Last night was the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis that I actually, really, gave in to feeling frightened and despairing. I didn’t have the greatest day trying to entertain my two children and the prospect of having to do that on repeat for three months is mildly terrifying. When Boris Johnson made his announcement – even though, perhaps, we all knew it was coming – my stomach lurched and my head started burring and whirring at a million miles an hour. Mostly with selfish and unhelpful thoughts. Was my amazon order going to come? What qualifies as essential shopping? How do I choose between going for a run myself and taking the girls for some exercise? How hard is it going to be to not hug my mum for three months?
And then, this morning, this from St Paul: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
How we experience these next few months is going to depend almost entirely on what we allow ourselves to think about.
Trying to get a handle on our own thoughts processes is no easy feat. I am struggling. My mind is half in the bible and half on my Tesco order. But Paul’s advice here is so practical. Pick some stuff that is helpful to think about and let that so occupy your mind that other thoughts are driven out. I listened to a brilliant podcast earlier in the week from Bridgetown Church about what it means to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are not at the mercy of our minds. It’s going to take a little practice but we can focus our attention on what is going to help us to flourish rather than what is going to depress us and make us anxious. How else do you think Paul was able to claim – whilst chained up to a prison wall – that he had learned the secret of contentment? (Philippians 4:11)
And so, what’s the list? What are we meant to think about in these uncertain and frightening times?
Whatever is true… for those of us who are following Jesus, we need to remind ourselves today of what is ultimately true. That God is good and loving and present in the midst of a crisis. That we are not abandoned and isolated but we carry the gift of the Holy Spirit. That we have been set free by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ even as we feel trapped in our homes. That every single moment of this day is an opportunity to commune with the living God and celebrate the life that we have in Him.
Whatever is noble… There is a lot of nobility on display in our world right now. There are many dedicated members of our NHS and community who are sacrificing time, energy and even their own health for the sake of the rest of us. Let us focus on them today. Let us pray for them and for all that they are doing. Let us pray for every single doctor, nurse, carer and frontline worker to know the peace and presence of God.
Right… If you are anything like me, the compulsion in this moment is to think about all the people who are not doing the right thing and get increasingly wound up by it. I have seen so many Facebook statuses berating others for their failure to adhere to social distancing. So many angry and exasperated posts focusing on what others are doing wrong. This is not helpful. We cannot control the actions of others. We can only control our own actions and response to what we have been asked to do. There is no point fixating on all those who will not do the right thing at the moment. Focus instead on the bravery and beauty of every person who is trying to do what is right: who is home-schooling even though they don’t know what they are doing; who is working from home whilst entertaining a toddler; who is refusing to stock-pile even though they feel scared; who is trying hard to stay connected with friends, family and neighbours in new and creative ways.
Pure…There is no one more pure than Jesus. He alone is altogether lovely. He alone is without a negative thought. Without an ulterior motive. Use this time to look to him. Read your bible. We’re heading towards Easter. We won’t be able to celebrate it as we are accustomed, but we can still celebrate the incredible truth of Jesus dying in our place. We can still celebrate that his blood has washed us clean. That by his wounds we are healed from all sin and shame. That he who had no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God, that we might become pure.
Lovely… Look outside your window. Look into the face of your children. Look at the pictures your grandchildren sent you in the post. Look at the buds blooming in the garden, the flowers pushing up through the soil, the birds making their nests in the trees. Get yourself off Facebook for a while. Take a break from the news and social media. Fill your mind up with everything you love. Distract yourself with beauty. Watch videos of Yellowstone Park or the San Diego Zoo or Blue Planet instead of videos of panic buying in Asda at 6am. There is so much loveliness around. The sun is even shining for us. Enjoy it.
I could go on… Paul does…admirable…excellent…praiseworthy...
Now is the moment, when we have to choose how we are going to respond. We have to get a handle on our minds and what our thought processes are doing to us. I’m an English graduate so I keep thinking about John Milton’s line from Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
These are hellish times. It certainly feels like we are living in some kind of strange, surreal, apocalyptic sci-fi film that we used to watch for entertainment. So let us fix our eyes on Jesus today. Let us fix our minds on him. Let us think about what is helpful to us and to others. And let us remember that this is going to pass. As a friend of mine posted to Facebook this morning, there will be a day a beautiful June day in a few months’ time when there have been no new cases of Covid19 for 3 weeks and we can breathe again. “All shall be well, and all shall we well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” (Julian of Norwich)
Think about such things today.
Think about such things today.