Another pandemic is coming.
We’ve now experienced a way of life that no one saw coming. A few months ago I would have scoffed at you if you claimed we’d be locked in our homes for weeks, thousands around us will die, and our economy and world as we know it will be completely different. It would sound like nonsense, yet that’s the reality that COVID-19 has left us with.
Coronavirus (CV-19) in of itself seems like enough to think about and consume our day with, but there’s still another pandemic on it’s way (if not here already) that I want us to turn our attention to. Perhaps “pandemic” isn’t quite the best terminology, but hopefully it helps you capture how important it is for us to talk and think through together.
The unfortunate reality of CV-19 has left people feeling isolated and alone, without loved ones temporarily and forever, feeling hopeless, and wondering how to get through the day. How do I know this?
Because I’m one of those people.
But, how can that even be possible, someone might ask eluding that I’m a person of strong faith. Yes, I am. But, so was David….and Job….and Jesus for that matter. Each of them at some moment in their lives and ministry lamented, and walked through isolation, suffering, and pain. If you’re human, suffering and pain is inevitable.
The past year of my life has been one for the ages as I hit age 40 and sank into the darkest and loneliest season of life that I can remember. CV-19 was the cherry on top of an already created sundae I was about to consume. I don’t want to use this blog space to share about all of the tragic events that led to my dismay, but I do think it’s helpful for you to know some of the context. It included pain from the loss of a family member(more details here), many disjointed and broken relationships, abandonment from monumental people in my life, and finally resulting in feeling a high level of isolation which led to lacking clear purpose. Now, combine these things and more and sprinkle in a mandatory, isolating pandemic and you have yourself a recipe for a depressed human being. Many all around me are struggling emotionally, physically, spiritually, and are seeking what they can put their trust and hope in. If they don’t find it quickly, it could lead to a dark place of depression.
It’s the coming pandemic that’s easily overlooked.
Depression isn’t just being sad. It’s sadness that has taken over your entire being. Some even call depression a disease. I’m not sure how to classify it, but what I do know is that there are people everywhere that are just a few steps away from it. It’s no secret that all of us are suffering some sort of loss and pain right now. Some of us have lost our routines of going to the gym, getting a haircut, and going to a baseball game. Others have suffered bigger losses of financial security, health, and even loved ones. Because of this, CV-19 has forced many of us to consider what we put our trust and hope into.
Perhaps you’re reading this and wondering what to do with the pain and loss that you’re going through. I’m going to share some of the practical resources that are currently helping me in a bit. Others of you reading this may be in a position to help another person that is either going through pain or is entering into a depressed state. If you haven’t crossed the path of the broken-hearted yet, you will. Keep reading…
For those of you struggling…
If I’m describing you in this season season of isolation, you first need to know this: There’s a God who knows you and sees you and cares for you. He sees your pain and feels it with you. He’s not some distant God; He is near to your soul. Search for Him with all of your being, and you will find Him.
I became a follower of Jesus 15 years ago at Forest Home retreat center in Southern California. God spoke to me there in the mountains sitting on a rock right behind Hormel Hall. Over the past several weeks and months, I’ve agonized with God. I’ve asked Him to rescue me and take away my pain meanwhile wondering if He was even listening. Similar to that experience I had in the mountains, not only did I begin to sense His closeness and presence through His Spirit, I’ve also found a new yearning and hunger for His grace over my life. God is near to the broken-hearted(Psalm 34:18) and Jesus is the bread of life. As of late, I’ve found myself hungering for my Daily Bread. (John 6:32-40). He is teaching me and feeding me all of what I need and more. He is proving Himself to be enough even though my humanity and flesh crave the things around me. He is enough.
In many ways this is absurdly paradoxical. Here I am asking God to take away my pain and suffering, while sitting so comfortably in his presence that I don’t want anything to change. I can’t explain it other than responding with this: Thank you God for my pain and suffering; it has allowed me to experience you and your grace in new, profound ways. I mentioned some resources that have been helpful along the way. There are two that I’d encourage you to check out and are great for both readers and listeners. First, the reader: My mom actually gave me a book by a Catholic priest named Henri Nouwen called The Inner Voice of Love. It has been astounding. The book came from Henri’s personal journal as he wrote about his daily struggles. The journal entries were eventually compiled and formed this book to encourage you in “anguish to freedom.” Each day you just read a page or 2 as it’s a new journal entry and describes a different subject he wrestled through in his pain and loneliness. I cannot tell you how much of a God-send it has been for me.
