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I'm Bored

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If you’ve got school kids at home, I’ll bet you’ve heard that phrase about a thousand times in the last couple of weeks. Debbie’s and my kids are all grown and gone, and I heard it this morning. From myself.

I learned as a boy not to tell my mom I was bored. “Nothing to do? Oh, I can help you out with that!” she’d say. And then she’d give me about a dozen chores to do. It was probably only one or two chores, but it felt like a dozen. And there was nothing on her chore list that tripped my trigger. For crying out loud, it was all work!

ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) hadn’t been invented when I was a boy, but I think I had it. ADD people are easily bored. I think I still have a bit of it. In this season of “social distancing,” I’m bored a lot.

When I’m bored, I have a few default things I do. I complain. I burn hours watching TV. With no sports on, I end up watching way too much Maine Cabin Builders and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Andy Griffith reruns. Or I burn more hours going through Facebook. Neither of these activities are very fulfilling. I play digital Solitaire. That’s not very fulfilling, either. I’m on a low carb diet, so I also spend a good amount of time jonesing for chips and ice cream while watching the Food Channel. So far, I’ve only jonesed for them. I guess that’s a good thing. When all else fails, I try to read. If it’s not highly captivating, I don’t last long with it, though.

Do you see a pattern? The one thing these things all have in common is that they’re not satisfying. Inactivity breeds inactivity, and that breeds dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction breeds more dissatisfaction, and that breeds agitation. It’s like I’m 11, again. Only my mom isn’t around to give me a to-do list. Thankfully, my wife doesn’t do this, either. I’m afraid I’m not mature enough for that to be a good thing.

Can I get an Amen? Anybody else know what I’m feeling?

There’s always yard work, isn’t there? Well, yes. But there’s also the Spring rains. And really, is it good for grass to be mowed more than every other day?

Gardening? I’ve got a black thumb. And no interest.

Golf? Ah, yes, God’s favorite sport, and mine. That would be a fabulous alternative. Except for two things. The aforementioned Spring rains and the cost factor. And one more thing, I guess. It’s not an at-home activity. Although if I did it right, I could keep the prescribed 6-foot distance from others. But still, there’s the weather and the expense of it.

The last time I was this bored was the six months I was recovering from my heart attack and couldn’t work. It was no fun then, either.

I’m not an Eveready Bunny type. Working 60 hours a week holds no appeal to me. I try to not be lazy, but I’m not a work-a-holic. You’d think a slow-down of this sort during the general quarantine wouldn’t be a big hurdle for a guy like me. But it’s a steeplechase-size hurdle.

I think part of the difficulty of these few weeks of inactivity is that it’s not of my choosing. This isn’t like a vacation. Not for me, anyway. When I go on vacation – even if it’s a staycation – I choose when and where and for how long. The only choice I had on this one is whether or not I’ll observe the urging of government. No exotic places, no great eating out, no roller coasters, no golf. Come on! You can’t have a vacation without those things, can you?

Well, yes you can.

And then there’s this. There are millions of moms and dads who are trying to keep their kids occupied and out of trouble, not to mention on property and engaging in some form of homeschooling, all without losing their minds. Most of these parents don’t have any training or experience with this. Neither do the kids. I’ve got it good, compared to them. If you’re one of them, I salute you! Good on you! You can do it! God bless you!

As I type thing up, a phrase from the Psalms keeps coming to mind. I think it’s a Word from God. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a) Actually, it IS a Word from God. It’s in the Bible. So.

I struggle with the “be still” thing. There’s a couple of dominant factors in this. One is my simi-ADD-ness (if that’s not a word, it should be). I don’t consider it an excuse, but it’s a factor.

Another is that I live in the same world you live in. It’s full of noise and activity. If you live in a city or an urban area, I think you know what I’m talking about. There’s just not very much stillness in my normal life. I rope off the beginning of the day for an hour of quiet time, but in that hour, there’s a ton of noise in my head, even though it’s quiet in my study. Be still? I try.

And then there’s this. Sometimes when I get still I fall asleep. It happens to older people…

But think about this. When the Sons of Korah penned this poem, the world wasn’t really very noisy. There were primitive technologies, but nothing like the noisy ones in our noisy world. If you wanted peace and quiet, it was often just a few steps from your door. If you could block out the sounds of your livestock, you didn’t have to go far to get away from the noise of the world.

The world wasn’t in a hurry, either. People worked from a sundial, not a digital clock. You traveled at the speed of camel, not the speed of sound.

