By / Apr 21

In the wake of the recent shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee has called on Tennessee lawmakers to introduce an Order of Protection law aimed at preventing firearms from being bought or possessed by people who may be a danger to society or themselves.

Gov. Lee’s proposal is fundamentally about providing law enforcement officers with the tools necessary to protect citizens, while upholding the rights of Tennesseans to exercise their constitutional rights. 

What is the Order of Protection proposal?

Gov. Lee’s proposal is not a new law, but rather builds on already existing legal frameworks and standards. In particular, it is linked to the existing Order of Protection for domestic violence. Currently, if a husband threatens to abuse a wife in Tennessee, an order of protection may be issued by the court temporarily restricting the husband’s access to weapons. This proposal expands that law to allow the same court to temporarily restrict access to weapons should a person threaten to attack a church, school, or other area of the community. 

The Order of Protection would institute a system so that firearms could be temporarily removed from individuals who have been deemed in a court of law to be a potential threat to themselves or others. 

The first step in the process is the involvement of law enforcement. Upon an official report that a person is a danger to themselves or others, law enforcement officers would conduct an investigation. If the officers deem that there is sufficient evidence for an individual to meet the evidentiary standard, then law enforcement would file a petition to the court. 

Once the petition is filed, the court has an extensive process which includes:

  • Setting a hearing date
  • Notifying the individual
  • Having a homicide/suicide assessment conducted by medical professionals

The court process requires that both sides have legal representation. Thus, there is a high bar for the process to begin, and individuals are entitled to full due process so as to challenge the claims of the court if they believe they are in error.

If the court grants the order of protection, then a person’s firearms may be removed for up to 180 days. The judge would also be required to consider alternatives before issuing the order. The firearms must be surrendered to either a third party or to law enforcement. Additionally, individuals may petition to have the firearms returned. The proposal also includes penalties for false reports.

The Order of Protection Proposal is Not a “Red Flag” Law

Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders, are currently effective in 19 states along with Washington, D.C.  The guidelines and specific provisions vary from state to state, but there are key differences between these laws and Gov. Lee’s proposal. 

First, the Order of Protection only allows law enforcement officers to make the official request to the court. Some red flag laws allow multiple actors—such as medical professionals, family members, educators, and other individuals—to file a petition before the court to have firearms confiscated. However, the governor’s proposal restricts the power of filing the petition to law enforcement alone, supporting them in their efforts to prevent crime. 

Additionally, Gov. Lee’s proposal allows for a structured procedure to meet all the demands of due process. Many states’ red flag laws include an emergency ex parte. An ex parte allows for an expedited process in which firearms can be confiscated prior to a court hearing. In some states, the ex parte emergency seizure can last up to one year. The proposal from Gov. Lee does not include this provision, meaning that a person can only be dispossessed of the firearms if they go through the entire court process, which means due process is preserved.

How have Southern Baptists spoken to this issue?

Southern Baptists have spoken clearly about the need to meet and curb the plague of mass shootings in recent history. 

  • The messengers to the annual meeting in 2018 passed a resolution, “On Gun Violence and Mass Shootings.” 
  • This was reaffirmed in 2022 in the resolution, “On the Imago Dei and the Helpful Content Submitted in Several Resolutions.” 

Both resolutions affirmed the solidarity of the convention “with all those victimized by gun violence.” Further, the 2022 resolution called on local, state, and federal leaders to “take concrete steps, toward solutions that uphold the dignity and value of every human life . . . and to minimize the threat of gun violence throughout our society.” 

Additionally, Randy Davis, president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, in addition to a group of pastors in the Middle Tennessee region, sent a letter to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly. In a Baptist and Reflector article, Davis commented on the Order of Protection:

“This is personal for me. . . . . I am a gun owner and I strongly support the Second Amendment, however I also have a daughter who is a school teacher. She loves the children she teaches. She and her students, like all teachers and students, deserve a safe environment in which to teach and learn. 

“Measures must be taken to address the mental health side of gun violence, especially as it pertains to mass shootings and the unnecessary and deeply unfortunate deaths of innocent people such as 9-year-old children.”

Representing more than 20% of the state’s population, these Southern Baptists and other ministers called on the members to support Gov. Lee’s proposal reminding them of their duty before God as “His servant[s] in matters of justice, protecting the vulnerable from those who do evil” (Rom. 13:1-7). 

As ERLC President Brent Leatherwood explained in his own letter to the Tennessee Assembly, the actions of Southern Baptists are drawn from the commitment that every life possesses intrinsic value and worth. The same convictions, Leatherwood argued, that motivate Christians to protect the preborn, urge them to protect vulnerable children from the violence of mass shootings.

By / Nov 9

Anxiety is widespread among teenagers. If you lined up 100 teenagers between the ages of 13 to 18, you could expect approximately every third teenager (31%) to experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their teen years. And almost every 10th teenager (8.5%) would experience anxiety that causes severe impairment.[i] As the parent of an anxious teen, you may feel a sense of fear, uncertainty, or powerlessness. How can you help? What if you can’t help? How severe is your child’s anxiety? At what point should you consider counseling? 

Perhaps you even feel a sense of frustration. Wouldn’t your child feel less anxious if he would listen to you and and stay off his phone? Or maybe you have stepped into “fix-it mode,” searching for causes and next steps to take. You want your child to find relief, so your natural tendency may be to brainstorm solutions and offer suggestions of what you think will help. While suggestions can be helpful, oftentimes the best place to start is by having an open and ongoing conversation with your teen about their experience. Here are some questions to help you begin.

Questions to get the conversation started

What is anxiety like for you? Many teenagers don’t realize when they are anxious. Their back tension, racing thoughts, counting rituals, insomnia, nervous energy, or other anxiety symptoms feel normal because these experiences are the only thing they know. Teenagers often need help verbalizing their anxiety symptoms so they can begin to recognize when they are anxious. Ask specific questions to help them gain awareness. What does anxiety feel like for them? What thoughts race through their minds? Where do they notice anxiety symptoms in their bodies? 

What seems to trigger your anxiety? Teenagers also often need help connecting their anxiety to specific situations in their life. Is the tension in their shoulders related to homework? Do the racing thoughts occur when they spend too much time on the phone? Does the anxiety tend to happen at a certain time of day, in a specific location, or around particular people? Ask questions to help your child begin to make these connections. 

When is the first time you remember feeling anxious? You can also investigate when the anxiety first started and what was happening in your child’s life at the time. The onset of anxiety can often be traced back to distressing events such as a parent’s divorce, an experience of bullying, or the death of a family member. The impact of events such as these can linger for many years. Sometimes, present symptoms of anxiety can be resolved when teenagers have the chance to process past distressing experiences.   

