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Spiritual diary of self-isolation: The lifeline of limits on thoughts

Lynne Baab • Saturday March 21 2020

Spiritual diary of self-isolation: The lifeline of limits on thoughts

At the two and a half week mark, I am doing reasonably well with this new and difficult pattern of self-isolation, as long as I think about each day as it comes. When I wonder how long we’re going to have to do this – a few months, many months, a year, longer than a year? – I can literally feel the fear sweep over my body. Physical tension builds in my chest, and my whole body becomes rigid.

When I wonder who will die that I know and love, or when I think about the future of the world economy, I can feel the same bodily sensations.

For most of my life, I been unenthusiastic about the often quoted verse, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). It sounded too chirpy and upbeat, like we were supposed to forget the things that make us sad. A couple of years ago, I heard a children’s sermon about this verse, and after church I had a couple of minutes to talk to the woman who gave the children’s sermon. I told her I had always had mixed feelings about the verse, and she said, “For me, this verse is the foundation for each day, a kind of compass that helps me orient myself, and a source of deep peace. God made this day. The day belongs to God, not to me. Because I’m not in charge, I don’t have to worry.”

Somehow I can rest in God’s presence in this day, and God’s ownership of it, much more than I can get a hold of God’s ownership of all the days in my future. Maybe that’s the way things are supposed to be. God is in charge of the future and hasn’t given it to me yet. God has given me this day to live as wisely as I can. So, in this challenging time, I am trying to think about the present, and leave the future in God’s hands. Easier said than done, but the cost of thinking about the future is so high. I’m trying to let that cost motivate me.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who is four months into chemo and radiation for advanced cancer. She said that ever since the cancer was diagnosed, she has been trying to engage in practices that ground her in the present – walking outside enjoying nature, meditating on scripture, enjoying the gift of each conversation with a friend or family member, practicing the presence of God. Now that the virus is looming, she said that she can engage in the same practices for the virus as for the cancer. For her, there is something to worry about every single minute of every single day – concerns related to both the cancer and the virus. It’s a choice, she said, where we focus our thoughts.

She’s had four month to practice. Many of the rest of us have been trying to do this in some small way for a while, but we need to do it now in a big way.

I have been embracing the lifeline of putting limits or boundaries around my thoughts. I’ve just described one component: focusing on the present rather than the future. Another component relates to consuming and talking about news related to the virus. I’ve learned I need to avoid reading news or talking about it with my husband at some point well before bedtime. Of course, I had to learn that the hard way, by having a couple of sleepless nights after virus discussion at bedtime.

Last night I read some online news about the virus just before 8, and I turned off my laptop so I could read my novel. Dave was still reading news, and I asked if we could have a little nightly ritual of turning off the news, refraining from talking about it any more, and entrusting our night into God’s hands. We decided that one of us would read Simeon’s words in Luke 2:29-32 when Simeon sees the infant Jesus. These words are a part of the ancient Compline service. So we did that for the first time last night, followed by a prayer. I’m hoping we’ll memorize these beautiful words of Simeon’s:

Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.

I wrote two days ago about how we all have to blunder around learning new ways to cope in this strange time. We have to have an attitude of experimentation because this is almost all new.

God can help us grab the lifeline of putting limits on our thoughts. God can help us focus our thoughts on this day. God made this day. The day belongs to God, not to me. Because I’m not in charge, I don’t have to worry. Lord, impress these truths on our hearts.

Next week: more lifelines. Illustration by Dave Baab. I love getting new subscribers. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below.

I’ve had two posts recently on the Godspace blog, both focused on creation. As I wrote in my first post in this series about self-isolation, nature is a huge anchor for me and others right now, so these posts are particularly relevant:

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