Thoughts and encouragement during social distancing

Using clips from previous Get Your Spirit in Shape podcast conversations, host Joe Iovino shares some spiritual nutrition and exercises for social distancing and coronavirus. Image by Joe Iovino.
Using clips from previous Get Your Spirit in Shape podcast conversations, host Joe Iovino shares some spiritual nutrition and exercises for social distancing and coronavirus. Image by Joe Iovino.

Using clips from previous conversations, host Joe Iovino shares some thoughts and encouragement during this difficult time of social distancing to help "flatten the curve" and stem the spread of COVID-19 and coronavirus.

Hear the words of Adam Hamilton, Jessica Lagrone, Matt Miofsky, a public health physician and more.

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Get Your Spirit in Shape features conversations to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. Logo by Sara Schork, United Methodist Communications.

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This episode posted on March 27, 2020.

Transcript

Joe Iovino, host: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.

In this time of social distancing, I thought we’d try something different—then again, who among us isn’t doing things in new ways these days.

The first thing you’ve probably noticed already. This sounds different. That’s because like many of you, I’m working from home. And while I’m fortunate to have some recording equipment here, it doesn’t even come close to the quality of the equipment we have in our studio at United Methodist Communications.

The second difference is… There’s no guest today. We’ll get back to our interview format in the near future, but today, I just want to check in with you and offer a little something to fill the time and feed your spirit while we are all spending time apart.

And by the way, thank you for practicing social distancing. It is not easy, is it? But we’re United Methodists in the tradition of John Wesley whose first General Rule for the members of the first Methodist societies was to do no harm. That’s what this social distancing is about.

We are keeping our distance, not just for ourselves, but for our neighbors. We are doing what we can to stem the spread of COVID-19, to flatten the curve, and help keep everyone healthy. Thank you for doing that.

In the last week or so, I’ve been looking through our previous episodes, to make some recommendations of conversations you might have missed or you might want to hear again because they are particularly relevant today—maybe in new ways.

The first that comes to mind is the conversation I had with Adam Hamilton, when his book Unafraid first came out. We talked about the God-given purpose of fear, and how it can sometimes get out of control and overwhelm us.

For example, Pastor Adam who serves the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, shared this great advice for times when we’re worried or afraid—like you might be right now:

This is the answer you find throughout the scripture. 140 times—some people say 365 times, but I can’t find that in the Bible—but 140 times I can find where the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid.” Or some variation of that—fear not; don’t be afraid.

As you look at those, consistently the reason why we shouldn’t be afraid according to the scriptures is because God is with us. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Jesus says to the disciples in the boat when he’s walking on water, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.”

That ability to be able to tell God, “I am afraid of this and I need your help.” There are certain practices we can cultivate, spiritual disciplines like praying the scriptures. As we pray the scriptures we begin to trust that God is with us in the middle of the situations that we fear.

"Facing fear with faith," April 20, 2018

How do you cope with your worry and fear? Do you have strategies? Are you using them?

When I talked to Pastor Myriam Cortes about weathering life’s storms as she called it, I asked what got her through several really difficult situations in a short period of time. She shared this…

Joe: I noticed that you said several of those things happened within weeks of each other. That was quite a season to go through. How did you stay grounded? What sustained you through all of that?

Pastor Cortes: Knowing that Jesus is in the middle of these storms. Knowing that he’s the one that calms the winds and the waters. I took that in my heart. I know that his grace is still here. But how do I live his grace in the middle of all this when I myself am crying for my own family. And I’m crying for everything that is going on around me.

Having a small covenant group, I went to my covenant group and I cried and I cried. And they did what they do best, be present. They didn’t have answers for me on how to solve what I was feeling. But they did what they do best, which is being present. Their arms, they would hold me. Their words of affirmation. And at that time it was exactly what Christ does in the middle of everything that he has encountered. He was present. He was those arms to make people feel I’m here; I’m holding you.

