I was pretty proud of myself. Anxiety and fear have been kept at bay these past few weeks, as social distancing and stay-at-home orders reach every person across the nation.
Yes, my heart breaks for those who suffer alone in hospital beds because of visitor restrictions. Yes, I’m concerned about those kids who relied on school lunch and their homes are not safe. Yes, I’m prayerful for workers who are unable to get paid (or who have lost their jobs) due to the economic impacts of this virus. Yes, my husband and I are seeking ways we can practically help.
But I’m a veteran when it comes to life’s curve balls, so I was handling this one like a champ – or so I thought. I baked. I menu planned (I never do this). I purged closets and toys. I played games with my son. I read in our hammock. I took countless walks with the family.
Then, one night last week, I suddenly wasn’t ok. I woke up with my heart racing and tightening in my chest. I started replaying all the places we’d been in the last two weeks. Grocery stores. The pharmacy. A walk on a trail. Carry-out orders at restaurants or drive-thrus.
I suddenly wasn’t ok.
We hadn’t been foolish, but panic started creeping up from my stomach to my chest to my head. I’m not sure if this was a full-blown anxiety or panic attack. I’ve had a handful in the past. I just know my body felt like it fought a battle the next morning.
The “what-if” scenarios were on a loop in my head. What if I got sick? I heard reports of 40-year-old mothers and 30-something-year-old dads dying. How would I isolate and still be taken care of? Could my body fight this off? I need people with me in the hospital, I can’t be alone! What if my loved ones got this? I’m the worst person in a crisis!
This fitful night happened when I needed to be up the next morning to lead a virtual ladies’ prayer meeting. There was no sleeping in and I was questioning my ability to fake fine.
At 3 a.m., I needed a way to get off the mental merry-go-round. I was trying to remember all of the tricks. Say something that’s true. Pray. Steady my breathing. Then I remembered that my mother-in-law told us to read Psalm 91, and we did for family devotions one night that week.
I reached over in the dark, fumbling for my phone and opened up my Bible app to Psalm 91.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
God is with me.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
God is trustworthy.
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.
God will deliver me.
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
God is covering me.
Wings – my friend had just written about how the root word for this “wing” is the wing feather – meant not just to hide us, but to help us soar because of certainty in God’s faithfulness.
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
These are the verses where I really started paying attention. I reread:
You will not fear the terror of the night…
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness.
When all else is calm, nighttime is when terror usually floods my heart and mind. It’s not every night and it encroaches unannounced. When I can’t distract myself with busy hands, I’m held captive by my thoughts and fears. I rehearse the what ifs. I create elaborate scenarios played out to the worst possible outcomes. I let the disaster reel overtake actual reality.
During this 3 a.m. reading of Psalm 91, I remembered another passage that’s strengthened me – Psalm 121.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
God’s not asleep. He never sleeps. He’s not hands off, letting His world and His people panic at this pandemic. He is not disinterested. He is not waiting to see how this all plays out.
Contrary to the prosperity gospel’s false promises, the measure of my faith doesn’t stop suffering from coming into our home. I’ve been around the hospital ward enough times to know this. But I don’t have to be afraid if — when — suffering does come.
He won’t let my foot be moved
one inch outside of His protection.
And the ladies’ prayer meeting the morning after my fitful night? My dear 78-year-old friend read Psalm 91 out loud to us through the virtual meeting. She and I typically meet monthly in person for prayer and Bible study, but because of the new restrictions, we couldn’t. Her voice and conviction as she read that Psalm was a balm to my unrested body and tired soul. Oftentimes, reading the familiar during the unfamiliar anchors us.
Remembering that a good God is awake when I’m awake – and when I’m asleep – gives me comfort. Day or night, He’s my Helper. During these moments of anxiety, I can put off panic and put on confidence that He won’t let my foot be moved one inch outside of His protection. I can invite God into my uncertainty and allow His strength to cover my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
With that, I can rest.