The stillness the Sons of Korah wrote about is far less about quieting the external world than it was about quieting the inner world. As different as our external worlds may be, our inner worlds are very much alike. The ancient Hebrew would have had as much inner noise as we do.

I’m told that the phrase “be still” can also reliably be translated “cease striving.” In the context of this Psalm, “Stop fighting,” even. Interesting.

But “be still” is just the first half of the idea in this half-a-verse. The second half is, “and know that I am God.”

A strong implication here is that this knowing God thing isn’t something you do on the fly. You don’t multi-task knowing God. The purpose of being still is so that you can know Him. There’s much to ponder here. Especially in a noisy world that’s temporarily grown only a little less noisy because so many of us are staying home, but will one day soon get noisy again. Quite possibly more noisy than ever.

There’s really only one reason to stop fighting, to cease striving, to be still. It’s that God is our Provision, our Protector, our Rock and Fortress. In verse 1 of this Psalm, the SoK (Sons of Korah) wrote, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Because this is true, because He is my refuge and strength, I can stop fighting. I can cease striving. I can be still.

And when I’m still, when I’ve ceased striving, I can know – I mean really know, not just academically, but deeply, deep down in my soul – that He is God.

Please don’t take this is an admonition to read your Bible and pray more, and just get over the whole Coronavirus thing. Reading your Bible and praying are good things, and you should be doing them. You know, like washing your hands. But the only way we’ll get over this Coronavirus thing is by getting through it. And the only way we’ll get through it with minimum damage is by being still and knowing that He is God.

Control Freak

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Our cat, Gracie, is a control freak. I think this may be generally true of cats to a greater degree than dogs. Dogs are attention freaks, but not generally control freaks. They just want you to touch them, pet them, talk to them, feed them, throw something for them to chase and bring back to you.

Cats – our cat, anyway – only wants to be touched or petted or even fed on her terms. When, where, how she wants. If you put the wrong food in the bowl, food that doesn’t meet her high standards, she sniffs it once and walks away with her nose in the air. Dogs, on the other hand, will eat most anything, including underwear and socks.

Believe it or not, this control freakishness is one of the things I actually like about Gracie. She’s independent. She doesn’t need me until she wants to need me. For some reason this is appealing to me.

Since this period of social isolation and distancing has been going on, I’ve discovered that I, too, am a control freak. This isn’t exactly new news. I should probably say I’ve “re-discovered” that I’m a control freak. I’ve been told I’m a control freak before. By people who just don’t want to do things they way they should be done. My way. Anybody who’s been in one of my choirs (back in another lifetime) will say this is true.

But as the days stretch on, I find my urge to control my world more and more frustrating, because my world is getting smaller and smaller. There’s no place to go. Restaurants are closed. And besides, I’m attempting the very low carb diet thing, so there aren’t many fast food joints that have much that I should eat, and I’m too cheap to spend the money on finer dining. It’s not golf weather. Although I love to play golf (I’m not good at it, but I still love it – a masochistic tendency) I’ve become a fair weather golfer. So there’s little allure to hit the links when the conditions are very far below optimal. There’s only so much I can do with my yard, and I’ve already done it. My world is shrinking. At this point, it’s pretty much my house. And although God has provided a wonderful house for us, it feels like it’s getting smaller and smaller by the day.

Here’s the problem. The smaller my world gets, the less there is for me to control. This is frustrating. Vexing, really.

Anybody else feel my pain?

Even people who don’t feel they’re control freaks and those wonderful people who by temperament or maturity are able to keep themselves from controlling (or trying to control) others are probably feeling a little of the bind of this control thing. They may not be as vexed as we control freaks, but as their worlds get smaller, they’ll be feeling at least a little of the pinch of the control thing.

Which brings me to the point of my diatribe. Control is an illusion. If you didn’t pick that up from the last few weeks, you weren’t paying attention. If it’s not an illusion, then it’s incredibly fragile. Brittle, even. Pop it in the right place at the right time and it will crumble.

At this point, every major power on the planet is spending unimaginable resources in an effort to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. They’re making progress, and we should all be thankful for this. Medicine and government and industry are joining hands and working in relative harmony to get this monster under control.

But when this objective is reached, when the curve is flattened, and life can go back to some sort of normalcy, will we really be in control?

