Most of us are feeling some sort of anxiety and stress these days. We are worried about our health and the health of those we love. We are anxious about our jobs and businesses surviving. We are coping with either more people in one space than we are used to and/or not seeing enough of other people.
Anyone who has lived for a few years knows that stress can cause an overreaction to the normal ups and downs of everyday life. Often, when we behave towards someone we love in a way that leaves us feeling ashamed, our reaction stems from being over-stressed. A dish left on the table or a toy left on the floor leads to nasty words rather than a reasonable response.
This plays out in the workplace as well. In analyzing medical mistakes, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that stress was a primary cause of errors. Whether you are providing health care, car rides or ketchup, poor decision making is often the result of an anxious mind.
What is stress? Psychology texts offer dozens of definitions but it’s mostly feeling that important aspects of your life are outside your control. You lack time to do what you think must be done. Fate is flinging circumstances at you for which you lack the resources. Costs are climbing faster than your ability to increase revenue.
Stress overwhelms you when you feel that you’re not in control of consequential developments in your life. Paradoxically this makes you less capable of making smart decisions and executing them. It is not surprising that the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have most of us feeling unstable.
I Samuel chapter 20 accentuates the deep bond between David and Jonathan. After confirming that Jonathan’s father, King Saul, wanted to kill David, Jonathan enabled David to escape. It would be hard to overestimate the greatness of his actions as recognizing David as the heir to the throne meant relinquishing his own royal hopes and aspirations. Yet, the following chapters show that a great tragedy results from David’s hasty escape. King Saul wipes out Nov, the city of the priests that had provided food for David as he runs away. Ancient Jewish wisdom sadly reveals that Jonathan must accept some of the responsibility for that slaughter. Why? Because in the emotional turmoil surrounding his farewell to David, Jonathan neglected to provide David with food and drink. This does not negate Jonathan’s laudable actions—however, it provides a chilling example of how stress can cause even the best of us to make serious mistakes.
The current crisis means that we need to be aware of our vulnerability to stress and be proactive in acknowledging and regulating our emotions and actions. Thankfully, God is always present and available but human contact is essential for our mental health. Even if it needs to be by phone, letter or internet we must be vigilant in reaching out to others in this time of social-distancing.
As many of you know, we are big proponents of keeping a written record of daily activities and thoughts. Responding to inquiries about journaling, we determined that we would like to encourage and help our friends to do the same. To that end, a few months ago our team began putting together a new resource, Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. Each week provides a thought-provoking concept, a Biblical reference and a challenge. There is room to record your thoughts, attempts and successes (or setbacks) at meeting the challenge. Little did we know that by the time this journal was ready (it should begin shipping by mid-week), the world would be in upheaval. We have made the decision to go ahead with the release of this resource in the hope that it can serve as an outlet and a source of strength as we all work through these trying days. We close with prayers for you and yours.
Psalm 130: A song of ascents: From the depths have I called you, Lord.
Lord, hear my voice, may Your ears be attentive to the sound of my pleas.