How do you think your habit of _______ impacts your anxiety? Many teenagers have bad habits that make their anxiety worse. Don’t we all? Parents often recognize that their teenagers would feel better if they would go to bed at a more reasonable time, stay more active, spend less time on the phone, or stop other stress-inducing habits. But how can you help teenagers make important changes if they bristle the moment these topics are mentioned? While you may need to enforce rules surrounding certain problem areas, it’s often best to start by helping teenagers assess their habits for themselves. 

Teenagers need to begin taking ownership of how some habits such as isolating, talking to certain friends, overusing social media, or binge-watching TV impact their anxiety. Help them investigate areas such as these by framing your concerns as questions, instead of statements or lectures. For example, how does it affect them when they spend the afternoon on TikTok? If they notice that it negatively affects their anxiety, what do they want to do about this?

Are there any calming activities you would like to use as an alternative to habits you realize may be problematic? Small changes such as getting outside for regular walks, taking five minutes a day to breathe deeply, or taking breaks from homework can make a difference. Talk about some possible changes, but don’t send them off to implement these practices alone. Go with them. Go on that walk together. Breathe deeply together. Stay off social media together. Go out of your way to communicate that you are on their side and in this struggle with them.  

How does your relationship with God help you when you feel anxious? And if it doesn’t seem to help, how are you making sense of that? The way we frame conversations about anxiety and faith with teenagers is important. Teenagers are often black-and-white thinkers. They sometimes misinterpret our encouragements to “bring their anxiety to God” as pressure to simply pray harder and read their Bibles more. They can then feel guilty, confused, or angry when they do these things and still feel anxious. 

Instead of asking a teenager “are you praying?” or “are you reading your Bible?”, we need to make the connection between anxiety and faith more compelling. More invitational. More honest about the mysterious ways God does and doesn’t work through Scripture and prayer. Less focused on hints of legalism and more focused on the relationship we can experience with the Lord. 

God does not stand over us and demand that we pray more and read our Bibles more when we are afraid. Rather, we get to go to him for help. We get to be completely honest with him about our experience. How can you help your teenager grasp this comfort? This is an opportunity to share your own experience of how you go to the Lord when you feel afraid.  

Do you want to try counseling? Some teenagers fight the idea of counseling. Other teenagers want counseling but hesitate to ask for it because they have real or imagined fears about how a parent may respond. It’s worth initiating the conversation to see if counseling has crossed their mind. If they do desire counseling, always honor this request. 

Is there anything that I am doing or anything that is happening in our home that makes you feel more anxious? This is a difficult question to ask, but I encourage you to go here. You may or may not agree with what your teenager says, but either way you will gain valuable information. It’s important to assess how the atmosphere of your whole household affects your teenager’s anxiety. Children are like sponges, absorbing their parent’s energy and emotions. This is especially true of young children, but we can’t ignore how teenagers also soak up the emotions of adults. When a parent feels anxious, angry, stressed, or worried, a teenager picks up these feelings. When a parent feels calm, a teenager absorbs this sense of peace. 

So when you notice anxiety in your teenager, it’s always an invitation to consider your own inner life. If you find anxiety, fear, worry, or stress within yourself, it’s likely affecting your teenager as well. 

However, before you discuss with your teenager the questions listed above, consider answering them for yourself. Do you know when you are stressed or anxious? Are you using the habits you encourage your teenager to use? Sometimes helping your anxious teenager begins with addressing your own inner struggle. 

Exploring your own anxiety should not lead to discouragement or self-criticism, though. We all feel anxious at times. Rather, beginning with yourself may be a needed invitation. God has given you an opportunity to slow down and nurture your own anxious heart. As you do so, you will become more equipped to understand and help the anxious teenager in your care. 

[i] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder

By / Jul 11

Your wife feels lonely after two years of COVID-induced isolation. Your husband was recently laid off and feels rejected and insecure. Your wife struggles with depression and is having a particularly rough day. Your husband just lost his father, and his heart is bleeding. Your spouse is emotionally suffering. What do you do? 

In a broken world that only seems to be breaking more with each passing day, the question is important. How do you minister to a suffering spouse who is riddled with heartache, hopelessness, anxiety, angst, disappointment, doubt, or despair? A spouse who is overwhelmed, overworked, or overstressed? A spouse who is battling fear, guilt, shame, exhaustion, grief, or a plethora of other soul-testing emotions? 

What do you do when your spouse is suffering on the inside?

What not to do

First, let me share three things not to do:

1. Fix. Don’t put on your relational tool belt and offer quick fixes. It makes your spouse feel like a problem to be solved, not a person to be loved. It’s dehumanizing. It certainly doesn’t mirror the way that God treats us in our emotional distress. He rarely gives us quick fixes. He meets us in our pain, links arms with us, and walks with us through our suffering. Do the same for your spouse. 

2. Make it about you. It’s easy to make your spouse’s emotional pain about you. How does the pain make you feel? What impact is the pain having on your life? How did you possibly contribute to the pain? STOP. Stop making your spouse’s suffering about you. It’s impossible to love your spouse well when your eyes are fixated on yourself. Adjust your lenses, and focus on your spouse. Not on you. 

3. Make it not about you. It’s also easy to check out when your spouse is hurting inside. Why do we check out? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to help. So we walk away. Don’t. Stay connected. You are one flesh with your spouse (Gen. 2:24). Just like shedding a hurting body part is not an option, abandoning your hurting spouse is not an option.

What you should do: BLESS  

So what should you do when your spouse is in emotional distress? Allow me to provide a step-by-step framework. I call it BLESS. It stands for Be, Listen, Empathize, Speak, Solve. Before I explain, I want to share three disclaimers:

First, this is a framework—a rule of thumb. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Every spouse is different. Every situation is different. People are complex. Life is complex. It won’t work for everybody—just most people in most situations.

Second, order is important. If you go out of order, you may frustrate your spouse at best or cause additional emotional damage at worst. 

Finally, you might only do the first one, two, three, or four steps. That’s okay. Not every situation calls for all five steps. Be prepared to stop at any point in the process.

Be: Sometimes all your spouse needs is your presence. Not your listening ear. Not your words. Not your actions. Your spouse only needs to know that you are there. You are not going anywhere. Your shoulder is there to cry on. Your hand is there to hold. You are there to hug and be hugged if necessary. You. Are. There. 