I try to not be a pessimist, but I readily admit I’m not an optimist. My goal is to be a reasoned realist. So realistically, at best, our control over this virus will only be relative. We will be able to mitigate the far-reaching devastation it would have brought had it been left unchecked, but the only way to truly control it would be to make it cease to exist. Realistically, that isn’t likely to happen. Smallpox and polio went away, but didn’t cease to exist.

If we can’t control this, if control is, after all, an illusion, then what are we supposed to do? Just lay down on the tracks and let the train run us over? Pretend that by effort we can stop the train when it gets to us, and resist mightily? Or might there be something somewhere between these two extremes?

Here’s what I think is in the middle: I can only control what I do about what happens to me. This is called responsibility. Or, as author Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, response-ability. We have the ability to respond. We have it within us to choose what we will do about what happens to us.

We all have this ability, but only the mature are able to exercise it. Without maturity, we will only react to what happens to us. Normally these reactions will come from instinct, the most powerful of which is the survival instinct. My experience from my own life and from years of helping others is that this particular instinct must be educated and directed or else it will treat all threats as threats to survival, and will fight or flee, even though neither fighting or fleeing are always called for. In other words, the survival instinct will often land us in needless conflict and relationship crises that could have been avoided with a more rational response. There’s a ton more in this, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

We have to be taught how to respond instead of merely reacting. The first and primary place this happens is in one’s family of origin. Some people have had the blessing of being raised in a family where this was modeled and taught directly. This is a HUGE blessing! Others, in fact, the majority, have been raised in a family where reacting was standard operating procedure. These homes are filled with conflict – verbal and even physical. So much emotional damage comes from homes like these. And this pattern of emotional reaction and damage replicates itself through generations until it is somehow stopped, when someone in the system learns how to respond instead of reacting.

Stopping the generational pattern is a huge challenge if you were raised in a reacting home. Doable, but doable hard. It starts with telling yourself the truth I shared above: You can control what you do about what has happened to you. You can choose your response. You have response-ability. Start there. Start by consciously reminding yourself that you can choose your response. For most people, saying it out loud to yourself is the best way to remind yourself. By starting here, you’ll be setting yourself up to cultivate a rational response to a sometimes irrational world of events that will happen to you and around you.

That’s enough for this one. Well, almost enough. Here’s a tip that could make the difference between you getting good at this response-ability thing or just being frustrated by it. Open your Bible to James 1:5. You know, the verse I cite almost every time I write. Ask God to make you wise for this endeavor. He wants to answer that prayer. He wants to give you greater response-ability. So partner with Him.

Cabin Fever

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Even if you’re in a fabulous cabin, by now in the “social distancing” thing, you’re having cabin fever. The requested quarantining feels like 2 years, not 2 weeks. It feels worse to your kids than it does to you.

“When they’re bored and cooped up, you’ll have such a great time with them!” Only people not cooped up with their kids can say that. And when they say it, somebody should probably smack them. Or better yet, just lock them in your house with your kids and tell them to do the best they can. See you in 3 months.

The Pollyannas who promote this happy talk aren’t completely wrong, though. Maybe 90% wrong, but not completely wrong. The 10% they’re right about is that if you’re strategic about it, you could harvest some good things out of this forced isolation. That’s what I’m writing about today. I’ll do my best not to be Pollyannaish. Just a few simple suggestions.

But before my suggestions, here’s something one of my favorite Christian counselors and psychologists, Henry Cloud, posted that I think is top-drawer advice. It’s a 5-minute read and worth every second of it.

https://www.boundaries.me/blog/4-things-you-can-do-for-your-mental-health-during-the-covid-19-crisis?fbclid=IwAR3Ovw8B4Pl7D7wxAP55oCWFDrMldVjUwPLQvQZsdITKi9xcmrXXjlRQ6H4

My suggestions…

First of all, don’t be the cruise director. You don’t need to be and your kids don’t need you to be. If you take on this role, you’ll end up failing and feeling like a failure. It’s not necessary. Don’t be the designated entertainment chairperson whose job it is to make sure everybody’s happily entertained if they’re awake. One of the things kids need to learn so that they can develop and grow up is how to entertain themselves and what to do with boredom. Granted, some kids are better at this than others, but all kids can learn how to do this. Most kids won’t as long as somebody else does the entertaining, or provides it, though. So don’t take on this role. Remind yourself that a little boredom is a good thing, and you can’t make life a happy cruise. So don’t try.

