Week 3 - The Anxious Middle
I don't know about you, but something feels different about this recent resurgence of COVID cases in Melbourne. Maybe it is because the first time I was consumed with a newborn baby and sleep deprivation; maybe it was because the state was going into lock-down rather than relaxing restrictions or maybe it is because I now have a greater understanding of the possible consequences of an uncontrolled community transmission; but my anxiety is surprisingly high. Even though there are little to no cases in NSW and the government is strongly demonstrating that they effectively managing the situation. We've made progress over the last months in keeping the COVID-19 virus under wraps, but there's new reason for anxiety and concern.
The Israelite's demonstrated the same thing. They had literally just watched God send multiple plagues to motivate Pharaoh to release them from slavery, including protecting their first born sons while killing the Egyptians. They were making progress to the Promised Land and yet, at the very first hint that Pharaoh is coming after them again, they got overwhelmed with panic. In the middle of their progress, anxiety struck deep and hard.
"As Pharaoh approached, the Israelite's looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord." [Exodus 14:10]
Their solution to the problem was to suggest that they should not have left Egypt. That it was better to have remained there (even though they had previously been crying out to God for freedom). Their instinct was to seek the quickest and easiest way to feel safe - to be free from their fear and anxiety.
In psychological terms, we call this "The Cycle of Anxiety" or "The Cycle of Avoidance". In brief, it means that when we are exposed to an anxiety provoking situation - e.g. the possibility that the virus may re-enter the NSW community - we take the quickest and most immediate action to get rid of or avoid those thoughts and feelings (like buying up tons of toilet paper; or, self isolating; or, pretending that the virus is a con conducted by the government). In the short term it is effective in making us feel better, but in the long term we actually do not solve anything (and the anxiety tends to gets worse!).
Instead of thinking the worst or seeking out the quickest path to get rid of the fear like the Israelite's did, we instead need to "face the fear" - whatever it is. We need to do the following:
put our trust in God, knowing that He is good and in control, and assert (to ourselves) that he is taking good care of us. Praying through the Psalms is a very helpful and practical step here.
Stop thinking that the worst is going to happen, and instead make an honest assessment of the true reality of the situation. Be realistic - not pessimistic, and not blindly optimistic.
Slow down, take some deep breaths and start focusing on the positives - what progress has been made, what good has taken place in recent weeks - such as the effectiveness of social distancing or that church is able to restart again because we have actually contained the virus in this state.
Lastly, we need to learn to manage the feelings of anxiety; which we are going to explore in more detail next week.
So, my question to you this week is: Are you identifying with the Israelites - starting to feel anxious and worried during this time of potentially fresh uncertainty and looking for the quickest strategy to get rid of these feelings? Or can you instead recognize that this is what you are doing (or tempted to do) and instead turn to God, trust him and challenge those unhelpful thoughts and beliefs?