Stillness in the Sifting: Thoughts and Encouragement Amidst COVID-19

In her book, Uninvited, Lysa TerKeurst offers a paraphrase of a popular story in the Gospels: Jesus calming the storms on the fishing boat.  The word used to describe the disciples’ disposition is “terrified.”  In TerKeurst’s paraphrase, perhaps the most profound piece is her breakdown of that word: tarasso, which means to “set in motion what needs to remain still.” (Uninvited, pg. 165; Nelson 2016).

Jesus did more than just physically calm the waters; he set things back to the way they were.  Love is the opposite of fear, and Jesus met their terror with a restorative love bringing them back to the natural state of their own design: stillness.

In Psalm 46:10, we are told to be still and know He is God, revealing the delicate intimacy between the stillness of our souls and the experience of God’s presence.   

And yet, despite these two specific Biblical examples of the relationship between stillness and fear, as well as several other examples of peace and “do not fear,” we are also presented with many stories of dissention and chaos (the plagues in the Old Testament, the Tower of Babel, Jesus casting the demons into the swine, etc.).

How do we reconcile these two images, as starkly opposite as they are?

Glennon Doyle wrote, “You have been offered ‘The gift of crisis.’  As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is ‘to sift,’ as in, to shake out the excesses and leave only what is important.  That’s what crises do.  They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most.  The rest falls away.”  (Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed; Scriber, 2013).

There are instinctual responses to fear.  We either flee, fight, or freeze.  Depending on the situation, my fear tends to draw me toward a mad-dash reach for whatever I feel will save me.  But, as I write this, I recall a time I went hunting with my dad.  I slipped into a dried creek-bed and grabbed a thorn bush on the way down, imbedding thorns in my hand and arm.  As my dad helped me remove the thorns, he told me, “Sometimes it’s better to just let yourself fall, because you don’t know what you’re grabbing, and whatever you reach for may hurt you more than the fall itself.”

I am not sure my dad meant it to be a spiritual lesson, but it comes to mind just the same.  I think of Jesus’ gentle command of “Do not fear,” of all the times we are told to be still.  Sifting, while necessary, feels like falling.  And maybe Jesus tells us to be still so we may remember this is not ours to fix or maintain, and we may trust the One who truly is in control.  

While it is true that sifting reveals what is important, I would pose that it is more challenging to see what is left behind in the sifting if we are not still enough to pay attention.  Are we grabbing fistfuls of sand and chucking it wildly into the air in panic, or are we sitting quietly and letting it drip through our fingers to reveal the treasures left in our palms?

When we’re still in the sifting, important belief systems about ourselves, our world, and God are quietly revealed.  Listed below are a few things COVID-19 may shine a light upon in our lives:

  • Community and Unity

Perhaps the most beautiful thing I have seen through this so far is the world’s ability to work in a collective movement toward wholeness.  As technology promises to bring us closer, many of us face a different reality: isolation.  Through the deepening of the isolation, we may begin to feel it impossible to feel unity again.  And yet, situations such as COVID-19 remind us it is possible for the world to work together in a fluid movement.  Whether or not these movements are driven by fear or fact isn’t clear; however, we may see it in a positive light as a reminder that unity is possible.  

Writer Jedidiah Jenkins writes a beautiful, short piece on this topic on his social media. 

  • Personal Responsibility

The mass media hysteria reflects an intense need for personal responsibility.  As the media bustles and whirls with news and memes and calls to action, it is important that each individual remain in control of their own stream of information.  Are we doing our research?  Are we asking questions?  With so many opposing opinions and views, it is important that we take control of the voices to whom we are listening.  Are we listening to the voice of fear or the voice of reason?  We each have a personal responsibility to vet the information we use to make our decisions.  As pointed out in an article by the Washington Times, fear sells.  While many of the scary facts surrounding COVID-19 may be accurate, it is important to remember that not everything surfacing on our media outlets hold weight.  According to the CDC website, it is important to “Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19.”

  • Loyalty to Self and Family

Pairing closely with personal responsibility, COVID-19 reveals a unique, hard-wired trait in humans to “care for ones’ own.”  We know ourselves and our families better than any news writer ever could, and even deeper still, God knows us and our needs even better than we do.  After taking personal responsibility to thoroughly examine the facts and do our own research, we are left with the ability to make decisions that are best for ourselves and our family.  Stillness is particularly important here.  It may be helpful to ask, “What is God doing, and what does he want me to do?”  Be at peace knowing that whatever you feel led to do is okay.  If that means preparing for quarantine or conducting business as usual, let no voices other than God’s tell you what action is best. 

  • Views on God

As Children of God, every moment of our lives work to build a view of God and ourselves.  It is a beneficial spiritual practice, wrought in stillness, to carefully examine what our reactions to circumstances might be telling us of our views of Father.  Throughout the media coverage I’ve personally perused, there seems to be a running theme of the fear of being alone.  Recognizing this allows me to ask, “Do I believe God is with me?  Do I believe God is good?  Do I believe God is in control?”  Situations such as these shine a light on these questions we may often forget to ask in calmer, more peaceful times.  

In conclusion, while things may feel like a crisis in the world right now, it is important to remain still. Whatever we face in our lives, Jesus’ assurance remains true: do not fear.  Again, whether the news we hear is fact or fiction, what remains true is the steadfastness of God’s presence and the fact that situations reveal what matters. 

Be at peace.  Let God’s love restore you to your natural design: one of stillness, dependency, and trust.  God’s intentions for you and your life are always borne of his love for you, and always his plans are to prosper and not to harm you (Jeremiah 29:11). 

     Be at peace. 

The links listed below are from the CDC website and may be referenced for reliable information regarding COVID-19, as well as information for those who may find their mental health issues exacerbated by the current situation:

Works Cited

“Miracles in the Mess.” Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less than, Left out, and Lonely, by Lysa TerKeurst, Nelson Books, an Imprint of Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Doyle, Glennon. Carry on, Warrior: the Momastery Way to Let Go, Love One Another and Build a Life. Scribner, 2013.

Person, and ProfilePage. “Jedidiah Jenkins on Instagram: ‘Our Generation Has Never Really Struggled in Unison. As a Collective Whole. Makes Me Think of My Grandfather’s Breakfast Specialty: Rice…”.” Instagram, http://www.instagram.com/p/B9pj7Wwh17Q/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet.

Constantine, Tim. “Please Stop the Coronavirus Hysteria. Now.” The Washington Times, The Washington Times, 9 Mar. 2020, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/mar/9/coronavirus-stop-the-hysteria/.

“Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6 Mar. 2020, http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fcoping.html.

Important Note: this article reflects the personal views of the author and is in no way meant to be a piece promoting particular action.  Readers are encouraged to do their own research and draw their own conclusions. 

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