"Weathering life's storms," November 30, 2018

I really appreciate how Pastor Cortes gives us permission to feel whatever we are feeling. Maybe it’s sadness, frustration, or anger. Maybe you want some answers. Or maybe you’re feeling alone.

I find it comforting to remember that Jesus comes to us in the middle of the storm, in the midst of emotions we might not be very proud of, and rides it out with us.

Not long ago, I talked with Jessica LaGrone, Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary, and author or Inside the Miracles of Jesus: Discovering the Power of Desperation

When I asked her how in the book she talks about how “desperation” can be a gift, she said this,

Joe: At one point in the book you call desperation a gift. But I know the times that I’ve been desperate, it certainly doesn’t feel like a gift to me. Can you say more about that?

Rev. Lagrone: It’s one of the most ironic gifts, isn’t it? Because no one asks for it. No one goes looking for it. But I can actually say that the times in my life when I’ve experienced God most clearly have been times when I knew I could not in my own strength really even continue on. There was a problem I couldn’t solve, an issue I was going through. And I really turned to God out of my own desperation.

That became a gift because when we turn to God, when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will find him. Well what makes you seek him with all your heart? Usually because something… some part of your life has broken down. I’m really careful not to say that desperation… that it’s like a coin in a vending machine that buys us a miracle. It’s not that God is waiting for us to really be desperate before he helps us. I think it’s more that we aren’t turning to God for help until we’re really desperate enough to seek him. The block, I think, is usually…for me it’s usually on my side. And when I turn to God and realize, Oh, he’s right there. That’s when I really see a break through.

"The gift of desperation," November 8, 2019

Maybe you’re feeling desperate. Can you frame that as a gift? How can God meet you in your desperation with a miracle?

As I reflect on the coronavirus and this time of social distancing, this conversation I had with Matt Miofsky keeps coming to mind. Matt’s the pastor of The Gathering, a United Methodist congregation in St. Louis, MO and the author of Let Go.

Matt talked about the biblical image of the wilderness—the Israelites after fleeing slavery in Egypt, Jesus during the temptation, and many others—and I’m feeling like I’m in wilderness territory right now. Many of the routine things in my life—the signposts, if you will, that let me know I’m in the right place—are more difficult to see because so much is new, different, and a little disorienting.

Here’s what Matt had to say about time in the wilderness.

There is something really important that God needs to do for us in the wilderness, that we are not in the wilderness by accident. God did not bring us this far to let us die there in the wilderness. Oftentimes before we can do something new, we have to become somebody new.

Even the example of Jesus, the wilderness in the Bible is often associated with sort of struggling with your temptations, kind of facing down some of your demons, literally of course in the Bible and figuratively, I think, oftentimes for us. The wilderness is a time when we have to come to terms maybe with some things that we haven’t wanted to come to terms with. … There’s work that we have to do there that prepares us for the new reality.  

So wilderness can often feel like wasted time. But it’s not. Because in that wilderness time God is doing things in us that are preparing us for the future. And so I tell people, when you want to race back to home base, so to speak, or run back to Egypt, or shortchange wilderness, what we’re actually doing is, I think, oftentimes not allowing God to kick up some things in our life that God really needs to kick up in order to prepare us for where we’re going.

"Change, fear and letting go," November 22, 2019

Now don’t run too far with this. Matt is careful to remind us that God doesn’t bring bad things into our lives, but that the wildernesses we experience do not have to be wasted time. If we’re open, God can use even this frustrating, frightening, disorienting time to teach us something.

So it might be a good question to ask yourself today, “What is God doing with me in this wilderness?”

Or maybe you would find it empowering to give thanks to God for the amazing men and women who serve in medical professions. If you’re ready for that, listen to our episode with a dental missionary named Belinda Forbes who talks about her dedication to healthcare for the people of Nicaragua. Or find the one with Clara Biswas who ministers to the bodies, minds and spirits of children in Cambodia. Or check out the series with did with missionaries this past Christmas called “Listen for Love.”

