When Rome destroyed Carthage (146 B.C.), they reportedly “salted the fields.” The ancient practice of “sowing the fields” or “salting the fields” was more figurative that literal. It was a symbolic cursing of the land of a defeated foe. The literal practice of salting the fields was to destroy the productivity of the soil, thus the economy, which made places uninhabitable.
Has the pandemic salted our fields?
When I heard, “The worst is yet to come—wait until the fall and winter,” I thought of Carthage and the ancient Middle East. I’m wondering if Covid-19 is inflicting harm on our land for years, or generations to come. The prospect is this pandemic will define the young generation. The biggest threat is psychological, spiritual and mental. These days are an attack on our souls, focused on individuals and consequently the nation.
Brain specialist, Dr. Daniel Amen published a new book last month: The End of Mental Illness. He was the first from whom we heard about brain plasticity which means the brain can be changed, repaired, enhanced and enabled. He was the first one we heard talking about brain scans showing different colors in the brain to indicate the condition and working or “shut down” spots. He says the burned out, stressed out, super anxious, depressed person’s brain will show up as blackened.
It is not only possible to change the dark to healthy colors, any plan to become healthy or maintain our health during this epoch of hunkering down must include restoration as part of the plan. Immunity is paramount. Having a strong body, spiritual, soul, emotional and thought immune system fights off the demonic-level panic, fear and terrifying financial uncertainty.
Early in this world-wide crisis, I felt directed to pray that family and friends would acquire and maintain…
PLAN, PERSPECTIVE, PROPORTION, PEACE
It seems to me, that healthy people possess those anchors and skills. We will need those strengths to get through these times, and for sure, finding our places and filling our spot post-pandemic. Human beings are taking brutal hits in body, soul and spirit. My concern is that on the other side of this many will be wounded and weakened. An idle and laissez-faire response to the threat will darken the brain, body, soul, spirit. There are no guarantees, but there must be principles and practices that inform the mind and feed the soul.
Dr. A. R. Bernard, pastor of Christian Culture Center in New York, serves in NY on action boards with the mayor and governor. He also was hospitalized with CORVID-19 and says he is still trying to process it. He says, “This virus is evil.” His testimony, analysis and description reinforces for me that we are fighting an attack against our souls—personal and national. Bernard says the most formidable part of his experience was “the darkness.” My God!
Definitions that help me understand:
Body is the physical part of us head to toe including the brain.
Spirit is that element of the human that houses our relationship with God. The pipeline is vertical. No one can reach into our spirits but God. No person can snatch away what is there such as our salvation. It is the spirit that is born again—it comes alive when we give our lives to Christ. If we are to become as a disciple/follower of Jesus, what is in our spirits must reach what is in our souls. Again, this is a rough sketch, but it works for me.
Soul. The mind dwells there which is the software for the brain. The soul is made of our thoughts, emotions and will. I contend that we are battling a soul attack. We are battling the uncertainty—what we feel, what we think and what we do or can’t do.
None of us will reach the other side of this unscathed, therefore, we build a plan and or regimen that keeps our internal gyroscope functioning to keep us upright. This demands that we build recovery time into our schedule—“He restores my soul…” (Psalm 23).
Recovery takes about one-seventh of our time which God set aside as Sabbath. Sabbath did and does require planning and preparation. This sheltering in place hits me most with the loss of coffee shop attendance—which is a religious act. Carole and I enjoy being together, so leaving the house is not to get away from each other. Sometimes, she has a look that says, “Don’t you need to do something in the garage for a little while?” If I’m in my office there are always things that attract my attention and call me away from thinking, reading, praying. There may be 100 people in a coffee shop with clattering dishes, scraping chairs and chattering people and I will be in a cone of silence focused on praying or thinking. I especially like coffee shops in book stores! Ah, the smell of fresh coffee and new books.
Drive-thru just doesn’t get it. So, I make a fresh cup, take a book, Bible and journal and go sit in the car to think, pray, read, fall asleep. Solar energy is wonderful. I can go to the riverfront or sit on Carole’s porch or in the patio swing. Usually, I am renewed, replenished and given a fresh perspective with a hint of clarity for the next step.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun. (Annie J. Flint)
When the residual resources are gone, what replenishes your soul?
You may not find pleasure sitting in a sunbeam; coffee and books regenerate little in you. What does? After her husband died, Catherine Marshall prayed hard to refill her empty soul with not much result. God spoke to her heart and instructed her to go work in her garden. I’ve known men to feel replenished when they work on their custom cars. Others are restored while fishing in the middle of a lake. This is a total person thing—not just about church things. Our souls are threatened, our emotions, thoughts and will to do, to survive, perhaps to thrive.
There is a company near Chicago that studies book selling for Walmart. Their research determines on which shelf and in which position each book should be to attract sales. Each book’s position and which shelf often shifts from week to week.
The Bible is the nation’s current best seller with sales up 60% and higher. We are looking for insight, answer, certainty, hope and how our current crisis may fit into the long term—are these the last days? The research, however, cannot tell us if the buyer is looking for God, hope or guarantees.
Guarantees are hard to find, but probability rises when we schedule restoration times and practices.
A provocative verse says that Isaac re-dug the wells of his father. Doing so made them his own. Some who teach journaling say it allows us to return to our own testimonies of God’s faithfulness which strengthens us to trust and replenishes faith. Reinforce your life landmarks. Revisit your commitment to Jesus. Can you reimagine the altar or place when you acknowledged your need and placed your trust in Jesus?
“Jesus, I would do it again—I repeat my commitment.”
