Hebrews 12 New International Version (NIV)
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
“How are you doing, runner?”
When I was a sophomore in high school and had injured both my knee and lower back playing football, the cross-country coach approached me and asked if I might be interested in being on his team as part of my recovery. I thought, “Why not,” and spent the remaining fall season running trails instead of the gridiron. Most of our meet races were either 3 or 5 miles in length. We regularly trained at longer distances and occasionally, a few of us would enter a longer trial in competition. Whatever the length, it was important to pace ourselves and save for the “kick” at the finish. During races and even in training, it was common for our coach, an official or even a fellow teammate to check-in and ask, “How are you doing runner?”
We’ve been running this COVID-19 quarantine race for a while now, and it appears that the finish line is still a ways out in the distance. Oh, we seem to be entering a place in the course where the terrain is opening up and softening a bit as more and more of life reopens for us. But we are still being asked to shelter-in-place, only making trips out for essential items or to exercise, maintain our social-distancing from one another and wear facial coverings whenever we are in the presence of someone from outside our household. And so I ask, “How are you doing, runner?”
And, in doing so, I can only imagine some of your responses. Some of you, I know, haven’t really changed pace from how things were before. Oh, to be sure, the equipment you’re wearing and rules you’re being asked to follow have been drastically amended but you’re pretty much humming along your course as you did before. Others of you have reported that being asked to shelter in place has been the equivalent of asking a runner to wear 50-pound weights on their ankles. The restrictions for some being out of work, unable to spend time in the actual presence of friends, not being able to go wherever or do whatever you want – has left you feeling less motivated or not being able to muster up the impetus to follow through on that new goal or hobby this time could be allowing. It is making it really difficult to find your rhythm or pace.
In this state of uncertainty, it can be challenging to “keep running” and it may feel as though you’re a bit disoriented, discouraged or demotivated. Perhaps your go-tos have become binge-watching entertainment, over-dosing on news…or social media…or eating things you’d normally have an easier time limiting or saying no to. You may be finding it difficult to climb up off the couch or even out of bed. The fact is, these changes we’re experiencing can have a big impact on our physical, mental and spiritual health.
Experts warn that singles are at somewhat higher risk for mental health issues during this season of social distancing and self-isolation. Many of you are worried about the health of loved ones’ health, your own health, employment issues and financial security. On top of that, all of us are more socially cut off than ever before. (If you find yourself or a friend struggling emotionally and in need of some help in this season, please don’t hesitate to call the church office  724-6700.)
These factors can create a downward spiral of loneliness, confusion and anxiety. But Rob Jackson, a licensed counselor with Focus on the Family, says self-care can help. “When motivated by the Holy Spirit, self-care is an act of stewardship,” he says. “With His help, we care for ourselves in ways that protect and promote our unity with God.”
We need to be ready for whatever life throws at us next. The airlines, in the event of an emergency where oxygen masks drop from compartments above our seats, counsel us to place the oxygen mask over our own face and breathe slowly and deeply before assisting others. Self-care isn’t selfish. Self-care saves lives.
Building endurance back into your life
Here are six acts of self-care to practice during quarantine.
1. Read the Bible.
God’s truth renews our minds and gives us a biblical view of the events taking place in the world around us. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Quarantine is an excellent opportunity to establish a habit of reading God’s Word daily. (Check out some of the devotional resources we’ve listed later in this newsletter for some great basics to getting started.)
Getting your blood pumping releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain (endorphins) that have been shown to curb mild depression. Right now you can find tons of great exercise classes and workout plans online. But if starting something new is stressing you out, start super-simple. Take a 15-minute walk or use a stationary bike or lift light weights while you watch a 30-minute show. Even stretching can relieve pain and make you feel more relaxed.
3. Drink water.
I love drinking coffee, and when I’m under stress (and stuck at home) I tend to drink more of it than normal. But drinking water (ideally 64 oz. per day) offers many health benefits including greater delivery of oxygen to cells, the flushing out of waste, and greater immune system function.
4. Eat well.
While snacks, cheese and chocolate may be good comfort foods right now, a steady diet of them won’t improve my mental health (or my waistline!). Now is a great time to focus on eating a simple, clean diet — high-nutrition foods such as veggies, fruit, healthy proteins and whole grains that fuel your body and brain. Even if you follow the “80/20 rule” — eating healthy 80 percent of the time and enjoying indulgences 20 percent of the time — your emotions are likely to benefit.
With all the available entertainment options — free movies, TV series and even games available online — I can find myself more easily bingeing than engaging in things more productive, like getting a good night’s sleep. Then I wake up feeling exhausted and not as well emotionally equipped to face another day of this new reality. Experts suggest protecting your sleep by stopping screen time a few hours before bed and trying to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Picking a consistent time to both go to sleep and get up in the morning also helps.
6. Prioritize relationships.
During this season, I’ve participated in an unprecedented number of Zoom and Facetime calls with work mates, family members, friends and even my Life Group – and it’s helped! While social media and texting can be alluring for a quick fix of people contact, it’s not truly relational. Try to connect with at least one other real person once a day through a phone call or video conference. And now that our Life Groups are changing pace with the summer months in site, find additional ways to stay connected.
One single woman I know has been using video conferencing to set up “dinner dates” with her friends. Another works puzzles with a former housemate over FaceTime (of course, each has their own puzzle). North Coast will be offering multiple opportunities for group learning this summer through video conferencing. Keep reaching out to family members and friends. These interactions, while not as awesome as in-person get-togethers, do help to quell loneliness and create safe, socially-distanced community.
Self-care as stewardship
Incorporating these six habits will help you be happier and healthier in this season of upheaval. It is also important and healthy to make sure to give yourself grace, too. Most of us can (and should) admit that these last months have been, in one way or another, difficult. But now is the time to make self-care a priority. “Spiritual practice, exercise, nutrition and rest all support you being your best self,” Jackson says. “By addressing the spirit, mind, and body, you care for the whole person.” That’s practicing good stewardship.
Focusing on physical and mental health allows you to stand against spiritual attack and be ready for whatever the future holds. One day, when COVID-19 and all the havoc it wreaked is in the rearview, God will have new opportunities and relationships for you to step into. Prioritize your health now so you will be ready to embrace them.
You are deeply valued and loved and we treasure being in community with you.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Care for yourself so you can care for others.