"Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Ex 13:22)
I don’t think I remember a year as chaotic as 2020 has been. From the extensive bush-fires that started late 2019 to floods that soon thereafter followed and now to COVID-19, every one of us has been through a variety of emotionally, mentally and financially taxing changes this year. Our entire world has changed as we know it over the past 6 or so months and the future is not as certain as it was before all of this.
The book of Exodus tells the story of the ancient Israelite liberation from slavery in Egypt and their journey to the Promised Land. The plagues they experienced before Pharaoh decided to release them, whilst magnificent, would have been scary at points, and only begun them on an uncertain journey ahead. There would have been complex psychological impact upon them from the experiences of the plagues alone.
While they didn’t have the luxury of mental health experts and research to help them as they processed their experiences, they did have a God who literally led them where they needed to go. Exodus 13:22 talks of a “pillar of cloud” during the day and a “pillar of fire” at night which constantly showed them the way and gave them a clear reassurance that God was with them.
Similarly, it is worth remembering that we do have God with us. This is one of the symbolic names of Jesus (Matthew 1:23). He encourages us to seek Him and turn to Him for comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). It is important after a time of stress, anxiety and challenge to recognize that we need rest and comfort - to process the feelings that we have just experienced.
So, how do we do that?
Firstly, start by recognizing and acknowledging that this has indeed been a challenging, scary, and at times overwhelming experience and that you may be feeling unpleasant emotions at times. It is ok - and important - to grieve any loss you may have experienced, including financial loss, employment loss or perhaps you know someone who has been sick or died over the past 6 months.
Secondly, once you have acknowledged these feelings, take some time to find comfort before God. I always imagine how I would respond to a little child showing signs of distress. I would give them a hug, kiss and tell them it was ok. I would tell them that it is ok to cry, to feel sad and feel scared - to validate the feelings they are having. Do you know, God is no less understanding and kind towards us? Give yourself time to cry before Him. Be honest and open with your friends and family. There’s a reason God was so tangibly present to the people of Israel during this time of change and transition – it was because they needed to experience the comforting presence and guidance of their delivering Father. We need the same, no less.
Lastly, remind yourself these emotional experiences will eventually change and good emotions will arise. If we ignore our emotional states or pretend they don’t exist, they will remain unprocessed and jump out at you – often at not-so-helpful moments. But if you yourself the freedom to process them before God, God is so patient and kind to bring healing, give seemingly meaningless experiences meaning, and provide fresh purpose to your life – the bedrock experiences of true joy, peace, and passion.
So, this week. Give time to acknowledge how you are feeling. What emotions are you dealing with, more rather than less? And what positive steps can you take, yourself and with others, become stronger and better?
Let’s be quick to be the kind of support we need for each other, this week and ongoing.