Secondly, I’ve been attached to a podcast series on pain and suffering by Dr. Timothy Keller. I encourage you to listen to the entire series, but if you find that you’ll likely only listen to one of them, this one is great. I believe Tim Keller is the greatest theologian of our time, and I cannot seem to get enough of his teachings. He’s authored many books on this subject along with many others.
For those of you in a position to help…
First of all, thank you for taking this to heart. In moments of darkness in people’s lives, you can be a beacon of light. The same way that a ship lost at sea in the middle of the night sees a lighthouse in the distance, a friend that brings caring hope can help a suffering person begin to heal. But, we also need to realize that there’s ways to respond that are both helpful and unhelpful.
If a struggling friend shares with you their pain and suffering, the natural inclination for many of us is to help them understand and explain why they are going through the situation. Unfortunately, sometimes this actually creates more damage than it does to help heal. I’ve now lost a best friend, a sister, and a father in death. Not during any of those painful times did I find healing through a listener’s explanation. I’d even ask questions like, “Why would God allow this to happen!?” Even though I was asking the question at the time, the explanation just wasn’t what I needed.
Still the best responses in situations like those were “I’m unsure” and “I’m sorry, I just don’t know.” I found my grieved state slow, but healing when others were simply with me, listened well, and attempted to feel my pain with me. A great listener is gold to a person in distress. Stephen Covey talks about 5 levels of listening and describes the highest level as Empathic listening where the listener truly understands and feels what the communicator is expressing. Explanations were not only not helpful to me, they actually made me wonder if the listener truly heard and understood the pain I was trying to communicate.
If you’ve done this it’s okay. Many times we learn how to walk with someone in their pain from either making the mistake and learning from it, or because we’ve shared a similar level of pain and can truly empathize with them. Both of which causes us to grow. Instead, try to just BE with the person. Truly listen and seek to understand their pain. This shows them that you care about what they are currently going through.
Some of you might say, I haven’t run into someone suffering. The truth is, those of us that are usually don’t like to broadcast it to the world. You’ve probably interacted with someone distressed and didn’t know it. Even if you haven’t, you will soon. Asking good questions to those around you can be very helpful. “How are you handling all that’s going on right now?” or “Are you doing ok right now?” or even “How are you REALLY doing right now?” A little question can go along way with someone feeling alone. It communicates that you care. If you are a Christian, ask God’s Spirit to help you. He’s ready and willing.
So what now?
One interesting fact about pain and suffering that I learned from the Tim Keller podcast episode I mentioned above was the fact that our Western Culture is the only culture that does not have a true meaning or purpose for pain, and we are actually taught to avoid it at all costs. Meanwhile, cultures all across the globe have some sort of explanation for pain, and some even count it as a blessing to suffer. Without giving away too much more, Tim then goes on to share how Christianity does offer much hope in the area of pain and suffering for those looking to make sense of it.
I called it a “coming pandemic” because we as Americans struggle with handling and making sense of our pain. We simply want it to go away. We don’t know how to deal with it, and for many of us, it leads into a very dark place. We must get better at this and turn to the only Source of hope that can complete us. He is enough.
This is the reason I felt necessary to create a blog space about responding to pain, suffering, isolation, and depression. It’s all around us, and sadly, I believe it’s going to increase as we sort through the remains of the CV-19 pandemic. Are you prepared to handle it when it comes your way? Are you able to walk through your pain with God and others? Or, are you able to walk alongside others empathically as they struggle with isolation and depression?
We are all suffering some sort of loss and pain right now. How will you use this time to bring about hope and Good News into our world? I think we all could all use a little more hope and Good News.
Maybe your neighbor or coworker needs it. Maybe you need it. I certainly need it.