I suspect this might be tough—to simply be present without saying or doing anything. It is. It requires self-control. It requires patience. It requires you to relinquish control and know that God is God (Ps. 46:10); that his love and sovereignty are ruling and reigning over your spouse in that moment. It requires you to surrender your spouse into Christ’s hands, which are far more capable hands than yours.  

Listen: If your spouse speaks, close your mouth and listen (James 1:19). Concentrate on what is being said; not only the words but also the body language. Don’t think about what you are going to say. Don’t think about how your spouse should feel. Don’t think about how to make the pain go away. Don’t think about anything except what your spouse is saying. Just. Listen.

Empathize: If, and only if, you’ve thoroughly listened to your spouse, you may now open your mouth. What should you say? Precisely what your spouse said—in your own words. In other words, empathize with your spouse. Speak what you heard back in a way that makes your spouse say, “Yes, you get me.” If you aren’t sure what your spouse just said, ask questions to gain clarity. 

Why is empathy important? It makes your spouse feel known—the first half of the core human desire to be fully known and fully loved. It lets your spouse know that you are tracking, that you care, and that you are, once again, 100% present. It’s healing. It’s restorative. It says, “I know you, and you are worthy to be known.”

Speak: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, and empathized with your spouse, it may be time to speak words of life into your spouse’s heart (Prov. 18:21). You might share a passage of Scripture. You might offer a nugget of theological truth. You might give a word of encouragement. You might even (and tread lightly here) tell a joke! The point is that your words should be specifically calculated to build up your spouse (Eph. 4:29). They should infuse life. They should revive, refresh, and restore. They should heal your spouse’s heart.

Solve: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, empathized, and spoken life-giving words, it may be time to offer advice. Perhaps you suggest a list of action items that will assuage your spouse’s pain. Perhaps you point out ways that your spouse is unknowingly and unintentionally exacerbating the pain. Perhaps you offer a gentle admonishment if you see sin in your spouse’s life. Again, be careful. You don’t want to unintentionally wound your spouse with an ill-timed solution. One helpful tip is to ask if your spouse wants a solution. If the answer is yes, then proceed. If not, put your tool belt back in the closet. 

Conclusion

Be. Listen. Empathize. Speak. Solve. In that order. It’s hard. It’s unnatural. It takes discipline. You might not see immediate results. But that’s okay. It isn’t about results. It’s about love. It’s about incarnating the love of Christ and about being a blessing to your suffering spouse. 

Questions for reflection

  1. Why is it so hard to enter your spouse’s emotional pain without offering solutions? Why is it so hard for you to listen without speaking? What in your heart prevents you from following the sequential steps of BLESS?
  2. Have you ever been in a state of emotional turmoil, and somebody offered you a trite platitude or a quick fix? How did that make you feel? 
  3. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fully known and fully loved by God. He sees and understands us and still loves us. Why is this so healing? What can you do to make your suffering spouse feel this way?
By / Apr 13

He sat against the wall, looking at his phone, seeming to pay little to no attention to our discussion leader. His wife sat next to him with her arm looped through his, occasionally patting it lovingly. She was a regular attender to our class, but this was the first time I remembered seeing him. 

As our Bible study continued, the topic of mental illness came up in our discussion. I mentioned the book I was reading, The Body Keeps the Score, and explained how it was opening my eyes to the effects of trauma on an individuals’ health, behavior and relationships, and specifically, the effects of PTSD. I explained how it was changing the way I viewed many interactions and experiences, as well as the interpersonal dynamics of ministry, including small groups. 

He raised his head and said, “I have PTSD. It is hard for me to sit in this room. We’re too close. I have friends who would have never come in. And if I had thought that I would have been expected to shake hands or hug people in the worship service, I would have never come either. A lot of churches don’t think about me. I hope more people in the church read books like you’re reading.”

My mouth fell open, and my eyes filled with tears.

An exercise in compassion

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma, has spent decades working with survivors, beginning during the time when Vietnam veterans were returning home. In his book, he walks us through his education, experiences, and research to explain how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain. 

Trauma is all around us. For example, van der Kolk points out that one in five Americans has been sexually abused, one in four grew up with alcoholics, and one in three couples have experienced physical violence. These are the shocking statistics of acute trauma experienced by so many. Van der Kolk’s research has also shown that chronic emotional abuse and neglect can also be devastating to individuals.

Reading this book and the patients’ accounts it features, although painful, ushered me into imagining experiences far from my own. Compassion requires imagination. After reading this book, I found myself pondering the stories and experiences of the people within my church. It was a profound emotional experience to consider how trauma has affected those I am called to disciple, encourage, and love. I was moved to tears when considering the effects of trauma on those I know, as well as those I’ve yet to find out about. 

Hope and dignity 

This book wasn’t written from a biblical perspective or to a ministerial audience, yet I was struck by the echoes of biblical themes it contained. The cohesion between van der Kolk’s scientific findings and the truths of Scripture was fascinating. One of the fundamental truths that he presents in the book is that, “Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another.” This truth echoes the power of the tongue as described in Proverbs, Ephesians, and James. It was a reminder of how powerfully we can influence those around us, whether positively or negatively, with our words. His findings also highlighted that simple acts of friendship, kindness, community, and encouragement are critically important in people’s lives.

While dealing with both the horrific past experiences and current realities of his patients, the author maintained hope and an uncompromising ethic of human dignity. Van der Kolk’s compassion and patience with those he helps and his work are inspiring. He attributed his mindset to his “great teacher,” Elvin Semrad. He described a formative experience with Semrad during his education. “I remember asking him once: ‘What would you call this patient—schizophrenic or schizoaffective?’ He paused and stroked his chin, apparently in deep thought. ‘I think I’d call him Michael McIntyre,’ he replied.” This reflects a biblical ethic of seeing and treating human beings according to their intrinsic, God-given worth, no matter their current mental and physical condition.

New practices

The greater awareness of trauma I gained through reading this book has shaped my ministry in the local church forever. I have changed how I situate myself and engage in group settings. I have a new focus on considering social conditions to make people feel safe, as well as a cautious awareness related to physical touch. I have lowered my expectations of participation in discussions, recognizing how difficult it is for some people to contribute. I also now believe understanding the deep physical and psychological effects of trauma is critical to helping others finding healing and freedom from shame. I have a desire to be more patient with others, as well as with myself.

Personally, van der Kolk’s research gave me a sense of permission to acknowledge how the experiences of my life, although not acute acts of trauma, do affect me, even in my physical body. My husband and I have ministered to people during the most difficult days of their lives as a part of local church ministry. The Body Keeps the Score helped me to articulate those experiences, understand the reality of the impact they had on me, and prioritize my own healing. This book was an encouragement for me to care for my body and my mind in more holistic ways. I am now convinced of the importance of physical activities such as exercise, breathing, and walking for my mental health. I see these as gifts from God, given to strengthen and equip me for ministry. 

