The tightening of COVID restrictions last week raised my stress levels somewhat. In particular the need to wear masks in public places. For some reason, which evaded me at first, I found this development particularly unsettling.
This disquieting was heightened when I attended a regular physio appointment and was asked to wear a mask upon entering the clinic. Furthermore, I discovered they no longer were accepting cash and that everything had to be done on card. Of course, the cashless business has been on the cards, excuse the pun, for a while now, but I hadn’t been confronted by it up to that point.
By the time I got home and had placed my disposable mask in a clip lock bag and deposited it in the bin and sanitized my hands, I was feeling anything but at peace with the world.
I recalled the days of my youth when the only things Mum insisted on me carrying when leaving the house was a clean, freshly ironed handkerchief, and at least one dollar so that the police wouldn’t pick you up for vagrancy.
These days it is the opposite. I doubt very much if carrying a dollar is going to help in one’s defence regards vagrancy, however a nicely ironed, clean handkerchief tied around your face as a mask may do the trick in avoiding the angst of the law.
Times have changed and I think that has something to do with my increased stress levels…
Upon reflection, I think the reason I was so disturbed by these latest restrictions is because they left me feeling that I didn’t have a lot of control of what was happening to “my world”. Furthermore, it was becoming pretty obvious that the post COVID world will look differently from the one “this little black duck” is used to.
It was the sense of losing control, that was the issue for me, and I don’t think I am the only one in this boat.
Dr Elliot Cohen writing for Psychology Today makes the following statement…
“One of the most prevalent fears people have is that of losing control. This is the fear that if you don’t manage to control the outcome of future events, something terrible will happen… The crux of the problem is the demand for certainty in a world that is always tentative and uncertain”.
Dr Cohen goes on to point out…
“So, the key to controlling your losing-control anxiety is letting go of your demand for certainty-in other words giving up your unrealistic perfectionism about reality…”
It seems, the way forward for people such as myself is to accept that the world is an uncertain place and so I should stop trying to “accurately predict and manage the future”.
On one level that makes a lot of sense to me, as there are many things we can’t control. Anyone who has held a screaming baby suffering from colic will require no convincing of this point. There are many times when we have to acknowledge that there are things we can’t control and need to stop trying to do so, for our own peace of mind and that of those around us.
As a member of Alanon for many years and a recovering co-dependent, this has been an important lesson for me, which I still struggle to apply at times.
On the other hand, there are things we can control and it is just as important that we identify these things as well. How we react to circumstances, who we vote for, what we expose ourselves to, what we eat, how much we exercise and what we place our faith in are just a few examples of what we can control.
The funny thing is that often I find myself running around trying to control the things which I can’t, such as other people, and neglecting to take care of the things I can control, such as my reactions to people. Needless to say, this causes a lot of angst and turmoil for myself and all those involved.
But I digress… I think Dr Cohen does make a very good point which is worth applying to life. However, do I feel better about the wearing of masks in public and the whole COVID business?
Well, yes and no.
Although, Dr Cohen’s argument has a logical completeness, and there is much good that flows from it. I would suggest that it fails to address a need which resides deep in our being which is not addressed by the exhortation to simply embrace the “uncertainty of life”.
What is that need?
To know that somethings don’t change and we can depend on that.
“Hang on, haven’t you just contradicted yourself?” I hear you ask.
Well, yes and no.
One of my favourite stories is Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. Many of us are familiar with the strife and struggle that Frodo and his companions endured in their quest to save Middle Earth. They often battled circumstances which they had little control over which caused them a lot of uncertainty, fear, courage and loss. Yet by story’s joyful end you are left with the sense that all along there was a powerful, guiding influence at work behind the scenes. At a deeper level, there was an end goal, which was never in question.
Paul writes in Romans 8:18-21…
“That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is more or less being held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile the joyful anticipation deepens.” (MSG)
It is clear from this scripture that although circumstances are beyond our understanding at times, there is a result that is never in question.
William Barclay in his commentary of Matthew Ch 24 makes the following comment…
“The second coming of Jesus conserves the fact that history is going somewhere. Sometimes people have felt that history was plunging to a wilder and wilder chaos, that it is nothing more than the record of human sins and follies…but the second coming has in it this essential truth- that there is ‘one divine far-off event, to which the whole creation moves’, and that event is not the dissolution but the universal and eternal rule of God.”
So as is often the case we find ourselves in tension, but I suggest this is a healthy tension. On the one hand, we acknowledge that there are many things out of our control where the outcome is uncertain. On the other hand, we embrace the truth that nothing is out of The Lord’ s control, that He can draw good out of all circumstances and there is no doubt about where history is going. As Julia posted on the St Luke’s face book page last week…
“He has the whole world in His hands…”
So, we have the two perspectives which we are to hold in tension, or as Chesterton writes in “Orthodoxy”
“The ordinary man… has spiritual sight which is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.”