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Spiritual diary of self-isolation: Wrestling with God for a blessing

Lynne Baab • Thursday March 26 2020

Spiritual diary of self-isolation: Wrestling with God for a blessing

Today I’m praying for friends in New Zealand, the UK, New York, California, and many other places where self-isolation, sheltering in place, or lockdown is starting. Whatever you call this stay-at-home phenomenon, it is a HUGE adjustment. Since my husband Dave and I have been doing it for three weeks, I have a lot to say about the spiritual implications.

Today I want to springboard off of the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob says, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:28). I want to encourage all Christians to wrestle with God in these strange times. We can expect that God will be shaping us, transforming us, and blessing us in unexpected ways. I’ll list some of the challenges and the ways we might wrestle with God in them:

1. Unexpected emotions. I cannot believe the variety of emotions I have experienced in the past three weeks of self-isolation. Deep gratitude, spiced with moments of irritation, for my husband. Longing for a hug from family members and friends. Fear that sweeps across my body and tightens my chest. I want to accept that this is an unprecedented time, and of course I will feel LOTS of uncomfortable  things. I want to grow in accepting my feelings as weather that changes. But I also want to identify the sin within the emotions – perhaps those moments when I feel hate for someone or something, or moments when I turn to food for refuge instead of to God or other healthier options.

God’s constancy is a refuge in these challenging times, and one of the constants in God’s character is the forgiveness offered to us in Christ. We can grow in acknowledging and accepting varied emotions, while also growing in figuring out new ways we need to ask for God’s forgiveness.

2. The challenge of love. Here’s another area where we can grow. I embraced self-isolation initially out of love for my husband, who has a chronic lung disease. Then I learned that if Dave and I can stay home and stay well, we will reduce the spread of the virus and open up hospital beds for others. This is a new form of love. How exciting. How weird. I described this love journey in the first post in this series.

Love takes so many new shapes for us right now. What does love look like if you’re home alone? What does love look like with housemates and partners? What does love look like in a Skype call or Zoom conference? We need God’s guidance and help to explore the ways we can show love in this strange time. In addition, at far too many moments the challenges of love right now take us right back to our need for God’s forgiveness.

3. New/old lifelines. Going to the gym has been a lifeline for me for more than a decade. I can’t walk for exercise, as I did when I was younger, because of joint problems. I love the rhythm of the weight machines. That lifeline has been taken away from me, so I ordered an exercise bicycle online. At this point, I can still ride my real bicycle outside and enjoy nature (another huge lifeline), but as everyone knows, we have rainy days in Seattle, and regular exercise is so important to me.

A lifeline connects an astronaut to the mother ship. I’m using the word “lifelines” to describe the practices, habits and patterns of thought that keep us connected to God. We have the challenge and opportunity in these weird days to discover new lifelines or rediscover old ones that have worked in the past.

The Psalms have always been a lifeline for me, and in these strange and emotional days, I need the honesty and passion of the Psalms. I need their model of bringing all emotions to God.  All of us need that more than ever.

Another lifeline for me has always been music, particularly playing the piano. In the three weeks of self-isolation, I haven’t been able to play very often. I have no idea why, and I’m hoping that will change. That brings me to another challenge.

4. Learning to show grace to ourselves. Why haven’t I been able to play the piano? God knows, and I don’t. My job is to accept God’s grace in that area, and move on. We will have to extend grace to ourselves over and over. As I wrote in the second post in this series, we are all blundering around trying to figure out how to cope with a huge change in our daily rhythms. Of course we won’t get it right at first. We can grow in experiencing the abundance of God’s grace for ourselves and others.

My husband has been studying 2 Corinthians. Chapter 4 is worth reading because the Apostle Paul talks about being “afflicted in every way but not crushed” (verse 8), highly relevant for our time. Paul quotes from Psalm 116, one of the many Psalms that are relevant for our current challenges.

I love the Lord, because he has heard
   my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
   therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me;
   the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
   I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
   ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
   our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
   when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
   for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For you have delivered my soul from death,
   my eyes from tears,
   my feet from stumbling. (Psalm 116:1-8)

May God give all of us the ability to return to our rest in the Triune, loving God.

Next post: more about lifelines. Illustration by Dave Baab: Dunedin Botanic Garden (I am particularly thinking of New Zealand today as lockdown has just started). I welcome new subscribers. Sign up below and you’ll receive an email when I post on this blog.

The first post in this series – a spiritual diary of self-isolation – is here. I wrote several posts a few years ago about the spiritual practice of separating thoughts from feelings, a very relevant topic now as we experience a myriad of feelings intertwined with catastrophic thoughts. At the time, readers told me how valuable the series was to them. The first post is here.

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