The Body Keeps the Score influenced many areas of my life. It opened the door for conversation that day with a new friend in a God-orchestrated way that I will never forget. It gave me a vocabulary and awareness of trauma that has allowed me to discuss difficult things with friends and family in a new way. I pray that many Christians will read this book. I recommend it to everyone I know, but especially those who seek to disciple and minister to others. To love our neighbors well, we must have this holistic understanding of the way God made us, body and soul, and the way our experiences in this life shape us. 

By / Feb 19

You have probably heard that veteran suicide is alarmingly high. The oft-cited statistic which has become a rallying cry to end veteran suicide is that 22 veterans take their lives each day. While some have helpfully chimed in to bring context to this number, suggesting that the number is probably much lower, the reasoning behind why veteran suicide is so high has remained unchanged.

The misconception 

As it is understood, the commonly held belief for why veteran suicide is so high is typically distilled into this line of thought: 

  1. Our troops are deployed to situations wherein they see and do terrible and perhaps even horrific things in combat.
  2. Exposure to abnormal and traumatizing experiences is what brings about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  3. PTSD is nearly impossible to cope with which eventually leads to suicide.

In short form, this line of reasoning makes sense and, for the most part, it has been the accepted narrative as to why things are the way they are. But there’s more than ample evidence that this narrative, this combat-PTSD-suicide chain, is mistaken. What’s more, if we assume suicide is mostly related to combat and PTSD, we may fail to help those most in need.

Breaking the combat-PTSD-suicide chain

In a paper published in 2015 by the Annals of Epidemiology, it was demonstrated that veteran suicide is substantially higher than their civilian counter parts. The unsettling finding of the study, however, was that among military personnel, suicide was higher among noncombat roles suggesting causes beyond combat exposure. The conclusions drawn from the study stated, “Veterans exhibit significantly higher suicide risk compared with the US general population. However, deployment to the Iraq or Afghanistan war, by itself, was not associated with the excess suicide risk.” This measured conclusion could be strengthened. If someone did not see combat, then the suicide could not have been because of PTSD derived from combat exposure. 

In 2019, The Air Force Times, likewise, published its discontent with the increase among its ranks for suicide. At the time, a mandatory stand-down was ordered for all personnel across the branch to focus on suicide prevention in this “resilience tactical pause.” Suicide for that year was significantly higher than the previous year jumping from 50 in 2018 to 78 in 2019.

This increase in deaths deserves more attention. The Air Force, though it possesses some MOS’s (military occupational specialty; one’s job) that do experience combat, is predominately non-combative in its roles; they are not a branch of the military that comes to mind with the combat-PTSD-suicide narrative. Yet disturbingly and tragically, they too, are witnessing an increase in suicide.

Finally, the past year has brought about new challenges. Suicide in the military has seen yet another wave of increases, rising 20% from the previous year. What was different from 2019 to 2020 that would significantly affect the rate of suicide? COVID-19. Many are reserved in giving an answer and avoiding labeling the correlation of COVID-19 and added stress to be the causation behind recent deaths. When looking at the pattern of evidence, though, it seems to suggest that combat-PTSD-suicide is not necessarily the dominant reason behind veteran suicide. Likewise, the increased isolation that lock-downs and prolonged quarantines have brought about are worthy of a closer look.

PTSD

PTSD itself is a bit of a quagmire. It is almost inescapably tied to the belief that only someone who experiences combat can unwittingly acquire this diagnosis. This is false. Many may see combat and never experience a single symptom. Cited in an article appearing in Task & Purpose, the Pentagon’s Inspector General put forth a report that shows sexual assault is “[M]ore likely to result in post-traumatic stress disorder than going into combat.” Combat is not a necessary link to PTSD nor the only way to experience its effects. But in the commonly held belief and discussions around veteran suicide, PTSD from combat sucks the air out of the room.

Though PTSD is a serious problem that has been connected to increased rates in suicide among veterans, there are at least two studies, one published by the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2009, and the other by the National Center for PTSD in 2017, that suggest the link is not as definitive as most believe. PTSD simply does not account for enough deaths to satisfactorily answer the unsettling questions behind why veterans are taking their lives. In light of this line of evidence, where should we be looking for why suicide is so high among veterans?

The complicated truth

A more complete answer as to why veteran suicide is so high nests more neatly under the heading of sociological factors. Stated differently, it has more to do with culture, isolation, and lack of shared experiences and values when comparing a veteran population to their civilian counterparts than combat and PTSD. Those who serve in the military are grafted into a subculture with its language, communities, duties, judicial system, boundaries and contours of honor and shame. The sum of these differences and experiences is something that is unshared by the majority of the population. The second world war had approximately 9% of the population serving directly in the military. The rest of the country, while not wearing the uniform, was still aiding in the war efforts in ways that the whole of society was oriented toward. Today, less than 1% of people serve on active duty.

Serving in the military brings about experiences that will never be shared by the majority of the nation. This lack of shared experience and values isolates and exacerbates the problems our society is already plagued with in the veteran’s personal life.

It isn’t only that sharing a relationship with a service member is now less likely, but also that our relationships look drastically different than they did a generation ago. The average Facebook user has 338 friends. Contrast this with the fact that some research indicates that 75% of people are not friends with their neighbors, 26% of people don’t know their neighbors, and social gatherings with neighbors before COVID-19 were already relatively rare. If we are desiring to find a place we need to dig deeper as to why veteran suicide is high, community disconnect is a prominent factor that demands further investigation.

We are already detached from community more than we consider. Geographically, we live in one place, work in another, shop on one side of town, go to church on the other, and pursue our weekend hobbies and recreation in someplace different than the rest. This description of our disparate lives is not an anomaly, but the norm for many. The only thing we have in common with neighbors is that we live next to them. Other than that, we are different people with different lives who rarely intersect.

Exacerbating our own problems

New York Times bestselling author Sebastian Junger struck a chord with many in his recent book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Junger provocatively suggested that the problem of PTSD was not a matter of “what’s wrong with them,” referring to our troops, but rather, “what’s wrong with us”, referring to our culture outside of the military. While there are areas in which Junger does not fully deliver on his thesis, his impulse is correct: the issues our culture and society has are no different than what the military possesses. Serving in the military brings about experiences that will never be shared by the majority of the nation. This lack of shared experience and values isolates and exacerbates the problems our society is already plagued with in the veteran’s personal life.

For every specialty and niche interest that exists today, community options abound. But this menu list of choices has not brought people together, it’s divided, subdivided, and distanced people into communities based on hobbies, shopping preferences, media consumption, and even our places of worship. Yet we do not need more of the same, we need more of each other. Where we would once pursue relationships with those in our communities, we now seek the friendships of others through social media. Where personal friendships could serve as a kind of “general practice” for struggles with anxiety or depression, veterans are now outsourced to experts when what they need is not another visit to a therapist or a prescription refill, but authentic relationships that are abiding, meaningful, and faithfully attended to. If one believes the problem with veteran suicide is something that only a trauma specialist can address, they will disqualify themselves from any sort of help they can give through genuine friendships.

Suicide and the mission of the church

The trends of suicide in the United States reveal some alarming trajectories. Before the prolonged isolation and social restrictions that COVID-19 has added, suicides in the U.S. had increased 33% from 1999-2017. If the factors listed above are truly more decisive in suicide than combat or PTSD, then we should expect suicide to continue to increase. Moreover, veteran suicide will also continue this trend based on the expectations of our non-communal and increasingly isolated society. If this can be stated differently, veteran suicide is a sneak peak at where we are headed as a culture as a whole. If we desire to combat suicide, the place to do it is within community that seeks to disrupt isolation by loving one’s neighbor. The vehicle that is best equipped with a mission and purpose for reaching communities across our country is the church armed with the good news of Jesus Christ.

By / Sep 22

I work as a biblical counselor primarily with teens and kids. Fresh in the field, I do not want to hold up my limited experience as an indicator of our culture or make overgeneralized conclusions. My observations, however, line up with evidence-based research surrounding teenage anxiety and depression. The problem of anxiety and depression in teenagers seems to have increased, and the struggle to find helpful means of coping persists. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), anxiety and depression fall under the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in young people under the age of 18 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). The research found in the Pediatric News journal also indicates that depression, suicide rates, and anxiety have increased (Swick & Jellinick, 2019). With anxiety and depression on the rise, what can we do in our spheres of influence in order to engage wisely with teens struggling in these areas?

A biblical perspective

From a biblical perspective, community and connection serve as conduits for growth. God designed us for relationships (Gen. 2). God did not intend for man to walk through life alone. We see clearly the relational aspect divinely created within us from the very beginning. Thus, it makes good sense that relationships would serve as instruments of healing. We have the opportunity, then, to relationally connect with the teens in our lives to help them navigate the murky waters of anxiety and depression. 

Oftentimes, in the midst of anxiety or depression, vision narrows. We tend to zoom in on the current troubles. Little problems turn into big problems that seem almost unbearable to endure. We begin to feel hopeless and helpless, and then the despair and anxiety kick in. Who will we point our teens to when that happens? 

As we walk with teens struggling with anxiety and depression, we have the beautiful opportunity to point them to Jesus Christ, who sees, understands, and cares.

Our greatest help and hope comes from the Lord. Throughout Scripture, we read of men and women who experienced real emotions. They dealt with significant suffering. Specifically, the Psalms give us beautiful examples of experiencing deep emotion while running to God in the midst of those heavy feelings. We are given permission to feel the hard emotions and also welcomed to bring them to our mighty yet compassionate Father. And Jesus urges us to come to him with our weariness and our burdens (Matt. 11:28). This reorientation anchors our souls back to truth that gives us the endurance to bear up under suffering that may not cease during our lifetime.

Practical steps

Here are a few practical steps that will help us point our teens to Jesus. 

  1. Perspective: Offer teens a different perspective. Reorient their gaze from the present suffering to Christ and the big picture. Ask questions like: “What feels heavy right now?” “How can I support you best right now?” “How might you see this situation from a different perspective?” 
  2. Redemption: After affirming their feelings and normalizing their experience, we can point them to Jesus. In Jesus, we have redemption, hope, and a future. If your teen’s experience reminds you of a certain story in Scripture or a specific passage, share it with them. 
  3. Awe: Jesus came to the earth to walk as a man. He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and he is the God of the universe. That reality should lead us to praise the God that would come to earth for us. Encourage your teen to keep a gratitude journal—a list of all the things they are thankful for. They can download a gratitude journal app or write it in a notebook. If your teen wants to take it a step further, encourage them to say a prayer of thanks to God, who has provided all these blessings. 
  4. Inspire: We have the opportunity to instill hope and inspire our teens to walk a different path than the world. God walks with us. He helps us. He strengthens us. He holds us. He sustains us. 
    Be honest with your teen about times you have been or currently are facing anxiety. This honesty not only builds connection, but it gives you the opportunity to model facing anxiety with courage from Jesus. Invite them into a conversation. You can say something like, “I am anxious, too. I don’t know how this situation will turn out, and that makes me afraid. Here is what I am doing to run to Jesus when I feel worried. What do you think?” 
    In addition, exploring how other men and women of faith dealt with their anxiety or depression can inspire teens, as well. Hearing others’ stories of struggle and faith lets them know that they aren’t alone and it provides a model of someone trusting Jesus in the midst of adversity. Here are some examples: David (Psas. 6, 27, 56); Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-39; Mark 14:32-36; Luke 22:39-45); Corrie ten Boom (A Hiding Place); and Joni Erickson Tada (Jonia: An Unforgettable Story).
  5. Surrender: As we walk through life, we do have a decision to make in whether or not we will surrender to Jesus. As we walk with teens, we will have the opportunity to work through moments of surrender with them. Who will they choose to follow: the world or Jesus? The battles of anxiety and depression oftentime happen in the mind. Help them evaluate: What am I tempted to believe in this moment? Is it true/untrue? How can I replace this with the truth of Scripture?
  6. Endure: When we choose Jesus, we then have strength to endure through trials, anxiety, and depression. This endurance in the midst of anxiety and depression with joy and peace tells the world that a different way exists. We act differently because Jesus has changed us. He walked a different way, which we reflect every time we respond to anxiety or depression with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus Christ. 

Although we might not be able to guarantee complete freedom from anxiety and depression, we can help our teens prepare for future moments of anxiety. Self-regulating tools are God’s grace to them in the wake of hard emotions. Here are a few examples:

  • Breathing Exercises
    • Box breathing 
    • 4-7-8: Inhale for 4 seconds. Hold for 7 seconds. Exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat at least three times. 
    • Breath counting: Take a few deep breaths. Settle into a pattern of normal breathing. Each time you exhale, count “one.” Keep counting until you reach five, and then repeat as needed. 
  • Grounding Exercise
    • Identify 5 things you see 
    • Identify 4 things you feel
    • Identify 3 things you hear
    • Identify 2 things you smell
    • Identify 1 thing you taste 

Conclusion

While life does not get better or easier by following Jesus, he gives us supernatural strength to walk with him faithfully. This produces character and joy in the process (Rom. 5:4-5). As we walk with teens struggling with anxiety and depression, we have the beautiful opportunity to point them to Jesus Christ, who sees, understands, and cares. 

