What we are made for
So, what are we made for while we are here on this planet and in the midst of the pandemic? Psychiatrists and neuroscientists Bessel van der Kolk and Daniel Siegel offer a number of helpful recommendations that I will adapt through a biblical worldview.
We are made to form and nurture close relationships. You may consider forming “social bubbles” with friends and family you trust and know you are all COVID-19 negative. Last week, we had dinner with a lovely couple we had never met before, but knew through the mutual family. We showed up at their doorstep with faces covered and keeping physical distance. We all quickly disclosed we were “negative.” So, while we took our masks off, we kept a healthy distance and no handshakes or hugs. We embraced ourselves to show them how much we enjoyed their warmth, but that was it. FaceTime and Zoom are not the same as real face-to-face, I know. I use Zoom to work every day. As a psychotherapist, I am not quite seeing all the nuances of emotional expression, but I do pick up on other features that immediacy drowns in the confines of my office. Our small Sabbath School class started Zooming recently. It is tempting (and mostly good) to watch the more articulate preachers instead of your “good enough” pastor. But, familiarity and keeping as much of a routine will help you in ways that may be difficult to discern immediately.
Dr. van der Kolk reminds us that our brain is more than the organ of reason or social and emotional connection. It also regulates basic processes such as hunger and sleep. Keep it regular, it will translate into a sense of predictability that will help you adapt.
Our brains also need healthy stimulation and physical activity. Knitting, cooking, walking (particularly in nature) will reinvigorate you. The “basement” or subcortical areas of the brain need movement, rhythms, sound (listen to music and sing) as your visceral relationship with your own experience benefits from these kinds of activities as well. For instance, my “new Sabbaths tend to go like this: I start by reading a book to learn about the history of the Adventist church in South America. Attention and concentration are heightened as I am interested, can relate to the content, and find inspiration in the experience of our spiritual forefathers. Then, my wife and I watch a sermon and join the singing during the taped services shown on the Hope Channel. Then, we connect to our Sabbath School class through Zoom, and, in the afternoon, close to the sunset, I love to go to my backyard and listen to music as I observe the various tonalities that the trees take as the sun retires (I highly recommend this activity).
Siegel adds a few essentials. Take “time in,” he counsels. That is, time to reflect and meditate--two practices I am trying to continue to nurture by meditating on the Word, letting it speak to me as opposed to subjecting it to my own analysis. I am also reading a fascinating paraphrase of the book of Job. If you are a counselor, it should be required to read, re-read, and read again. It just blows my mind. A brief moment of reflection involves seeking to see God in my day. Was I aware of his presence? Did I make room for the Lord to be among my thoughts and my activities?
Siegel also adds “playtime” and “physical time,” which I primarily do with Nina, our dog. She loves to play! We take our routine walk together even under the fiery sun of Southern California. When I “close the office” (that is, turn off Zoom and the computer) we get out and walk through the neighborhood, which is usually all to ourselves.
What we are really made for: The “real normal”
But, is this all we are made for? Augustine found beautiful words to answer this question: “You have made us for yourself, and restless is the heart until it finds rest in you.” It is true: you were not made for fear. You were not made for “social” distancing. You were not made to live in lockdown. You were not made to see the family through Zoom. But neither were you made for yourself. We are made for God. We are wired to keep the commandments, “to love God with all your mind and with all your strength” as you “love your neighbor as yourself.” These are the essentials of what our “real normal” is, for now “through a glass darkly,” and in its fullness in heaven as we were made to be.
Shortly after our immigration, we felt assaulted by a reality for which we were not prepared. Poor and homesick, we were in bad shape. My wife was preparing to take her medical boards at the time. We decided that if she passed them, we would stay and if she did not, we would go back home. This decision alone gave us a sense that there was a way through and beyond our discouragement. It gave us a sense of hope. In the midst of this pandemic, there is a way through. Not a perfect one, but one that can give you hope. Know and nurture what you are made for and keep the faith. Even if we adapt reasonably well to the pandemic, “we are not made for this.” We are made for eternity!
Carlos Fayard, PhD, is an associate professor and director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Training and Community Mental Health at the Department of Psychiatry, Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He authored Christian Principles for the Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy.