved in on itself.” Luther writes, “Scripture describes man as so curved in upon himself that he uses not only physical but even spiritual goods for his own purposes and in all things seeks only himself.” There is nothing quite like a stay-at-home order to reveal just how curved in I have become.

My hope can never be in my moods, my actions, or my feelings. The only one able to hold all my hope is Jesus Christ.

My natural bent is to seek what is best for myself. But the beauty of God’s design is that seeking the best for others is also what is best for me. Fellowship and meaningful community is best, but it will die unless it is stoked and encouraged to grow. Unfortunately, I have never been faithful with long-distance friendships, and now every friendship is long-distance. It requires effort and time. But after every Zoom call, Marco Polo video, or text interaction, I can’t deny that I feel and think differently. I’m encouraged and buoyed by the people in my community.

A dear friend who serves on the frontlines of this pandemic in healthcare has encouraged a group of us to memorize Scripture together during this time. This week, she sent Hebrews 10:23-24: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

There are many opportunities to show love and perform good deeds right now, and each of these things gives us purpose and joy in the midst of days that fade one into another in a seemingly endless line. So here are a few things I’m trying to do, recognizing I’m prone to curve in upon myself and must therefore fight against that part of my nature:

Prioritize the assembly of the local church. The verse after the part I’m memorizing above says we should not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25). Obviously meeting together looks different right now. But whether it’s a livestreamed service or a video conference call or a group text, the meeting together of the church continues, and I have to prioritize it now more than ever.

Spend time in the Word. Most of us are out of our regular rhythms and routines, and even though we’ve been doing this for weeks, it’s still hard to figure out a new “normal.” Starting my day off in the Bible is not a magic charm against sin or bad attitudes, but it does help to reorient my focus and “uncurve myself,” as it were. I’m discovering that starting out the day in the Word with my kids does that for all of us.

Pray specifically and consistently. I started all of this with the intention of praying for various categories of people each day, thinking I would have more time than ever to pray. Without establishing a consistent rhythm with written lists, those plans have fallen to the wayside. But nothing bonds my heart to others and turns me away from selfishness like going with boldness before the throne of God to intercede for those in need.

Look for ways to serve others. Admittedly, this one has been hard at times when we’re forced to be home unless we work in essential services. But food pantries still need volunteers, people need help getting groceries at home, those living alone need someone to talk to, and there are countless other ways we can serve. Sometimes we serve best by staying home and protecting others. Sometimes a call or a letter is a lifeline. It may take creativity, but there are many opportunities to reach out and serve right now.

You’ve probably noticed that my encouragement to myself (and all of us) is to read the Bible, pray, “go” to church, and serve others. Isn’t it comforting to know that the things that have sustained the church for 2000 years will continue to sustain us in a global pandemic? There is nothing novel here except for the methods we may need to employ.

I know practicing these things won’t cure my bad moods instantly. There will be days that are hard. There will be those who struggle with clinical depression or anxiety disorders for whom more is needed than these things. But the best defense against my own selfishness and annoyance is a strong offense, holding unswervingly to hope and spurring myself and others on to love and good deeds.

And praise God, his grace is sufficient for the days when I fail at all of this. My hope can never be in my moods, my actions, or my feelings. The only one able to hold all my hope is Jesus Christ. I pray that encourages you today as it does me.

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