What are we offering the teens in front of us? If it isn’t Jesus, it is a simple solution that offers the “just” remedy. “Just take care of yourself.” “Just think happy thoughts.” “Just tune out negative voices.” You get the idea. Good advice doesn’t start with “just.” It starts with Jesus. Look to Jesus. He offers himself, and in that offering, he gives peace and hope that significantly outweighs our present sufferings (2 Cor. 4:17) as we seek to fix our gaze firmly on him.

References

Swick, S. D., & Jellinek, M. S. (2019, June). Are anxiety, depression rates rising in kids, teens? Pediatric News, 53(6), 14+. Retrieved from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/apps/doc/A591395533/HRCA?u=vic_liberty&sid=HRCA&xid=7c778edb

Unknown Author. (2020, March 30). Anxiety and Depression in Children. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html

By / Jul 9

In one of his lectures to his students, Charles Spurgeon once stated, “Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust?” Without question, the present crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the weight that many ministers bear as stewards of the Bride of Christ. One can imagine that if Spurgeon had been lecturing his students in 2020, he would have lamented the pain of being separated from Christ’s sheep and noted how such situations weigh heavily on ministers.

Many ministers have admitted to feeling overwhelmed with the new “normal.” They are worrying about the long-term impact of the crisis on church finances, the day-to-day rhythms of pastoral care, and the near-overnight shift to online services. As the weight has increased, many have come face to face with cracks and weaknesses in the foundation of their pastoral work. They feel inadequate, struggle to sleep because of fear, and wrestle with the joy-stealing thief of comparison to other churches and ministers. Like looking upon the shallow roots of a fallen tree that were exposed after a storm, many ministers are facing the eerie, quiet stillness of ministry during the COVID-19 crisis with a Mark 9:24-like faith: Lord, I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief. All of these factors weigh heavily on many ministers, often leading to a sense of despair and depression that feels like approaching tsunami waves that cannot be outran or avoided, only weathered.

For ministers with any acquaintance with the Apostle Paul’s ministry, though, finding oneself to be a servant of Christ in hard circumstances should not come as a surprise. While the minister’s task is certainly noble (1 Tim. 3:1), no one ever claimed it would be easy. The minister bears not only the weight of his own soul, but the weight of others’ souls, which includes his family, his congregation, and often others in his community. In the case of the COVID-19 crisis, however, I believe that this crisis which has been the source of despair and depression in ministry can also serve to renew and revitalize our ministries.

An opportunity for a renewed vision of ministry

An opportunity for renewal exists in at least three areas of our ministry: our health, our hearts, and our hope.

Health

In the past, ministers have often been tempted to evaluate the health of their ministries based upon visible metrics like attendance and giving. To be sure, such metrics are not a bad thing in and of themselves, but the pandemic is teaching us that the health of our ministries is more than these things. By reorienting the way that ministers think about a “healthy ministry,” one may find that their anxiety and despair dissipate because they are using more faithful measures to evaluate the effectiveness of their ministry. As more than one pastor has explained to me, “Seeing the church serve the community during this crisis has refreshed my heart.” A more biblical perspective about the health of ministry, which COVID-19 has forced upon us, may result in ministers being more encouraged about their congregation.

Hearts

In terms of our hearts as ministers, the requirement to be physically separated from one another can reveal a lot about the way that ministers view their work. Ministers bear the title of “servants of Christ,” which assumes a nearness to Christ’s people. As Harold Senkbeil wrote, “The title ‘servant of Christ’ does not isolate pastors in a sterile bubble, but it connects them all the more intimately with people in all their earthy humanity.” (The Care of Souls, pg. 24). Yet, in the context of this crisis, nearness has all but been forbidden. Shepherds and their sheep have been isolated from one another not because of fear, but because of love. As ministers, we find that we ought to “yearn for” church “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). 

It is a gracious thing when God exposes our false hopes in order to replace them with the solid rock of his promises. 

Thus, as ministers navigate the water of this difficult time, it would be helpful to ask themselves: What do I miss during this time? Do I miss the people that Christ has entrusted to me? Or do I simply miss preaching in front of an audience? Do I miss praying with the people, serving the Lord’s Supper, or do I like not being around them? Such questions can be helpful for exposing the perspectives that we have unknowingly harbored about ministry for years. Fortunately, ministers are sheep, too, and can find rest and forgiveness in the Good Shepherd.

Hope

Finally, COVID-19 has taught ministers what we should have already known regarding our hope. We are learning once again that we are not ultimately in control of anything. We are stewards of Christ’s sheep, not owners. Just as his ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not our thoughts, so also, his plans are not our plans. If our hope for fruitfulness in ministry has been our plans and our performance, then COVID-19 has granted us a merciful exposure and allowed for us to refocus on being faithful to Christ in the time that we have left on this earth as shepherds to his flock. 

It is a gracious thing when God exposes our false hopes in order to replace them with the solid rock of his promises. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ, not because we are such good ministers, but because Christ is unwaveringly committed to the sanctification and glorification of his bride. He will present her without fault.

Thus, as ministers, as stewards of the Bride of Christ, we have nothing to fear. We can be sure about the destiny of our work. The various sources of our pain and our despair during the COVID-19 crisis are overcome not by our own strength or might, but by the Spirit of God that is at work within the church (Zech. 4:6). We are not in this work alone. Christ will stand by us (2 Tim. 4:17). His power will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

Maybe this crisis will cause us to be still before God and be reoriented to the good, life-giving aspects of our work as ministers. Spurgeon himself, a man often tormented by depression and despair in ministry, was often aided by reconsidering his own ministry in relationship to that of Mr. Great-heart from John Bunyan’s work, Pilgrim’s Progress. Spurgeon writes,

“I am occupied in my small way, as Mr. Great-heart was employed in Bunyan’s day. I do not compare myself with that champion, but I am in the same line of business. I am engaged in personally-conducted tours to Heaven; and I have with me, at the present time, dear Old Father Honest: I am glad he is still alive and active. And there is Christiana, and there are her children. It is my business, as best I can, to kill dragons, and cut off giants’ heads, and lead on the timid and trembling. I am often afraid of losing some of the weaklings. I have the heart-ache for them; but, by God’s grace, and your kind and generous help in looking after one another, I hope we shall all travel safely to the river’s edge. Oh, how many have I had to part with there! I have stood on the brink, and I have heard them singing in the midst of the stream, and I have almost seen the shining ones lead them up the hill, and through the gates, into the Celestial City.” (from Spurgeon’s Autobiography, II, 131)

May that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip us with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Heb. 13:20-21).

