Quelling Your Noisy Heart During the Coronavirus Storm

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The hectic rhythm of my emotions strains my heart and stretches my mind as the COVID-19 outbreak wreaks havoc with my world.

A rainbow of emotions invades my soul with dark purples of mad, sad and bad feelings as I hear the latest news of closed schools, unemployment lines, thousands of deaths and shortages of protective gear for frontline professionals.

This seems unethical. I am mad because we can do better.

As the list of new deaths in a nursing home is read each evening by our remarkable Kentucky governor, I am sad.

A 92-year-old retired missionary, a mid-50s nursing assistant and an 88-year-old Sunday School teacher were slain by this new killer called the novel coronavirus.

As I reflect on what I can do, my options appear cut off. I cannot attend their funerals; I cannot hug their children. I feel bad because I cannot do more.

It seems so little to write a note of sympathy in an old card. I am sheltering at home and not going out to buy new cards. Am I being selfish?

I did not know them personally, but I feel bad that their families will not have a host of caregivers and friends to share personal stories of their loved ones.

These darker emotions stretch my mind as I struggle to guide my friends, my students, fellow caregivers and local ministers in their pastoral care ministries.

I have written my first opinion piece in our local paper, the Courier Journal. I feel compelled to speak out.

Change is coming so fast that some of us feel cultural shock in our own backyards.

Our empty sanctuaries, shrinking offerings and growing list of postponed weddings, baptisms and funerals add anxiety in this new COVID-19 world.

Dr. Dartanya Hill, pastor of West End Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and I put our minds together to provide a six-session course for the Flourish Center at Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. This stretches my mind and expands my awareness.

The workshop focuses on key issues for pastoral care during this pandemic. Everyone is welcome, including teachers, caregivers, deacons and ministers.

“Pastoral Care and COVID19” features prerecorded lectures as well as live Zoom gatherings for discussion. The series begins at 7 p.m. (EST) April 23. The cost is $39. Register in advance here.

My hectic heart grows warm when I hear stories of faith, hope and love. Like the vibrant yellow, orange, red and green of the rainbow, these uplifting feelings add brightness to my days of staying at home, of conducting classes on Zoom and of offering teleconsultations to inquiring church leaders.

When former church members and students call to offer to pick up meds at the pharmacy, get extra milk and eggs at Kroger or bring by plants for my backyard garden, I feel the love.

A nurse manager in my now online Bible study shared a “faith at work” story of getting to the grocery checkout line only to discover she had left her purse at home.

As she asked the clerk to hold back the food she was purchasing for her hospital unit workers, a stranger behind her spoke up. “I will pay for that; do not worry. It is a joy to think I am helping our frontline angels,” he asserted.

I feel new hope when ministers share stories of drive-in funerals, live-feed communion services and phone visits with COVID-19 patients who are isolated in the hospital. The imagination and creativity of chaplains inspire me.

They listen to, pray with and care for frightened dying patients, frustrated grieving families and exhausted and overworked nurses, physicians and technicians.

I invite you to listen to the beat of your hectic heart and give voice to the rainbow of emotions that arises from your encounters with the COVID-19 world.

Until we deal with the noise and music in our inner self, we will be less able to care for others.

We have an ethical responsibility not to wound others with our unexamined, untended emotions.

Decades ago, my wife, Jodi, and I began to guide couples in our marriage enrichment retreats to share emotions by the “Name it, Claim it, Aim it and Flame it” method.

A dear friend, Anne Roebuck, suggested we change “Flame” to “Tame/Flame” because some persons are prone to erupt emotionally.

Now, I invite you to examine your emotions during this weird, strange COVID-19 pandemic.

When routines, rituals, resources and reasons no longer make sense, our emotions can well up. We might freeze, fight or flee in panic. Or we can be still, reflect, listen to our heart and face our emotions constructively.

Try this simple, but deceptively difficult exercise:

I feel ____ toward _____ because____________.

I feel it this much_______ and it gives me an urge to________.

However, when I stop, think, reflect and remember I can choose to do this ___________.

When faith, hope and love surprise us amid this coronavirus storm, let us take time to experience the surprising joy of a rainbow.

Perhaps we can invite someone six feet away to look up with us to calm the noise in our collective hearts.

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