On the non-entertainment side of this, don’t be the superintendent, principle, teacher, guidance counselor and nurse of your one-room school. If you’re a home-schooler, life will go on pretty much as normal through this lock-down. You were doing home schooling before the crisis, and you know how to keep doing it. So go ahead and do it. But if you’re not a home-schooler, and you’re not a trained teacher, you’ll likely struggle with running your family school. Do what you can, which will occasionally (maybe even often) include pressing your kids to do the work. But be careful that you don’t set yourself up to resent them and be resented by them because of it. It’s a tough dynamic balance.

There are tons of ideas about how much school work is enough through this time. I’m not an educational expert, so my opinion has to be taken with a grain of salt. I’d be content with an acceptable minimum. By this I mean what wouldn’t be adequate if school was open, but isn’t nothing. Like I said, take it with a grain of salt. I’m also the dad who told my daughters’ 1st grade teachers that I tried never to let school get in the way of my girls’ education. You might guess that this wasn’t taken well…

Here’s another piece of advice that’s a lot easier to give than to do. Don’t let the TV be your free babysitter. Set limits. Too much TV will make your kids dull and irritable. This isn’t just my opinion. There’s solid research that bears this out. So decide how much you think is good and then cut that back by 30%. Or just go with it. But you’ve got to be the decider. You’re the parent. Set limits.

I think this applies even if you have teens. You already know they’re not going to like having limits set on them, so brace yourself. But if you don’t set limits – or at least negotiate limits with them – they’ll be sucked in by the mesmerization of the TV, hours will pass and their brains will turn to mush. So negotiate limits on how much of what you’ll be watching.

I’m not a video game hater, but this bit of advice goes for video gaming, too. For younger kids, you set the limits. My advice is that the limit should be low. A few small chunks are better than one long one. For older kids, negotiate limits. But don’t just let them play all they want. That’ll come back to bite you on the bottom.

Get outside as much as you can. If the weather’s lousy, consider going outside, anyway. You’ll have to bundle up and maybe get out the rain gear, but you can do this. Farmers in northern Minnesota figured this out 200 years ago. You can make it happen on your block.

Here’s one that might work. The operative word is “might.” Play some table games. Or cards. Or put a puzzle together. Turn the TV off and play some music and play something together. If your family isn’t in the habit of game-playing, this may be challenging, but you might be able to pull it off with the right kind of incentive. Things like snacks and their music, not yours, maybe.

One more, and I’ll leave you alone about it. Utilize technology in a couple of ways. The first way is to give your kids a topic and challenge them to make a video about it. Maybe it would be a Bible story, or a story from American history. Or maybe it would be a purely fictional story about something. Or a fantasy. Or maybe your kids will come up with something you’d never think of. Turn them lose to be creative. If they need your help, help them. But if they don’t need your help, just get out of their way and let them produce their masterpiece. Older kids will probably want to do some actual production on the computer with video editing software. If you’ve got that, encourage them to go for it. If you can pull it off, play the finished product on your TV. If you can’t do that, just make everybody gather around the device they used and have a watch party.

The second technology thing is to do video chats and calls with your extended family and friends. As a grandfather, I can tell you that it puts emotional oxygen in a grandparent’s heart to hear and see their grand kids. There’s a bunch of apps for this, most of which are free. Get online and figure it out. Even an old guy like me can do this, so if I can, I know you can. You’re probably already using these apps. Your kids can probably help you figure this out.

Bottom line: do what you can to harvest what you can from how life is right now.

I love the post I picked up on my Facebook feed about how in 10 years from now a parent will say, “Remember how tough that COVID-19 thing was?” And the kids will say, “I remember getting to eat all our meals together and laughing a lot.” Believe it or not, even though 30 minutes ago you were contemplating running away to join the circus, if you play this thing right, your kids just might say something like this in 10 years. But probably not today or tomorrow.

3 Possibilities

As I see it, there are 3 possibilities for what’s ahead through the mist of this present COVID-19 crisis.
1) the world will come to an end. Not with a bang but a whimper. But not until we endure a post-apocalyptic wasteland and a zombie uprising.
2) Jesus will come back and rescue His Bride.
3) we’ll “flatten the curve,” lives will sadly be lost (but perhaps no more than would have been lost to influenza), the economy will slowly recover and life will go on.

My preferred of the 3 possibilities is number 2. I would be thrilled to see Jesus split the skies and return as Conquering King.

My least favorite of the 3 is possibility number 1. I’m fairly confident this won’t happen.

