Viral Storms


It’s a pain in the butt.  While this could certainly be said about home quarantine in general, I’m talking about a literal pain.  My sciatic nerve is flaring up again.

About two years ago, it got progressively worse until one morning I was in so much pain that I couldn’t walk.  We had to call an ambulance, and in the emergency room I was given pain meds and anti-inflammatories with directions to follow up with my doctor.

I was prescribed yoga and physical therapy.  For months, I spent lots of time and money going to appointments that yielded limited results.  Finally, at the recommendation of a friend, I read a book titled Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by Dr. John Sarno.  I had been warned to read it with an open mind and to consider the possibilities presented by this controversial alternative approach.

Dr. Sarno’s message boils down to this: Our brain uses pain to distract us from negative emotions.  When I really analyzed the situation I was in, I had to admit that I was overwhelmed with stress, trying to keep it all together professionally while dealing with growing demands in all areas of my life.  To me it was clear that what was behind my brave front had manifested itself in intense physical pain.

Now, I want to acknowledge my awareness of a community of both laypeople and medical professionals who wish to debunk many, if not all, of Sarno’s claims.  But on the flip side, there is also a growing number of people who have had their lives radically changed by implementing his strategies.

This is not a faith-based book, at least not in the traditional sense.  However, as with any exercise in understanding and correcting one’s thought process, there is an element of faith that one must adopt to obtain a positive outcome.  Beyond that, I’ve adapted Sarno’s techniques to fit my biblically based faith and have begun the process of really taking my thoughts captive, understanding how deeply fear and anxiety were embedded in my mind.

I was amazed at the physical changes that began to take place in my body over the weeks that followed my initial discovery of this process.  The changes weren’t instantaneous, and I had to remind myself time and time again that I needed to analyze any twinge of pain to determine what stressor might be causing this manifestation.

Well, a few days ago I began to feel the “twinge” again.  I superficially went through the process of recognizing that we are in an unprecedented time of stress and uncertainty, and I figured that my recognition would be enough to drive the pain away.  This morning, it was back and growing worse.  I found myself afraid to sneeze or stand up from the couch for fear that it was going to trigger a pain explosion.  While I sat, I was also reading articles about the COVID-19 spread and Facebook stories about people dying, and I was pondering what the future holds.

This virus does indeed have the potential to knock me off my feet, but I don’t think it will be from breathing difficulties.  Instead, if I don’t put my thoughts in check and deal with my stress, this virus will render me incapacitated from pain.

As a follower of Jesus, I can glean from many examples as I choose to put my mind at rest in the midst of the viral storm that has encircled the globe.  Perhaps the most poignant example is in Mark 4: 35-41.  The familiar story records the fear of the disciples as Jesus sleeps in the boat and the winds and waves are crashing around them.

Glancing outside my window as I write, I see and hear birds blissfully engaging in their springtime routine.  In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus uses the birds as an example as he instructs his followers to be anxious for nothing.

Some weight has already been lifted from me as I’ve been honest with myself and others about the stress that this time is causing.  I know the easily spouted Christianese answers and practices to get my mind in line.  Yet I also know from experience that for me, there must be a day-by-day (and sometimes hour-by-hour) practice of taking my thoughts captive, turning them over to the Lord, and trusting Him with the outcome.

Those of you who have the personality that allows everything to roll off your back, please be careful with those of us who deeply internalize things and struggle with our emotions.  For us the solution is not as simple as “bucking up.”

My comrades who battle anxiety, know that you’re not alone.  Let’s use this time to encourage one another with Truth (yes, with a capital T) and look to the many examples of how peace can rule our hearts and minds.

Also, be aware of what you’re consuming.  Though we need updates on which businesses are open and how our daily lives may be affected, we really don’t need hours of news or social media updates, which cause further unease.  If you’re finding yourself deep in fear or despondency, perhaps you should ask a trusted friend to give you vital updates so that you can turn off the COVID-19 news altogether.

While many of us find ourselves physically powerless to do much in this season, we are certainly not spiritually powerless.  May we be purposeful in prayer and sensitive in the Spirit to hear God’s directions for training our minds so that we can serve as beacons of light in a time of dark uncertainty.

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