By / Jul 9

As Americans respond to admonitions from public health officials and politicians by practicing social distancing, quarantining, and closing schools, businesses, and churches in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), an important consideration receiving little attention is the impact of these dramatic actions on the short and long-term mental health of our people. 

Very few of us have ever witnessed as significant a disruption to our daily routines as we are currently experiencing. In my role as a child and adolescent psychiatrist often in a position to remind parents of the importance of structure and routine, I’m curious about the possible effects of quarantine and social isolation on the kids and families I serve. What I learned in reviewing the available research is very concerning. 

A study comparing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in parents and children who had been quarantined found that mean PTSD stress scores were four times higher in children and nearly five times higher in quarantined adults.

Each of us will have an opportunity to share our hope in Jesus with lots of hurting and vulnerable people during the days and weeks ahead. The manner in which we conduct ourselves will point our friends and neighbors to a hope that can sustain them through our current circumstances and offer a sense of peace and comfort that their futures are secure.

Another study examining the short-term impact of quarantine (average duration of 10 days) in a group largely composed of healthcare workers in Toronto at the time of the 2003 SARS epidemic found symptoms of PTSD and depression were observed in 28.9% and 31.2% of respondents, respectively, when surveyed, on average, five weeks following their experience.

A longer-term study of healthcare workers in China quarantined in the same year because of SARS found they were nearly five times more likely to exhibit depression three years after their experience when compared to their peers.

While the attention of the government and our healthcare system has appropriately been focused on “flattening the curve” of critically ill people overwhelming our intensive care units and emergency rooms, the available research strongly suggests the mental health system may be facing a larger and longer lasting second wave of need as a result of the steps taken to control COVID-19. What might the church do during this time to stem the tide and mitigate their suffering?

The church can play an essential role in combating the social isolation so many are currently experiencing. It was wonderful this past weekend to see so many friends sharing links to their church’s worship services. I would strongly encourage pastors and staff to make as much of the church’s social infrastructure available online as possible. Small groups. Bible studies. Committee meetings. Christian education. Everything. There’s something about being able to see one another, talk to one another, study with one another, and pray with one another in real time that provides relief to brothers and sisters who are scared and alone in our current circumstances. Phone calls and letters are also important in helping less tech-savvy members to continue to feel connected.

Secular authorities recognize that the central tenet in recovery is hope—hope is the catalyst for change and serves as an enabler of other factors involved in recovery and the means through which a better future can be perceived. 

The church can help by providing individuals and families meaningful opportunities to serve their friends and neighbors during this time. Research from natural disasters suggests involving vulnerable children in family and community responses during times of potential danger increases resilience, defends against development of helplessness, and may help protect against post-traumatic effects through promoting a sense of agency and self-efficacy. Consider how your staff might involve children, youth, and families in plans to provide care and support to the people in your church and surrounding communities.

The church can offer practical help to relieve common situational stressors that often lead to mental health concerns. We know that life-change events are associated with increased prevalence of depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Helping people struggling with job loss, the closure of a business, or inability to find childcare can reduce the stress burden leading to increased risk of mental and physical health problems. 

The church can provide peer support. Churches with a lay counseling program can provide them with the tools to encourage and uplift members who are unable to leave their homes. There’s never been a better time to start a mental health support group online. The Grace Alliance and Fresh Hope are outstanding ministries with well-designed and established models for providing biblically based support for teens and adults struggling with common mental health issues.

The church can assist members and attendees in connecting with professional counseling and other mental health services in the cities and towns they serve. Do pastors and others on your church staff offer counseling? Give them the technology to continue to serve during this time. People in distress often turn to the church for help. Consider updating your church’s list of mental health resources to identify practitioners and clinics willing and available to see new clients or patients at this time, in person or remotely through video.

Most importantly, we as the church need to be purveyors of hope. Secular authorities recognize that the central tenet in recovery is hope—hope is the catalyst for change and serves as an enabler of other factors involved in recovery and the means through which a better future can be perceived. For most of us, there has never been a time when the world has been in as much need of hope as exists in the present. We in the church own the ultimate message of hope.

The apostle Paul illustrated this principle in the midst of suffering in his words to the Colossians: “But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him— if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it (Col. 1:22-23, CSB).

Each of us will have an opportunity to share our hope in Jesus with lots of hurting and vulnerable people during the days and weeks ahead. The manner in which we conduct ourselves will point our friends and neighbors to a hope that can sustain them through our current circumstances and offer a sense of peace.

By / Apr 6

As Americans respond to admonitions from public health officials and politicians by practicing social distancing, quarantining, and closing schools, businesses, and churches in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), an important consideration receiving little attention is the impact of these dramatic actions on the short and long-term mental health of our people.

Very few of us have ever witnessed as significant a disruption to our daily routines as we are currently experiencing. In my role as a child and adolescent psychiatrist often in a position to remind parents of the importance of structure and routine, I’m curious about the possible effects of quarantine and social isolation on the kids and families I serve. What I learned in reviewing the available research is very concerning. 

A study comparing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in parents and children who had been quarantined found that mean PTSD stress scores were four times higher in children and nearly five times higher in quarantined adults.

Another study examining the short-term impact of quarantine (average duration of 10 days) in a group largely composed of healthcare workers in Toronto at the time of the 2003 SARS epidemic found symptoms of PTSD and depression were observed in 28.9% and 31.2% of respondents, respectively, when surveyed, on average, five weeks following their experience.

A longer-term study of healthcare workers in China quarantined in the same year because of SARS found they were nearly five times more likely to exhibit depression three years after their experience when compared to their peers.

While the attention of the government and our healthcare system has appropriately been focused on "flattening the curve" of critically ill people overwhelming our intensive care units and emergency rooms, the available research strongly suggests the mental health system may be facing a larger and longer lasting second wave of need as a result of the steps taken to control COVID-19. What might the church do during this time to stem the tide and mitigate their suffering? 

The church can play an essential role in combating the social isolation so many are currently experiencing. It was wonderful this past weekend to see so many friends sharing links to their church's worship services. I would strongly encourage pastors and staff to make as much of the church's social infrastructure available online as possible. Small groups. Bible studies. Committee meetings. Christian education. Everything. There's something about being able to see one another, talk to one another, study with one another, and pray with one another in real time that provides relief to brothers and sisters who are scared and alone in our current circumstances. Phone calls and letters are also important in helping less tech-savvy members to continue to feel connected.