How will you give thanks to God for these amazing people?

Finally, I want to talk a little more about our United Methodist roots and our history of caring for people’s physical needs.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Olusimbo Ige, a public health physician who was serving as the leader of the Global Health Unit of United Methodist Global ministries, and Sabrina Rodgers, a nurse serving as the U.S. Health Program Manager of the Global Health Unit.

We had some fun talking about John Wesley’s Primitive Physick, a book of home remedies from the 18th century, and talked about ways we can stay healthy.

In the midst of our conversation, Dr. Ige said this,

People tend to think of spiritual health as different from physical health, but they are inextricably linked together. I will describe it this way. When you are stressed, when you have mental anxiety and emotional distress, it manifests in your body. And when you are person of faith your faith affects your beliefs and attitudes and helps you become better able to cope with stress. So you see, everything is intertwined. When you have faith in God it helps you cope with life challenges, and that makes it easier for your body to cope when you’re faced with challenges.

Again, the church environment, for many people. … People describe the church community like their extended family. So having that network of support when you’re going through a journey in health, and you know, ‘Oh, I’m trying to lose weight’ or ‘I’m trying to eat better,’ having that community or support reinforces our resolve, helps us along that journey towards health. So it is a very unique opportunity we have here to have spirit, soul, body, mind, body, spirit nurtured and cared for in one place. I think that’s exciting.

"Getting (and staying) healthy," January 17, 2018

Today, in the midst of practicing social distancing when our churches are closed and our small groups canceled, it might be difficult to feel that support of your church community—your extended family. But know that you are part of nearly 300 years of caring for one another both spiritually and physically—it is in our spiritual DNA.

In the early days, the Methodists were known for providing medical relief to those around them, especially the poor who couldn’t afford to see a doctor. Methodist preachers carried around Wesley’s Primitive Physick—his best-selling publication during his lifetime—and ministered to people ailments. The societies often stockpiled what was needed for many of the remedies and distributed them from places like the New Room in Bristol, and meeting houses across the United States. 

Wesley was an early advocate of exercise, talked about drinking water instead of tea, and warned against sitting for too long—he would have probably loved a standing desk.

While this is probably not so medically sound today, he bought electrifying machines and put them around London, so those who couldn’t afford to see a doctor might get some relief from their ailments. It was state-of-the-art for the 1700s.

When I think about this time of social distancing, I keep coming back to Wesley’s General Rules, “Do no harm; do good; attend upon all the ordinances of God.”

In those rules he also gave us the purpose of the Methodist Society gatherings. He said our charge was to “watch over one another in love.”

Maybe that’s the best thing we can do right now. While we can’t connect physically, we can connect in other ways. Telephone calls. Texts. Video calls. Emails.

If you are feeling isolated, reach out to someone in your church.

If you are looking for other ways to connect to your faith during this time, we’ve create a special page at UMC.org/respondingtocoronavirus (all mushed together without any spaces) where we are posting some devotions, podcasts, videos, information, a list of churches providing online worship and more.  

Also, if you are a fan of books by United Methodist Publishing House, Abingdon Press – like Unafraid by Adam Hamilton or The Grace of Les Miz by Matt Rawle, you can find study videos available for free. We’ve put a link on our page.

Oh, and I hope this isn’t crass, but please remember to continue to financially support your local congregation. It is so easy to forget about giving when we aren’t in worship on Sunday morning, but your church continues to have expenses—the same ones they have every week, plus all the ministries they are doing in your community around coronavirus. And, by the way, the streaming worship you are able to watch at home is probably costing them some money too.

So go track down some podcast episodes to listen to—we have links for all the ones we’ve talked about on the episode page at UMC.org/podcasts—and hang in there. As God was with the Israelites as the wandered in the wilderness, so too is God with us in our wildernesses today.

Thanks for listening.

I’ll be back soon with more spiritual nutrition and exercises to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.