The world is starting to open up around us as people begin to venture outside of their homes. In Tennessee, the government is implementing phase two of reopening after the months-long stay at home order. However, controversy and questions are leaving people in an uneasy state. We are now caught between trying to recover and moving forward into a new normal. The uncertainty of the future is scary and has left us feeling out of control.
It seems to me that this perceived loss of control is at the root of this global anxiety. People internalize and react to anxiety in some unhealthy ways. As the number of COVID-19 deaths rises so does the number of people struggling with mental health issues. According to statistics at kff.org, nearly half of American citizens have reported their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID-19. Substance abuse has also increased. Dealing with anxiety during quarantine can be discouraging. A lot of outlets people use as a stress relief are not accessible to them anymore--this only adds to the sense of helplessness.
The reopening was a hopeful sign. But before we could even grasp it, a wave of tragedy and violence knocked us back down. Racism raised its ugly head once again and justified protests across the country turned violent. Fear of the pandemic and the economic crisis it created is now dwarfed by the anger ignited by injustice.
A hard lesson I am still learning is that you can’t control everything that happens in life.
As Americans, we are taught that if you are talented and work hard then you can climb the ladder of success. However, this is not a reality for many Americans. The idea that everyone has the capability of achieving the “American Dream” does not reflect the fact that luck has a lot to do with a person’s success. Life circumstances such as one’s place of birth, skin color, sex, and sexual orientation also play a large part. Talent and hard work only go so far. The one thing you can control is how you respond to the hand which you are dealt.
2020 dealt a bad hand. Despite all the discouragement looming in the hearts of many, it is important that we channel those feelings in healthy outlets. Anxiety is bad. But what if it is a warning sign, telling us we are vulnerable? What if it is a signal that we need God? Anxiety has to do with fear and uncertainty. But Paul says in Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God” (4:6). We need healthy outlets in order to carve out space where God can work in our lives.
Meditation as a Christian practice
Being a yoga instructor, I believe in the power of meditation. Some Christians think that meditation is a practice derived from eastern religions, but Christianity is rooted deeply in meditative practices. Jesus was an advocate for carving out a space to be still and quiet. Repeating ancient Christian prayers that get passed down through generation to generation is a form of meditation. Psalm 19:14 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you God.”
After I finished teaching one particular yoga class, one of my students came up to me and said that she didn’t like my class. She noted it wasn’t my teaching that she didn’t like--it was the quietness and being confined to the yoga mat that she minded. She said, in order to relieve stress, she needed to do something more active like running or playing a sport. All this is to say that yoga may not be the best form of meditation for you. Maybe you would rather plant a garden, ride a bike, or paint. God has made each and every one of us in a unique way.
What are some ways you can incorporate a meditative practice into your life? How has meditation made you more attuned to God’s voice speaking to your heart?
If you’d like to dive deeper into some contemplative and meditative Christian practices, check out these resources on breath prayer and an ancient practice called examen.
Madison Myers is a student at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, majoring in marketing. She has traveled to a majority of America's National Parks and is eager to see them all.