I grew up in a General Conference Mennonite Church family. We did not dress differently from my Catholic friends. Theologically, the big difference was the belief in “Believer’s Baptism.” Where my Catholic friends were all baptized as infants, my parents had me consecrated. I was not baptized until I was 16. I still remember telling my friends on a Monday that what I did over the weekend was “get baptized.” My Catholic friends were horrified. Thinking back, it was kind of fun watching their concern! Especially since the fear of dying without being baptized was not at all on my radar.
Another thing missing from my radar was satan. In the Mennonite church we did not talk much about the Holy Spirit or satan. We talked a lot about peace and social justice. Helping others was a more frequent topic than whether or not the devil was out to destroy us.
Add to that experience, my training as a mental health professional. I’ve been taught to look for underlying causes and emotions. “What’s really going on here?” is a question I frequently wrestle with as opposed to wondering what satan is up to now.
So, when I started hearing comments that satan is responsible for keeping us from worshipping together, the hair on the back of my neck bristled. That’s when I thought maybe I needed to look a little deeper to see what might be underneath the comments. Theology aside, how do I best address the mental health needs of my community when dear old satan starts running around trying to spread chaos and confusion?
First, I do not like to give the devil more attention than he deserves. He is like a pesky bug that sometimes buzzes around my face. I’m not going to ignore that he could be at work at times in our world. At the same time, I’m not giving him more power than God. To me, God is always in control. And that’s where my faith rests. So, I refuse to give satan’s name a capital. Does not deserve it.
When it comes to worshipping together in person, that is such a joy. Even the introvert in me that likes to hide in the back or sneak in after the pastors have told everyone to “greet your neighbor,” even I am getting a little tired of hearing myself sing along to the livestream of worship! I would adore hearing your voices as we join together to say the Lord’s Prayer. In other words, I understand the anger behind blaming satan.
Retired Pastor Doug Manning, who wrote “Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me” states that anger does not float well. It has to find somewhere to land. And satan is an easy character for us to blame right now. For lack of a better word, it stinks that we cannot be together.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. Anger and blame are usually surface emotions. They come out when we have deeper, more uncomfortable emotions going on underneath. Most of the time that’s fear. In our current pandemic world, fear is natural. Along with fear comes this sense that we are not in control of anything. Restrictions on our social lives are beyond our control. There are so many unanswered questions right now about COVID-19 and when life will get back to “normal.” That leaves us feeling out of control. Not being able to worship together is beyond our control.
Taking some time to recognize what we do have control over can restore a sense of balance and reduce our fear into a more manageable size. One of my clients found the book series “52 Lists … ” She started using the book “52 Lists for Calm” by Moora Seal. The first list suggests you make a list of everything on your mind. She does this at bedtime. Then she crosses out everything she does not have control over. In the act of crossing that item out she also prays. She asks God to take care of whatever that item is. She imagines herself letting go and pictures God taking the item up.
Then she circles the items she does have control over. As she circles these items, she pictures herself taking a simple first step toward taking care of each item.
This practice has been helping her sleep better at night and reduces her anxiety over the things she does not have control over. She’s been using this practice for about one month now. It is so nice to see her smile too as she describes the difference it makes for her!
Another emotion that I believe lies under the anger and blame-game is loneliness. Loneliness is a very powerful motivator. Over the years, I’ve witnessed many smart and creative people making poor life choices out of loneliness, myself included.
At this time, we are all feeling loneliness as we gather together less frequently and in different kinds of groups than we are used to. We’ve given up handshakes and hugs. Our seniors are isolated in their living facilities. Loneliness is pervasive right now.
Somewhere in the last couple months I developed my usual sinus infection. In order to get through it I resorted to a routine I’m sure stems from an old wives’ tale. I rubbed my feet with Vick’s Vapor Rub and then put socks on before I went to bed. Even though the sinus infection is long gone, I’m still giving myself a foot rub before bed. It’s not ideal, but it really helps with the lack of touch I’ve noticed during the stay-at-home orders.
If foot rubs are not your thing, you can also give yourself a face massage. Open your hands with the palms up. Close your eyes. Gently lay your face in your hands. Then gently and lovingly massage your face. This is a wonderfully loving way to care for yourself at this time.
Last, I see weariness creeping in for all of us as we deal with a pandemic that will most likely be with us for several more months. “Zoom fatigue” is a thing. I do not have a great suggestion for dealing with this one. However, I do recommend humor. Humor helps us take ourselves a lot less seriously and right now, we all could use a dose of that.
Hmmm, the weariness reminds me of a joke I read in one of my “Holy Humor” books. Do you know how to get to the top of an oak tree?
Sit on an acorn and wait.
LOL! Kind of what we are doing right now. Right?!
Feel free to share your jokes with me. Let’s keep satan socially distanced from us with our laughter. I cannot wait.