Although I’d vote for possibility number 2, and I intend to live my life with the reality that ANY day could be the day of Jesus’ return, COVID-19 or not, I’m guessing possibility number 3 may be the case. There’s a strong possibility that in under 12 months, the replica of the Statue of Liberty on the Strip in Las Vegas will be free of the mask, holding the torch instead of a can of Lysol, and the tablets instead of toilet tissue, and life will be more or less back to normal.

In the meantime, whether we’re blessed with possibility 2 or experience possibility 3, we will endure hardship. There’s no going around this crisis and the distress it brings with it. Many families are experiencing a dramatic loss of income. Many moms and dads are being laid off. School closings are making one of the parents in a dual-income home figure out how to be home with the kids or arrange for childcare. Finding childcare will be somewhere between exceedingly difficult and impossible. Perhaps the economic stimulus the government is planning to provide will help some, but recent memory for me (the financial crisis of 2008) is that there’s no way to make everything just fine with a stimulus. There’s not that much money available, except in imaginary currency.

Virtually every system that makes up our infrastructure is being stretched to its limit. No doubt some will break under the strain. Others will hobble along doing the best they can with what they have.

If you’ll pardon my clinical terminology, this is only the leading edge of a crap storm that will alter the landscape of life for longer than any of us wants.

Us wishing it to be otherwise won’t change it. An act of God would, and it’s worth praying for this. It’s also worth us choosing a wise and responsible response to what’s happening to us. This is, after all, the only thing within our control – our response.

There are many helpful places to look for help with this. Although you can’t shop at one today, bookstores (you know, the ones with physical books of paper and ink…) have shelves and shelves of “Self Help” books, some of which could be helpful for this. But you know that I believe the Source Book for help is The Bible. I want to point to only three short passages in the New Testament to recommend help and hope from God’s Word to us.

Colossians 2:6  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,

So, how did you receive Christ? Me, I was a 9 year old kid on the plains of Kansas who didn’t want to be left behind when the Rapture happened, or die and go to hell. A singing midget had preached a revival at our little church (while standing on a chair behind the pulpit) and scared me spitless. I wasn’t theologically educated, and my understanding of God and His ways was very naive. But I said yes to Jesus, even if it was out of fear. There are worse motives.

If you were a full-grown adult when you came to Jesus on His terms, believe it or not, you had to come in much the same way I did. Neither of us came to Jesus to get cleansed from our sins and have His Spirit live in us on the basis of our merits. We came with nothing to contribute. Humbly. Broken. Needy.

I think it’s the humble thing that Paul is referring to here in Colossians 2:6. Continue living as you came to Him, in humility.

Humble people aren’t bullet-proof. They’re not self-sufficient. They’re not proud of what they’ve done with themselves, and condescending to “lesser” people. On the other hand, humility isn’t thinking of yourself and treating yourself as worthless and useless. C.S. Lewis said it best, I believe. He said, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.”

Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

It’s sound interpretation to understand that when Paul wrote, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living you you…”, he was implying that yes, that Spirit is living in you. He’s offering a certainty, not a question. When you said yes to Jesus on His terms, the Spirit of God, the Spirit who raised Jesus for the dead, took residence in you and is giving life to your mortal bodies because of this.

This is HUGE! In this is the promise that you’re not living life on the basis of your own resources and effort. You’re empowered by the unspeakable power of God! The One who raised Jesus from the dead, the ultimate act of power and authority, is living in you by His Spirit and giving you life moment to moment. Even in – especially in – times of crisis and uncertainty.

I’m prone to anxiety. Not the garden variety that everybody has. I live on or near the edge of anxiety that attacks and holds me hostage. It was debilitating after my heart attack. I’ll tell you more about that someday, maybe. But for people like me, this is not a fun time. Every headline I read or hear pokes at the anxiety that’s always spinning just beneath the surface. The message is nearly always the same: you’re not going to make it. In it’s less intense form: how are you going to make it?

The answer to this kind of anxiety is in Romans 8:11. It’s not about what I’ll do, all by myself. It’s not even about how much I can bear on my own. And this isn’t because God’s promise is to make my life happy and simple. It’s because His promise is that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in me. That kind of power is capable of meeting any and every challenge. My task is to hide myself in, to stay securely in God, responding to what happens to and around me from within His power. That’s not an easy thing to do.

1 Peter 2:12  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

I know it sounds like one of those things you read or hear from positivity people, but it’s true. This present crisis, the challenges that we dare not minimize, is a context for the grace, love and goodness of God to be lived out by His people. Live such good lives, pour out grace in such a consistent way, that people who don’t know God or even care about Him will see you pouring out God’s grace and glorify the God they don’t know or care about. My generosity with what God has provided, my peace in the midst of the confusion and panic, my other-awareness, how I notice and treat others, send a message that will be received.

