By Craig Constantinos, Chaplain
Working in the irrigation industry when I was younger, I learned a lot about plants and how they grow. It is an important part of the job, because irrigation is not just about keeping plants growing, it is about keeping the right plants growing.
In Florida, irrigation is about making sure the plants, trees, and grass that can survive the brutal summers or the winter cold snaps are not overtaken by weeds that cannot survive either. When the ground gets dry and cold, the plants that survive are the ones that have the ability to grow their roots deeper―to break through difficult ground and find the water and nutrition needed to survive and thrive. That deeper root system helps plants year-round, through whatever storms or droughts come their way.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is unique in a historical context, but similar to other storms that we have already faced in our lives. It conjures up questions of what the future will bring. It comes with feelings of loss, anxiety, frustration, and stress. The emotional toll makes one feel drained and being deprived of the ability to utilize usual coping mechanisms and support systems exacerbates the problem.
If God makes good things out of bad, what good can God bring out of situations like these?
In psychology, a crisis is often seen as a challenging situation with the opportunity for things to get much better or much worse. The determination of whether things get better or worse is not decided by the circumstances, but how we react to them. If we harden ourselves and allow our fear dictate our response, we are often less protected for the future.
If we use the challenge as an opportunity to extend our roots deeper, we are more prepared for the next storm and can thrive in the interim. For example, if we lose a close friend, we can say that we will isolate from others so that we ‘cannot’ be hurt again or we can use that loss to strengthen the relationships we already have and to focus on God―a relationship we will never lose. One path leads to a fuller life, the other to even less protection from pain.
1 Peter 4:12 tells us we should expect to have troubles in our lives. Colossians 2:7 says that the best answer is to grow our roots deeper in God. We do not know why there is suffering in the world, but we do know that the God of restoration gives us opportunities to redeem our challenging experiences.
But what does that look like in the middle of a pandemic? Just as a plant was designed to grow with food and water, we were created to draw more from our relationship with God and relationships with other believers.
Relationship with God
Even though there are many activities that strengthen our relationship with God, the two most often abandoned or diminished in times of crisis are reading the Bible and having quiet times. We can feel like there just is not enough time to continue these activities, but a cursory glance at our schedules often reveals that we are still able to maintain other habits, such as watching shows/movies, visiting our favorite websites, playing games, etc. Reading the Bible and meditating on God can easily get prioritized lower than ‘more restful’ activities if not approached from the right mindset.
If not read from the right perspective, the Bible can feel like condemnation or a list of difficult-to-follow rules, or we can just not understand how it applies to our lives. When working through challenging times, we can feel like we do not need more reminders of how we are falling short.
But, reading the Bible should not be draining! Psalm 119:27-28 says, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!”
Quiet time can also become more difficult in times of crisis. Concentrating on God when we feel like we cannot concentrate on anything can be intimidating. But this dynamic reveals the importance of spending time in prayer and meditation on God’s Word.
How can we relax if we have so many cares and concerns floating in our heads? Little wonder, then, that we spend our precious free time just trying to distract ourselves from thoughts. Dedicated time with God in quietness along with a spirit of prayer helps us to “keep the main thing the main thing,” as my grandfather used to say.
When our focus is on God, it can put our problems in perspective and help us to remember all the trials God has taken us through in the past, and reveal what God is doing through the current circumstances.
It can be tempting in stressful times to spend time watching or reading things that let your brain shut off, but God’s Word is one of the few things in this world that can actually strengthen us. Distractions cannot give us strength. If you do not feel renewed after reading the Bible, there may be some rocky soil to break through. Perhaps you can try a new style of reading, one that is more or less systematic. Maybe you should start small to create more consistency, doing a few minutes a day.
Relationships with Others
When attempting to grow our roots deeper, another important area to examine is our support system. Many of us are not getting a lot of strength and energy from our support system these days. Some of us have a circle of friends that is too small. For some, their circle is large, but without depth. For others, they have people that they feel they can be real with, but may not be the best influence.
The true test for a support system is whether it helps or hinders you in your goals. Friends and mentors that challenge and push us do not always feel energizing in the short term. “As iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another,” (Proverbs 27:17 ESV).
Being sharpened does not sound like a refreshing experience! But, in the long run, we can see the difference in how we handle crises and we are more able to be refreshed by God, even during more challenging times.
A support system, therefore, should be based off of one’s spiritual goals. Do you have enough people to support you in the path you are heading on, and for the challenges ahead? Are they the types of people who can and will speak truth into your life, refocus you, and help ‘sharpen’ the areas where you need growth? Are you communicating with them frequently enough to accomplish your goals?
The challenges in this world are real and the way that we adapt to these challenges makes a big difference in how we experience this life and relate to our God. Do we want to grow our roots deeper in Him and experience more of the abundant life we were promised in John 10:10?
Or do we want to try to rest on our old habits, resign ourselves to our current root system being ‘fine,’ and hope that life will bring no more storms after the current one?
If we grow our roots deeper in God, refining our relationship with Him and those around us, the Giver of Life will not disappoint, in this life or the next. We can experience the abundant life, the peace and joy, and be greater conduits for the love that draws people deeper in their own relationship with God.