The threat of COVID-19 has alerted our world to a new level of concern for physical health. Two weeks ago, we were being reminded to wash our hands frequently, avoid touching our faces, and to sneeze or cough into our elbows. This week we’re facing the prospect of being told to shelter-in-place, to stay in our homes aside from necessary medical and grocery trips, in order to further slow the spread of this insidious virus. As these warnings and protective measures have escalated, so have some of the things that most threaten our spiritual health. Fear and anxiety gnaw away at inner peace. Irritability grows within stir-crazy households. Despair looms as the economy crashes and the news describes the virus’s spread closer and closer to home. While the novel coronavirus poses a threat to our physical well-being, these spiritual viruses endanger our spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.
As a Christian, I believe that Jesus is the source of abundant life (John 10:10) and that includes the antidotes to the very spiritual viruses I named above: hope, trust, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). But I’ve followed Jesus long enough to know that it takes intentionality to access those gifts. If hope, trust, and peace are the medicines for our sick hearts, then like any sick patient, we must intentionally take the medicines that the Great Physician gives us. But how do we receive hope and trust? How do we practice living in the peace that passes understanding and the faith that calms our fears?
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). This pattern, which Jesus repeated often in his ministry, shows us where to find rest, healing, and refreshment for our souls. Notice first that Jesus went alone to a deserted place. An ordinary day for Jesus was filled with interactions with other people. All day long he taught his disciples, healed those who came to him, and debated with religious leaders who criticized him. Before any of those interactions, he needed to be alone with God the Father, to hear the one voice that mattered more than any other.
Whether or not it’s possible for you to go physically to a deserted place, taking care of your soul requires time away from the voices that feed your fears and anxieties. You can go to a deserted place by taking a break from the news, putting down your phone, and turning off the television or radio. If other people live in your household, tell them you need a moment alone. If you can get outside, go for a walk and let God soothe your soul through the beauty of creation.
Once Jesus was in the deserted place, “there he prayed.” We often think of prayer as words we say to God, but prayer can also be the silence in which we listen for God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Both kinds of prayer are necessary for the health of our souls. Tell God what’s on your heart and mind, ask for what you need, and name other people who need healing, strength, and wisdom to make it through this time. Then rest in the silence and let God’s peace fill your heart. When anxious thoughts try to rush in and fill the silence, try using a simple prayer phrase like “Be still” or the name of Jesus to push away unwelcome thoughts.
After these times of solitary prayer Jesus always returned to his community of disciples. Sometimes they “hunted for him” telling him that, “Everyone is searching for you” (Mark 1:36). At other times, he sought them out, sharing the needs of his heart with them. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, before his arrest and crucifixion, he told his disciples “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). Even Jesus shared the burdens of his heart with his friends and asked them to stay close. Like him, we can care for our souls by being honest about our emotions and needs. Tell others what you’re feeling so that you can “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
Jesus came to save every part of us – mind, body, and soul – and he is just as concerned with calming our fears and giving us hope as he is with healing our sick bodies. When we seek him in prayer, rest silently in the grace of God’s presence, and balance solitude and community, our souls will exude his peace, even amid an anxious world.