I’ll land the plane with this. If you have studied world history, you know that the cultural and historical context in which Paul and Peter wrote these things to the nearly-newborn church is one of crisis that eclipses our current one exponentially. In other words, our crisis is nothing compared to what the first century church went through.

Heathcare, hospitals, hygienic practices, government assistance, technology? Nope. Didn’t exist. Not in the way we think of these things. Germ theory hadn’t even been posed yet. And for the early Christians, add in the fact that there was direct persecution from both the culture and the government. It was not a happy time for people of weak faith and constitution. I often wonder if I would have made it then. Usually I think not.

From within that context, the Apostles taught that the love and power and grace of God give us everything we need to thrive. And thrive they did, the early Christians, until they turned the world upside down.

I think the way they did this is in one more verse from the letters of Paul (Ephesians 5:16): making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Evil days serve up opportunity for the grace of Christ to transform people’s lives. And when Christians make the most of these opportunities, the world changes, even if the crises don’t abate.

Wouldn’t it be awesome, given all the tools we have at our disposal that the Apostles didn’t have, if we made the most of every opportunity to inject the grace of Christ into our world, however small it might be, as we journey through the uncharted waters of this COVID-19 crisis? If this happens, it will happen one person at a time. That means it starts with me. It starts with you. In partnership with the One Who raised Jesus from the dead, and is living in us by His Spirit.

An Ancient Prayer For This Day

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I’m a Protestant. Born and bred one. I’d never been in a Catholic church until I was in my late 40’s. Can you believe it? One has no control over their origins.

But when I read How the Irish Saved Civilization, I brushed up against a saint who’s become one of my favorite historical figures. St. Patrick. He didn’t actually drive the snakes out of Ireland. They didn’t even have cars when he was alive. Protestant joke. He was, though, a central figure in Ireland pulling itself out of and away from the deeply entrenched paganism in it’s DNA.

He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and brought the grace of Christ to the emerald island. If you’re looking for a little personal enrichment while you’re quarantined, do some research on Patrick. Here’s a link if you want a place to start: https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/saint-patrick Even if he doesn’t become your favorite saint, I bet you’ll be blessed by his story.

With all the confusion and conflicting data that’s pouring froth from every direction these days about the horribly diseased condition of our planet, my friend, Patrick offers a prayer of sanity and peace. It’s reported to have been composed by him in the mid-600’s, but the message is as fresh as if he’d written it this morning.

Take a deep breath and read this slowly, out loud. I hope it breathes grace and peace into your heart as it did for me.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today
Against wounding
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

Three Things You’d Better Be Stockpiling

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If you need toilet paper soon, you’re probably out of luck. For a while, anyway. The same with hand sanitizer. Depending on where you live, the same thing with bottled water. Horror of horrors! We may all be forced to drink water from the faucet! How barbaric! How primitive! Whatever shall we do!?

The supply chain can’t keep up with the panic. It will eventually catch up. Then we’ll have more of all of it than we know what to do with. I think some of us already have more of it than we know what to do with. The people who really need these things, people who can’t get to the store easily, the elderly, simple folks like me, we’ll figure out how to make do.

I’ll do my best not to judge you if you’ve stockpiled. Too late. I already did a few days ago when this whole panic thing hit the tipping point.

I’d say it’s funny what panic does to us. It’s not funny, though. It’s sad and dangerous. God gave us the capacity for fear as a gift to perpetuate the human race. But when fear gets blow out of reasoned proportion, it does the opposite of what God designed it to do. It makes us jumpy and anxious and selfish.

Maybe you’ve seen the meme on Facebook.

Image may contain: possible text that says 'Genesis Elijah @GenesisElijah One of the most disappointing things in this whole saga so far is that no one needed to bulk buy, but they did which then led people to panic buy and now some have to go without things they need. We're the virus. We are the weakest link. Fear and greed will always be our downfall'

The Novo Caronavirus is real. It has spread across most of the world and will likely continue to spread, though with the measures in place it’s likely to spread less quickly than it did in its early stages. Paying attention and acting toward its threat intelligently isn’t panic. It’s stewarding your life and the lives of people you love. Perhaps “social distancing” is appropriate. Hand-washing and covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze is, too. And, by the way, if you didn’t get taught that these two things are always appropriate, you missed one of the most fundamental lessons on hygiene. I have preschool grandsons who know to do these things. Grow up and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. And if you’re feeling sick, stay at home.