Each of us will have an opportunity to share our hope in Jesus with lots of hurting and vulnerable people during the days and weeks ahead. The manner in which we conduct ourselves will point our friends and neighbors to a hope that can sustain them through our current circumstances and offer a sense of peace and comfort that their futures are secure.

The church can help by providing individuals and families meaningful opportunities to serve their friends and neighbors during this time. Research from natural disasters suggests involving vulnerable children in family and community responses during times of potential danger increases resilience, defends against development of helplessness, and may help protect against post-traumatic effects through promoting a sense of agency and self-efficacy. Consider how your staff might involve children, youth, and families in plans to provide care and support to the people in your church and surrounding communities.

The church can offer practical help to relieve common situational stressors that often lead to mental health concerns. We know that life-change events are associated with increased prevalence of depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Helping people struggling with job loss, the closure of a business, or inability to find childcare can reduce the stress burden leading to increased risk of mental and physical health problems. 

The church can provide peer support. Churches with a lay counseling program can provide them with the tools to encourage and uplift members who are unable to leave their homes. There's never been a better time to start a mental health support group online. The Grace Alliance and Fresh Hope are outstanding ministries with well-designed and established models for providing biblically-based support for teens and adults struggling with common mental health issues.

The church can assist members and attendees in connecting with professional counseling and other mental health services in the cities and towns they serve. Do pastors and others on your church staff offer counseling? Give them the technology to continue to serve during this time. People in distress often turn to the church for help. Consider updating your church's list of mental health resources to identify practitioners and clinics willing and available to see new clients or patients at this time, in person or remotely through video.

Most importantly, we as the church need to be purveyors of hope. Secular authorities recognize that the central tenet in recovery is hope—hope is the catalyst for change and serves as an enabler of other factors involved in recovery and the means through which a better future can be perceived. For most of us, there has never been a time when the world has been in as much need of hope as exists in the present. We in the church own the ultimate message of hope.

The apostle Paul illustrated this principle in the midst of suffering in his words to the Colossians: “But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him— if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard. This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I, Paul, have become a servant of it (Col. 1:22-23, CSB).

Each of us will have an opportunity to share our hope in Jesus with lots of hurting and vulnerable people during the days and weeks ahead. The manner in which we conduct ourselves will point our friends and neighbors to a hope that can sustain them through our current circumstances and offer a sense of peace and comfort that their futures are secure. 

By / Mar 30

COVID-19 has brought on an uncertain, unprecedented season that will likely spur a mental health crisis. Multiple factors are involved:

  • Anxiety from the 24-hour news cycle; 
  • The inability to meet with people for gatherings like church and events;
  • Stress from adapting to ever-changing working environments, suddenly homeschooling, learning new technology, and not being able to afford childcare or find toilet paper; 
  • Bank tellers, grocery store clerks, pharmacy workers, gas station attendants, truck drivers working to keep things rolling; 
  • Healthcare workers risking their health and the health of their families to help others;
  • People in authority having to make tough decisions; 
  • Relatives unable to visit sick family members or nursing home residents; 
  • People closing their businesses and losing their jobs, wondering when and if they will receive a paycheck again and if the job will be waiting for them when this passes. 

As someone who has dealt with clinical anxiety and depression for most of my life, I can offer a few tips to those who are discovering this feeling for the first time.

1. Talk to someone

We need community because we weren’t made to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Now that we are unable to gather together physically, we need to adapt and build virtual community. Thankfully, technology is advanced enough to keep everyone connected. Churches can stream services. Small groups can video chat. You can send messages across a multitude of apps. Regular phones still work, too.

If you are struggling, talk to someone with whom you feel comfortable. Don’t feel ashamed. You are not alone and don’t have to bear the burden by yourself. If you can’t think of anyone, reach out to a mental health professional. Many clinics are doing telehealth visits and can help you over the phone.

If you aren’t struggling at the moment, be intentional about checking in on those close to you. Make sure they are doing well and have what they need. Send them an encouraging word or Scripture. Try to help direct their attention away from a constant influx of COVID-19 information.

2. Cling to God’s promises

God’s people have always needed reminders of what God has done for them and what he has promised to do. The Jews in the wilderness were worried about food but needed to remember that they had witnessed God part the Red Sea in order to save them (Ex. 16). God’s people who cried out for judges to deliver them quickly forgot their desperation for him and reverted back to their sinful ways (Judges). And there are many other examples throughout the Bible. James reminded suffering Christians of this beautiful truth: 

“As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:10-11).

If you are in a dark place mentally, I recommend grabbing a journal, notebook, or piece of paper and writing down the lies that you are believing, anxieties you are feeling, or negative thoughts that are on repeat in your mind. Then, write three biblical truths that combat what you wrote. Try to do this at every occurrence. Over time, this will come easier, and you won’t need to write it down. You’ll be conditioned to speak truth to yourself and will then be able to speak truth into others’ lives.

God keeps his Word. He will provide. It may not be what you want or are used to, but it will be what you need. God feeds and clothes the birds and the flowers; will he not do the same for his sons and daughters (Matt. 6:25-34)? If earthly parents give good gifts to their children, how much more will our Father in heaven give his children who ask (Matt. 7:9-11)? The Old Testament prophets held fast to the promises of a Messiah even though they didn’t see them fulfilled in their lifetimes. But we have more—we have the Christ—the promise fulfilled—and live for his return, when all will be restored.

3. Keep (or develop) an eternal perspective

Suffering is part of the Christian life. It will purify our faith and will result in glory and honor (1 Pet. 1:3-9). But it won’t last. When my fleeting time on this earth comes to an end, I will be in a place with no pain or suffering or anxiety. I will be where I belong—a home that has been prepared for me (John 14:3). That’s why I’m not afraid of a novel, widespread virus. It may make me ill or take my life, but I will gain the end goal, and that can never be taken from me (John 6:37-40). My inheritance is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven (1 Pet. 1:4). Christian, this is the hope that we have. And hope does not put us to shame (Rom. 5:3-5).

I pray that this hope brings you peace (John 14:27) and shines brightly to the rest of the dark world. Our living hope is the greatest witness to others in these times. Remain steadfast. I can’t tell you how long this season will last, but I can tell you that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He doesn’t guarantee tomorrow on earth, but he guarantees an eternity with him for those who believe that he sent his son to die for us (John 3:16). May peace be with you in these troubled times, and may these words from Peter be a balm to your soul: 

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet.5:8-11).