By Steve Wiechman
I read this post the other day while quarantine Facebook scrolling: “Can’t go to work. No sports on TV. Who am I?” That’s funny on day two of quarantine. That’s not so funny on day fourteen.
One of the gifts of this pandemic disruption of our “normal” lives is that it causes us to notice new things. What if this forced pause in our productivity is an invitation to notice what hasn’t been noticed for a while?
Oh, sure: more time with family; the little things; gratefulness for work. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
What if these days of no work and no sports is actually God drawing near to revive your heart and remind you who you are because of who God is?
About five years ago my family’s “normal” got completely shaken up. I remember how often I would be confronted by the condition of my own heart and mind. Things that I rarely noticed during my busy work life were hard to not feel without all the busyness.
At first, I attempted to avoid these feelings. (I still avoid my feelings fairly often.) But in time I found a way to be curious about them. Curiosity didn’t kill this cat, though. Instead it brought healing, freedom, and a much clearer answer to that question, “Who am I?”
The following three simple practices will give you a little taste of what I’m talking about. It’s OK if it seems a little strange the first time you try it. You might even have to give it more than one shot before it starts to make sense. But maybe quarantine is the perfect time to practice noticing what’s going on with you and bringing that into the safe and healing presence of Jesus.
First: Notice What You’re Feeling.
God made you as an emotional creature, and your feelings are a dashboard for the condition of your heart and mind. They are actually there to help you. Can they lead you wrong? Sure. But to ignore them, or bury them under more work, or judge them over and over in your head can lead you to all kinds of bad places, too.
So the first thing is simply to notice what you are really feeling.
To do that, we often need help. At least I do. I regularly don’t know what I am actually feeling. People like me can use an “emotions wheel” to try and identify one or more of the often conflicting emotions hiding under a dark rock so you can’t see them clearly. You can experiment with an emotions wheel fairly easily; it’s a process that starts with pretty broad labels and fine-tunes from there.
You might even need another person to help you process or even identify what your emotions are telling you. Pro tip: simply asking, “What are you feeling?” is too straight forward to be helpful for me. I don’t know what I’m feeling. That’s the point. You need to help me express what’s going on inside in a way that lets me feel safe enough to risk coaxing one of those pesky critters out from their hiding spot and into the light.
But not everybody plays hide and seek with their emotions like I do. Some people can easily identify what they are feeling. In fact, they can have so many competing emotions swirling around they can’t figure out how to sift through them.
If that’s you, try writing down as many as you can notice right now. See if labeling each member of the horde helps you determine which one needs attention today. Is one emotion in particular causing a cascade of other emotions? Is there one emotion to rule them all? Is there one that has been waiting patiently in line for the last week and finally needs a little individual attention?
No need to worry about getting this just right. God is in the process and can do something good with even your shaky-toddler effort. If you just can’t decide, closing your eyes and pointing randomly at your list can be a reasonable way to identify one emotion to consider today.
Second: Talk to God about what you discover.
I often don’t answer emails until I have a well thought-out answer, leaving the sender of the email wondering if I ever read what they sent. It may seem silly but I tend to do the same thing with God in prayer: I don’t go to God until I have things figured out, at least to a certain level.
What I have discovered is that God is so patient and caring to receive me in my not knowing, in my not understanding, even in my pettiness and moodiness that I can go to God in prayer and say things like:
- “God, I’m feeling anxious about having all the kids back in the house all day long while trying to help Jamie navigate her recovery from surgery. I don’t feel up to the task. Help.”
- “Jesus, I’m feeling like a hundred different things at the same time! I’m overwhelmed by competing emotions. Is there one in particular that you want to talk with me about today? Would you calm my heart about all the others?”
- “Father, I’m not sure what I’m feeling. I’ve got a wall up, and I’m not even sure why. Can you show me what I’m trying to protect on my own?”
- “Jesus, I’m such a mixture of hope and fear. I go back and forth every few hours. I feel like my faith is so fickle. I’m starting to not like myself very much. What do you think of me?”
- or even this… “God, I don’t want to talk to you. I’m not quite sure why, but the longer I think about it, I think it’s because I don’t expect you to answer me. Will you? Answer me?”
Some of those prayers may seem foolish. Some may even seem dangerous. They do to me. But I have learned over time that God can be trusted with my emotions and my prayers even when they aren’t very holy. And even before I have figured out what they actually are…
Third: Look for the Spirit to Work.
Satan and my own sinful flesh are not the only voices speaking to my mind and my heart. God promised in my baptism to put a new Spirit in me that speaks a grace voice, a resurrection voice, a light and life voice into my spirit. Jesus promised to send the Spirit to lead me closer to him. You can trust that the Spirit who intercedes for you with groans that are too deep for words knows the real condition of your heart and mind and is praying to the Father on your behalf.
Let the Spirit lead you to words of comfort and strength and forgiveness in Scripture. Share what you’ve discovered about yourself and God with a trusted friend and listen for the Spirit speaking through God’s Word in their words as well. As the Spirit gives you insight, and recalls Scripture to you, and speaks in the faithful words of a trusted friend, write down what you see and hear. Create a record of your prayers and God’s response. This tangible record will become a way for you to see God working in your life over time.
If you take time to 1. Notice What You’re Feeling, and 2. Talk to God About What You Discover, and then 3. Look for the Spirit to Work, you might be surprised at how clearly Jesus loves you and longs to be part of your everyday life.
And you might not experience much of anything at all. At least not right away. Many of my questions don’t have simple or quick answers. And many of the things I think are most important, don’t seem to be quite as high on the priority list for Jesus. That’s OK. You can still entrust the process to Jesus, who loves to hear your prayers.
Part of the slowing down and listening process means watching and waiting for God’s answers, in God’s time. “They that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength” is true; yet it can often be a messy waiting process. The process doesn’t have to look pretty for it to work, though!
What’s the point?
In a world that runs at 100 mph and never really stops to take a real break, when the break does finally come (when my Shepherd “makes me lie down in green pastures”) it often doesn’t take long for the deeper condition of your heart to surface.
The invitation is for you to actually notice the deeper condition of your heart with God (my Shepherd also “restores my soul”).
No pressure. No performance here. Just your faithful and patient heavenly Father taking the time to revive your heart about the specifics of your life.
Hebrews 10:22 says: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.” You’ll find that when you notice the true condition of your heart with God, the Spirit will take you on an adventure of discovering more and more who you are because of who Jesus is for you.
Jesus is leaning into you in this quarantine because he loves you. You can tell him exactly how you’re feeling.
Even if you aren’t quite sure what that is…