What’s not funny to me is what fear does to us. It makes us stockpile some outrageous things. Usually, the Three Things You’d Better Be Stockpiling aren’t on the shopping list, though. This is partly because the world is full of lemmings, and partly because they’re not available for purchase. The Apostle Paul identified them to his protege, Timothy.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)

There you go. Three spiritual things that God has given us. Three things we’d better be stockpiling for crises. Power. Love. A sound mind. Or as some translations put it, “self-control.”

Pull the dipstick out of your soul and take a reading. How ya doin with these three things in a season of global panic?

Power? Well, is there ever a time when you don’t need a power beyond your own? I think one of the biggest lessons of this season is that control is only an illusion. If you misunderstand power for control, you’re in deep yogurt. It’s not the same. Power is what you have when things are out of your control. Ultimately, the only power any of us has is the power to choose our response to what happens to us. For Christians, this power is a gift to us from God.

Love? I think this is the most important thing we have power to choose. When panic makes me want to hide and make sure nobody gets what I’ve saved up, that’s when I may most need the power to choose love. And if Christians really do want to be a light set on a hill, there will be no better time to choose love than when the world around us is in panic mode.

My favorite definition of love came from my friend and mentor, B.A. Austin. “Love,” he said, “is doing for the other person what they really need.” Not what I want to do for them. Maybe not even what they want me to do for them. Love is doing for the other person what they really need. You’ll want to dwell on that idea. It applies in every human relationship.

A sound mind, or self-discipline? You’ll never be able to exercise power to choose love without a sound mind and discipline. A sound mind and self-discipline make it possible to overwhelm the out-of-control instinct to self-protect and hoard. Panic hijacks the thinking, choosing, deciding part of the brain and spins us up to do selfish and unhealthy things. Things, which after the panic subsides we wish we hadn’t done, or at least had done differently. I don’t know the actual math on this, but I’m thinking about 15/16 of the angst and conflict in my life fits in this pattern. You’re probably more mature than me, but I’m thinking you can look back on the last week or so and see that pattern in your life, too.

So here’s what I’m recommending.

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Stop right now and ask God to do in your heart what Paul told Timothy He’s done for every believer. Ask Him to make His Power, Love and a Sound Mind a living reality for you in your feeling and thinking. Ask Him to remind you that He’s in control, and that He has trusted you to make choices about how to express His Power, Love and Soundness of Mind in your life.

Here’s the deal. This Coronavirus crisis will be over. I don’t know when, but I believe it will end. Sooner than later, I hope and pray. Just like the H1N1, Swine Flu, and half-a-dozen other infectious disease crises in our recent history, this, too shall pass. But there will be others. Count on it. Jesus didn’t say, “In the world you will have tribulation,” for no reason. The smartest thing any follower of Jesus can do is stockpile the three things that will always be essential, regardless of the crisis, and be ready for whatever that crisis is, whenever it comes. The last part of what Jesus said in the verse I quoted is also valid: but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.

And, by the by, if you’ve got kids or grand kids, you ought to model and teach them this, too. It could be equally contagious. Wouldn’t it be great if it were pandemic?

I Thought I’d Figured This Out…

Pardon me while I indulge in a little self-disclosure (and pardon my poor judgement in including this picture…).

For the first time in my adult life, I’m not employed by a church. For 45 years, I’d been on somebody’s staff at a church in Oklahoma, Nevada or Iowa. In August, Debbie and I moved back home to Oklahoma so I could start a new career as a pastoral counselor. It feels good to be home in the land of red dirt and warmer temperatures. I’m enjoying my work with True North Ministries. We’re settled in to our new home.

But.

But, although I thought I knew it would take a while to get established in a new counseling practice, it’s taking a lot longer than I had anticipated. I have more gaps in my schedule than I like. Which means I’m seeing far fewer clients than I want to see. And one of the bottom lines on this is that our income is pretty really limited. This is a concern, but God has always been faithful. We’ve never missed a payment or a meal because of finances.

There’s anther bottom line for me on this. When I’ve got so many openings and so few clients, I feel unproductive. I can’t do what I feel I’m really good at without clients. Philosophically, I get that feeling unproductive isn’t the same thing as being unproductive. And it’s way not the same thing as being fruitless and incompetent. The clients I’m seeing are being helped. The distance between my feeling and my thinking gets wide here, though. I don’t feel productive.

