How I’m fighting selfishness while staying at home

On bad moods in a pandemic

May 6, 2020

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.

Catherine Parks

Catherine Parks writes and lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, two children, and a cute dog named Ollie. She's the author of Empowered and Strong, collections of biographies for middle-grade readers. You can find more of her writing at cathparks.com Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24