Lorna Breen was the medical director of the emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. She died by suicide on April 26.
Her father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, later explained: “She tried to do her job, and it killed her.”
She had no history of mental illness. However, she described to her father an onslaught of patients who were dying before they could even be removed from ambulances.
“She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” he said.
Nearly half of respondents in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that during public health emergencies, “emotional distress is ubiquitous in affected populations.”
Counselors warn that the isolation created by stay-at-home restrictions can especially contribute to psychological harm.
As a pastor and a theologian, I am not qualified to offer medical advice or professional counseling to those suffering from anxiety and depression. But I can point us to Jesus. His example highlights three principles that offer us help and hope in these hard days.
1: SOCIAL DISTANCING CAN BE REFRAMED AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH.
Jesus prayed alone at the beginning of his day (Mark 1:35) and at its end (Matthew 14:23). He agonized in solitary prayer before his arrest and crucifixion (Matthew 26:36–46). Times of isolation became opportunities for worship as he sought the strength of his Father.
Praying, fasting, reading Scripture, and meditating on the word and works of God are gifts we give ourselves in solitude. And they position us to experience the joy and peace of the Lord (Philippians 4:6–7).
Would you make time to be alone with your Father today?
2: GRATITUDE IN HARD TIMES CAN LEAD TO GREAT JOY.
According to research reported by the Harvard Medical School, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. My purpose here is not to encourage naivete: the crises of our day are unprecedented in living memory.
But the One who came to save all of mankind faced challenges we cannot begin to imagine. And yet he lived a life of worship and praise: he gave thanks for his food (John 6:11; Mark 14:22–23); he praised his Father for revealing his will (Luke 10:21); he thanked him for hearing his prayer (John 11:41).
If we choose to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we will seek reasons for gratitude amid our challenges. For example, we can thank our Father for his presence in our pain (Matthew 28:20). We can thank him for healthcare heroes fighting this pandemic, researchers who are working to end it, and workers who are supplying essential services.
Would you thank God for a specific gift of grace right now? If you do, you will testify that “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
3: OUR PHYSICAL HEALTH DIRECTLY AFFECTS OUR MENTAL HEALTH.
The Risk Index for Depression shows that an individual is more likely to become depressed if their diet is poor and they do not exercise. According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep is especially important during a time of crisis as it empowers our immune system, heightens brain function, enhances mood, and improves mental health.
Jesus modeled such self-care throughout his life. He rested beside a Samaritan well (John 4:6) and slept in a boat even during a storm (Mark 4:38). He ate with Matthew and his friends (Matthew 9:11) and with his disciples (Luke 22:14–15). During a season of intense activity, he led his disciples to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31).
Paul similarly prayed: “May your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Would you make his prayer yours?
I am convinced that God redeems all he allows. One way he would redeem this pandemic is by using it to lead us into transforming personal encounters with him through worship and to self-care for his glory and our good.
Billy Graham observed, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.”
In the midst of this financial and medical crisis, let’s take steps to strengthen our character as we imitate the Son of God to the glory of God.
Keeping the Faith in College: Advice for Students
“How to Stay Christian in College.”
High school graduation … check. Freshman orientation … check.
It’s time for college—your biggest adventure yet. But have you thought about the spiritual challenges you might face?
Even when they’re smart enough to avoid risky situations, Christian students often have their faith tested during college in ways they haven’t considered.
“Colleges and universities are magnets for extreme beliefs, ideologies and cults.”
In his candid book “How to Stay Christian in College,” author J. Budziszewski writes, “From the moment students set foot on the contemporary campus, their Christian convictions and discipline are assaulted.”
Understanding this hidden spiritual darkness can help students remain on course and even increase their faith exponentially throughout the college years. Here’s how you can be prepared.
Get Social—In Person
Leaving home and living on your own means it’s up to you to decide how to manage your time and who you spend it with. It’s important to be intentional about making good friendships.
“There’s no such thing as a solitary Christian. If you go into the world alone, you’ll be swallowed,” Budziszewski writes.
Try these tips for finding Christian community in college:
Seek out other Believers from the beginning. Join a Christian student group right away, or even better, connect with a campus ministry before leaving home. Many organizations will offer fun activities the week before classes start.
“Most students intend to stay with their faith but they’re surprised at what happens to them,” explained John Decker, director of partnerships for Campus Ministry Link.
“Suddenly, they’re not surrounded by Christians, and their roommate comes in and invites them to a party.
“They start bonding with these people just because of the culture shock of college,” Decker continued. “It’s human nature to have this high need for friends, and they bond with the wrong people.”
Try several different organizations if you need to, and don’t worry if it takes a while to fit in, Budziszewski writes. Students may not be comfortable on their first or second visit but the more they participate, the quicker they’ll feel at home.
If students don’t click with everyone at first, that’s OK. It’s normal to like some personalities more than others.
Take on a leadership role. It’s a great way to meet people and use your passion for Christ to help them grow.
Help with a summer project. Choose a short-term mission trip or one that will keep you traveling around a couple of months. Stay in the US or go abroad. Serve God and experience new places with like-minded friends.
Find a ‘real’ church. It’s important to attend church in addition to joining a campus organization. Ask older students in your group for suggestions, and make plans to go with a friend. Some churches may offer a shuttle from campus.
Knowledge & Politics
This milestone of turning 18 often comes with a sense of self-discovery or a desire to express your ideas and beliefs.
But look out.
“Colleges and universities are magnets for extreme beliefs, ideologies and cults,” writes Budziszewski.
Some students protest or support a cause without fully understanding the issue or politics involved.
About his own college experience, Budziszewski writes, “I had my own ideas about redeeming the world, and my politics became a kind of substitute religion.”
If Doubt Creeps In
In conversations with friends or perhaps in class, be prepared to hear people make blanket statements, such as: “Christianity is judgmental and intolerant,” “The Bible is just mythology,” or “Everyone must find his own truth.”
A professor himself, Budziszewski warns that professors might patronize Christianity or imply the Christian faith is historically inaccurate.
In response, ask your professor to explain his or her statement. Don’t be afraid to respond, but be respectful and, most of all, be confident in what you know to be true.
Keep up your daily spiritual routine. Start your day with God. Spend time in prayer and study God’s Word between classes or whenever you can.
“College may be a turning point in your walk with God—a time when your relationship with Christ either deepens or weakens,” explains Budziszewski.
A person can be committed to a personal relationship with Christ but they also shouldn’t go through college alone.
“Fellowship is necessary to your relationship with Christ. It’s also the best place to form rewarding friendships and find a suitable person to marry,” he writes.
“Spending time with Christian friends makes the greatest difference.”
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