I’ve counseled others through a season of unproductiveness, successfully in most cases. It stinks when you have to take your own counsel, though. I’m probably my worst counselee. Probably?

I went through this after my heart attack, in 2011. I wasn’t able to work for 6 months. For the first 8 or 9 weeks, I was helpless as a puppy. Debbie had to do almost everything for me. I was more than fragile. I was brittle, like pretty much any small thing would break me.

I had struggled before this time with feeling unsuccessful, but this was the first time I’d been unproductive, and unable to guess when I’d be productive again. Feelings of success weren’t even a blip on the radar. I had an identity crisis. If I couldn’t work, who was I?

Always before I could say, “I’m a Youth Minister.” Or, “I’m a Family Minister.” Or, “I’m a Care Pastor.” But for 6 months, I could only say that I had done those things. You can probably see the problem here. My identity was wrapped up in what I did. As long as I was contributing and adding value, I felt good about who I was. I felt valuable. But when I couldn’t do that, when I couldn’t contribute, I didn’t just feel bad about what I wasn’t doing. I felt bad about who I was.

I know intellectually that what I do (or did) is not who I am. I teach this. I write about it. I counsel others toward this. But today, with a very open calendar, I’m struggling to feel good about myself. I’m having trouble not disliking myself, in fact.

As I left the house to come in to my office for one of two appointments I have for the day, Debbie kissed me and said, “I love you.” I said, “I love you too.” In my mind I said, “Yeah, but I don’t love me.”

I’m not the only person who struggles with this. Far from it. If you don’t or haven’t, I’d love to interview you. I think everybody encounters valleys like this.

There is something worse than feeling fruitless and lame because of inactivity, though. It’s feeling fruitless and lame with a full schedule, overworking and producing. Been there. Done that. As in the King James Version of the Bible, “It sucketh.” Yea, verily.

This is the double-edged sword of the identity problem. If you’re not producing, you may struggle with who you are. If you’re producing, you may still struggle with who you are. As I said, it sucketh.

I do not quickly or easily move out of this. I’m often given to moodiness, so that plays into it. Moods come from somewhere. From the environment, from my perception of the environment, from my digestion, and probably a dozen other things. But from wherever they come, I am responsible to decide what to do about them. Will I bathe in them (which often results in drowning in them), or will I move through them? It comes down to my choice.

Sometimes it takes me a while to choose well. A few minutes, in best case. A few days, in less than best case. In all cases, what happens after this choice is a ton of self-talk. A ton of self-talk has always been rumbling through my mind like a freight train before I make this choice, so self-talk isn’t an abrupt change. The nature of the talk is, though. Pre-choice, it’s all negative. It’s all tilted toward lies from hell. It’s loud and it’s relentless.

For me, nothing works better for silencing this negative self-talk than drowning it out with the truth. Sounds easy. It’s not. For lots of reasons, it’s far more difficult to drown out lies with truth than I want it to be. I’ll leave all the reasons for this to people smarter than me. My simple explanation is that I, like all of humanity, am broken. We’ve been broken since Adam and Eve bit into the unidentified fruit.

One thing with this is that we can be so well versed in the lies Satan tosses out to us, and so poorly versed in the truth that we have little to work with in the effort to overcome lies with truth. Before the truth can set you free, you’ve got to know the truth. That’s what Jesus said. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31, 32 ESV) Lots of us brush up against His word, like once a week or so, but few of us actually abide in it, live in it, consume it. This is a key. The only way we’ll know the truth is to abide in Jesus’ words. The truth and making us fee will not happen before we abide this way.

One of my favorite questions is, “If you believed about yourself what God says He believes about you, how different would you life be?” So far every Christian I’ve asked this question of has said something like, “Wow. A lot different.” But very few people are able to tell me more than that, because very few people know what God says He believes about them.

My friend, Joe Hardenbrook, built a brilliant tool for discovering what God believes about you. I call it The I.D. Card. I’ve made this offer before, and I’m making it again. If you’d like a PDF of this card, I’d be more than happy to send it out to you. All you need to do is to reply in the comments that you’d like it and leave me your email address, and I’ll fire it out to you.

Drowning out lies with the truth that sets you free isn’t for sissies. It takes work. It takes persistence and perseverance. But here’s the good news: God wants you to know and tell yourself this truth. In fact no one wants this for you more than He does. Ask Him to open your mind and heart to it, and then dive in to abide in His word. It’s a prayer He loves to answer.