A lady I haven’t seen for decades has been in my mind lately. She was a single-mother with a difficult past. I can still hear her voice—remarkably comforting and calm. We were good friends and invested confidence in each other. Carole, our pre-school kids and I lived on and worked at a church conference center. Summer camp pushed us to build, repair for the incoming gang of kids and leaders. The open tabernacle was important to me that first summer. The first person to walk to the altar to make a commitment to Jesus was that lady’s daughter. A sense of God’s faithfulness was engraved on my soul. His faithfulness to my friend during her struggles is vivid. God did more than pat her on the back—though He did—He also guided her and empowered her. That experience is a landmark for me.
A new book came to my attention this week. The Wedge: Evolution, Consciousness, Stress, and the Key to Human Resilience. The author talks about facing stress or threats. Our mind asks if we’ve encountered anything like this before. The answer can determine our reaction. The “wedge” is the period between stimuli and reaction. What he calls “wedge” I talk about in my book on anger, stress management and depression, Turn Back the Turmoil in the chapter, “Widen the Gap.”
Reinforcing life-changing, determining events and changes strengthens us and builds resiliency. Before we react to the craziness or confusion, the gap/wedge gives us pause to calculate how we managed before and what tools we should use this time.
I’m not too quick to say that God is in control. He didn’t cause this, I am thinking that evil behavior has seeded the atmosphere to this pandemic. God gave us dominion. We can argue about what that means. It is beyond refute that God gave us dominion and responsibility for our own actions, reactions and behavior. Ephesians four tells us that negative anger (not positive anger or any emotion) is what quenches the Spirit. I’m hearing people say, “I’ve not been this angry….” If your anger or raging emotion can do something about what you face, then do that something. Your anger is legitimate, but even healthy emotions can drain energy and hope. Restoration is required.
Fear and anxiety are felt first physically. Muscles tense, adrenalin and cortisol flow to prepare the body to flee, fight or freeze. Sleep is disrupted, blood pressure rises, pores sweat and vision narrows. All of this is followed by exhaustion. If you do not rest and relax, burnout can follow when your body lays down and refuses to function. The body is efficient and works to protect you in response to something you feel, thought, said or do. Therefore, rest and intentional relaxation is required.
Relaxation isn’t spelled r.e.c.l.i.n.e.r. If you have an anxiety attack while driving, the best thing to do is park the car and go for a run. Flap your wings. That is what your body has prepared to do. If you do not dispense the adrenalin you are simply revving your engine, putting yourself in gear while holding the brakes on tight. That can’t be good!
Intentionally relaxing is learning where you carry stress and tightening your muscle groups until (some say) they are ready to cramp and then relaxing them. Lie down, begin with your toes and work your way to your eyebrows. Tightening your eyebrows at a stoplight is fun and will attract attention. This practice attacks anxiety rather than allowing anxiety attack you.
No seminar leader is worth preservative salt unless he or she talks about breathing. Deep breathing is a mandatory tool to bring restoration. Watch a healthy and safe baby breathing. Their stomach moves not their shoulders. Stick out your gut, breathe into your abdomen. A counselor I listened to today called proper, restful breathing, “Foursquare breathing.” Breath in through your nostrils for 4 seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, purse your lips and breathe out for 4-seconds and then hold it four more seconds. Be careful, deep breathing can make you light headed or cause hyperventilation. Deep breathing takes getting used to.
Correct breathing sends a message to your brain which alerts the body: everything is cool. Relax, you are not the target of incoming missiles. One of the ways I know I need to breathe is I feel my shoulders acting like earmuffs. When we are anxious we tend to hold our breath. Our family automatically says to each other, “Don’t forget to breathe.”
You cannot hit your notes or sing well until you breathe right. Breath control is the first thing to learn. Dr. Amen says intentional relaxed breathing is part of the regimen that will turn your brain from dark to bright colors.
Before the pandemic, Americans were severely sleep deprived. Getting adequate rest is part of the restoration. The first 90-minutes of sleep nudges growth hormones to rebuild the body. That sleep must be undisturbed. I won’t recite all the rules about not having your cell-phone next to the bed or having the TV on. Rest will help restore your immune system.
Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil, both scientists, are saying the isolation may be the worst thing that could have been done. Obviously, it restricts possibility of spreading the virus, but it will affect many more people in the short and long run than the disease. We need relationships. We need touch and interaction. One of our preachers said Jesus knew the leper needed a touch. A leper was isolated and quarantined outside the city, outside the camp. Jesus touched and the touch was a healing agent.
A movie I saw a long, long ago is about a man who was exiled by his country. He was no longer a citizen and no other nation would accept him. He belonged to no one, no group accepted him. He had no one to play catch with, no one to sit across the table. No one to hug. Totally outside every camp! That causes stress just to think about it. We need people. Fellowship, no matter how you define it, is a basic requirement. Talk about essential!
Your number one coping mechanism against stress, depression and burnout is one close friend with whom you interact regularly. According to research, your number two coping tool is to belong to a group. Relationships are necessary. Participatory relationships restore us and keep us thinking right, feeling right and doing healthy things. The single habit of not interacting with people will salt your fields. Loneliness is more dangerous to your health than smoking.
He restores my soul.
Governor Cuomo, speaking of flattening the curve, said, “God didn’t do this.” I don’t know what he meant, but I tend to agree with the words.
God will not work without you to restore you.
Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his paths.” It always feels to me as if the word ‘but’ in the statement should be ‘and.’ “…and the Lord directs his paths.”
Proverbs 3:6 “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.”
“Beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” I pray that good news was received.
© 2020 D. Dean Benton