“What do we do here?” My church member asked, referring to the state of dysregulation amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
This question has stuck with me over the last few weeks as I too process the impact of this global pandemic. As a pastor who counsels his flock, we have shifted to crisis management and emotional regulation education. Speaking to my parishioners weekly, my topics have shifted to promoting peace and reflecting on God’s promises. And as a believer, my prayers have shifted to petitions of praise and pleas for God’s power to prevail over the pain being experienced throughout our world.
As much as I normalize my experiences to minimize my emotional distress, I am challenged, as was my parishioner, to face the fears and feelings that this crisis has produced.
What Makes a Crisis?
Crisis, defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is, “a turning point” and “an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life.” The crisis results in the temporary loss of coping abilities, disrupting our capacity to regulate our internal response to an external threat.
In neurological terms, crisis signals our brain’s fight, flight, or freeze response. It is here, in a state of protection, that our limbic system, the parts of the brain that control emotional regulation, take over, decreasing our ability to access rational problem-solving skills. This prolonged exposure to heightened levels of cortisol, our bodies’ stress hormone, results in physical, emotional, and cognitive impairments. In short, being in crisis makes it hard to know what to do next.
Crises in the Bible
Although there is no mention of the term “crisis” in Scripture there are many passages that address themes of chaos and suffering. The biblical accounts of the plagues in Egypt, the tower of Babel, and Jesus’ birth and resurrection can be defined as crises.
It is also important to note that such significant events can precede positive change. A crisis can prompt progression in a new direction. Painful yet powerful, we can reframe a crisis as a catalyst of character. Here, faced with our feelings, we learn to develop resilience, identify our internal resources, and deepen our values. As the author, Chuck Swindoll put it, “Crisis crushes, and in crushing, it often refines and purifies.”
So, let’s go back to the primary question in times of crisis, what do we do? How do we manage our emotions and reorient our perspectives amid sudden distress?
4 Steps to Consider in Crisis
I believe it is helpful to couple the truths of Scripture with an understanding of the four distinct phases of crisis (impact, confusion, change, and reconciliation) discussed by Dr. Norman Wright in his guide to crisis and trauma counseling. The Apostle Peter writes an entire letter to encourage Christians in their suffering. In 1 Peter 4, it gives us 4 practical steps to consider during a crisis.
1. Normalize Emotions
(Phases of crisis: Impact and Confusion)
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you…” (1 Peter 4:12).
Here, the Apostle Peter begins this section of his letter to the Christians suffering for the sake of the Gospel, instructing them on how to respond to trials. Because we live in a fallen world, crises are inevitable, and it is important to acknowledge their presence and our pain. Peter’s words remind us of this reality and the brokenness that accompanies it.
Dr. Wright explains that during the impact stage of a crisis, the initial fight-or-flight response is triggered and we resort to our innate tendencies, either fight the problem or avoid it completely. Also, the onset of such a crisis decreases our ability to take in additional information and process things rationally.
As the impact of a crisis transitions to the phase of confusion, we can struggle with prolonged distress and flood with feelings or avoid them completely. It is helpful to understand that crisis is connected to a loss, thus we can expect to experience uncomfortable feelings of grief, denial, guilt, anxiety, and depression.
If there is one thing I hope you will remember it is this: Your feelings are important and acknowledged by God. It is okay to feel fear, confusion, desperation, discomfort, urgency, overwhelmed. Scripture reminds in Psalm 34:17-18:
“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
When a crisis arises, the first step in steadying our souls is simply to recognize our emotions and normalize them. It may take time and be messy, so be patient with yourself.
2. Reflect on Hope
(Phases of crisis: Confusion and Adjustment)
“But rejoice where you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13).
Within the third phase of any crisis, we naturally adjust to the loss and experience a sense of hope. The change phase is where new insights are regained and values deepen considering the tragedy or change.
For believers, it grounds our hope in the good news of the Gospel! Although pain is present when a crisis hits, our story does not end in this shattered life. The hope of heaven’s healing is sure as Christ has become the steadfast anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19). Within this verse, the Apostle Peter petitions his audience to look at their suffering and struggle with a renewed hope in their partnership with Christ, as he too suffered to the point of death for our sake. In doing so, we also may rejoice, or even delight in God’s grace, when His full worth is revealed. In this space between our suffering and God’s sweet second coming, it emboldens us to hope in the promise of eternal glory.
Romans 8 reminds our aching hearts that while hurting and hoping, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and that God works good in and through trials to refine our faith and conform us to Christlikeness. So, we do not lose heart, as the Apostle Paul proclaims in 2 Corinthians 4:16-19:
“Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
While in this stage, moments of mourning fluctuate, and sadness may resurface. In these waves, we can cling to the certainty of our Savior and speak life into our dry bones! Hold on to hope, heaven is near.
3. Seek Safety
(Phases of crisis: Adjustment and Reconstruction)
“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19a). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Besides reflecting on hope, the Apostle Peter also instructs us to entrust our souls to God. I love this verse because Peter’s direction here in this last verse of the chapter is one of comfort. He is not just saying, trust God. But the term “entrust” is translated from a Greek word meaning commend; to place someone in another’s care or protection.
So, what does this step look like practically? I believe during the change and last reconstruction phase of a crisis; it is important to seek safety for our souls. It is within the last phase of a crisis that insight is fully returned and a sense of security maybe once again found in fellowship with the Father.
Although reflecting on hope assists us in seeing beyond our present suffering, getting direct comfort is vital, especially for our souls. The practice of finding peace in pain’s process helps our brains balance and better regulate emotions. So seek out counseling and conversation, find an activity of enjoyment or private time to pray. Whatever the practice, the purpose is simply to find rest in the present moment by bringing our awareness back to God’s strength and safety.
I think of Psalm 91, where Moses speaks of God’s protection despite the hardships of terror and violence, He does not negate the pain but rather reminds us of God’s faithfulness in verses 14-15 writing,
“’Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.’”
Let us cling to this present promise, that despite the trouble and turmoil surrounding us, we can be sure that God is with us, and fighting for us.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Carolyn V
4. Keep Going
(Phase of crisis: Reconstruction)
” …while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19b).
Within the last phase of a crisis, reconstruction occurs with expressions of hope and healing. This is exactly what the Apostle Peter notes in the final verse of chapter 4. While entrusting our souls to God, Peter encourages our good work. Commentators explain that “doing good” relates to our conduct and our continued service to the Lord. It empowers us to keep going, not conceding to the weight of the world or allowing it to weaken the mission and message of God’s goodness and grace.
Crisis, in its onset, requires time and attention, yet as we heal, hope is restored and our mission for God’s Kingdom is once again clear. As we rebuild, the pain subsides, and a fresh sense of strength arises.
I think of the Apostle Paul’s bold statement in his letter to the Philippians. Considering all his imprisonment, he states:
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:18-20).
May this be our prayer, as we press into painful seasons, knowing, as Paul did, that whatever comes our way will turn out for our deliverance. As a sojourner in suffering, I pray we press forward into the uncertainty of the current crisis with the certainty of our salvation!
“[May]… the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).