Today, March 17, 2020, the world is shutting down in an attempt to contain COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel Corona Virus. (I include that description for anyone who may have been under a rock for the last few weeks or who is reading this in the future when it is a distant memory.) If you are like me, you find your emotions swinging wildly. When I am focused on the task at hand or enjoying interaction with my family at home, I am content or even happy. Very happy when I think about or interact with my two-day-old granddaughter or her nearly 3-year-old sister. When my mind wonders to thoughts of the stock market crash, grocery lines, possible curfews, etc., fear and anxiety can flood in.
On Day 18 of the 40 Day Journey to a Joy-Filled Life, Tommy Newberry explains that our feelings change when our focus changes. Whether our emotions turn dark and scary or light and hopeful, it is always a function of our thought process. When I am happily enjoying myself and my emotions are high, it doesn’t mean that everything in life is 100% wonderful. Neither does a dark mood mean doom and gloom are inevitable. Newberry states, “our emotional lives are not always indicative of the external quality of our lives.”
To live a life of maximum joy—even in trying circumstances like the ones surrounding us today—we must learn how to minimize negative emotions so they do not dominate our lives. Most of us use one of two strategies according to Newberry: suppress our negative emotions or express them to those closest to us in relationship or proximity. Neither of these tactics is effective. One pretends the problem doesn’t exist, the other can make matters worse.
Newberry uses the illustration of putting out a campfire. If you were leaving a camp site or going to bed for the night, you wouldn’t throw on another log or pour on gasoline to extinguish the blaze. You wouldn’t just ignore it, hoping it would somehow go out on its own. If you know anything about campfires, he says, you will smother the flames by covering them with a bucket of dirt. Ignoring or fueling negative thoughts works in a similar way. What’s needed is to overpower negativity with positive 4:8 Principle thoughts. These are the good thoughts suggested by the Bible verse Philippians 4:8 upon which Newberry bases his work.
He says that the first step to changing negative emotions is to acknowledge them. Are you feeling low, anxious, afraid? That’s undoubtedly a common response to the current global situation. The next step is to challenge the legitimacy of your negative emotions. As he points out, feelings needn’t dictate behavior.
What are the positive thoughts that can put out a raging fire of negativity such as surround this pandemic on course to change the world as we know it forever? If you re-read Philippians 4:8, you will have a clue: And now dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT). Isn’t that a wonderful description of God Himself?
Chapter 3 of Habakkuk lays out a scary picture of desolation even more dire than what we face today. The author acknowledges his fear in verse 16 (NLT) as Newberry advises us to do with our negative emotions, “I trembled inside when I heard this; my lips quivered with fear. My legs gave way beneath me and I shook in terror. I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.” But he goes on in verses 17-19 to master that fear with his declaration and praise, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer and able to tread up on the heights.”
The exercise for Day 18 is to identify our three most common negative emotions and the trigger or catalyst for each. Write down one thing you are going to do differently to stay positive and composed.
As Christians, we are all facing an enormous challenge today. Will we trust God to bring us through the health scare, the changes in the fabric of society, the uncertain economic future? What thoughts will you use to counter the COVID-19 Panic?