So, last week my husband and I decided we had one last trek to Costco and decided to do it early. We weren’t alone. We were about #80 in line to enter when they opened and when doors opened there were probably 200 people with carts in tow. Costco did a great job organizing the line as we entered the store and they steered us to remain in the line until we reached the back of the store. Evidently, we were in the line for toilet paper and water. Who knew? We did need one package of toilet paper, so we decided to stay in the line. While we waited two women started bickering. When we reached the back, a very focused Costco employee started to load two large packs of toilet paper into our cart. My husband assured him that we only needed one. He was puzzled and withdrew his offer. We had to continue in the line of carts past the water and another well-intended staffer tried to put a pallet of water in our cart. We said we didn’t need it but thanked him. He, too, was taken aback. Over his shoulder, another customer was ranting loudly that he wanted a second pallet of water and he was entitled to have one. Needless to say, it was an anxious vibe. The man was angry, the shoppers overall were testy and determined. Carts were piled. Few smiled.
After this experience, I found myself feeling quite sad. In times of uncertainty, people seem to go into fear and control. Fear that they won’t have enough, fear for their own welfare, fear of the future. Sometimes fear makes people irritable and demanding like our friend at the water station. For some, fear is an isolator. They become self-focused and disconnect from those around them.
Fear is a common human emotion when we are faced with something overwhelming and outside of our normal experience. When we are unable to control our circumstances, fear often surfaces and compels us to try to manage what is happening. This is nothing new. Throughout the Bible, when men and women were faced with the incomprehensible Presence of God, they were terrified. When the angels appeared to the unsuspecting shepherds announcing the birth of Christ- yes, terror. When a fierce storm broke out while the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee and the waves threatened to capsize their boat and Jesus calmed the wind and waves, you would think they would be relieved, but no, they were terrified.
When we are afraid, most of us try to manage our circumstances. One way we do so is to grab control by storing up for ourselves much more than we need as insurance for our future. When we allow ourselves to acknowledge that, in reality, we cannot control much about our lives, we can become anxious and angry. Certainly, it is good to be prudent and prepared. But, if we are honest with ourselves, many of us keep our stockpiles loaded to avoid anxiety. When preparedness leads to hoarding, we have lost our way.
The story of the man in Tennessee struck me. Some might call him resourceful. He found a way to make a buck. Evidently, as the novel coronavirus crisis was unfolding, he stockpiled all the masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes he could find. Forget that many could not find one bottle of hand sanitizer for their use and protection. No, he had accumulated over 18,000 bottles to resell at a good profit. This goes beyond hoarding. It’s usury.
Shortages existed in Jesus’ day as well. People worried about when they would run out of food and clothing. His words seem to ring true for us today as well; “Don’t worry about your everyday life- whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)
This may sound naive to some. I am not suggesting we do nothing to prepare. I am encouraging us to consider our fears. When I was in Costco, I sensed in myself a temptation to take more than I needed. The hoarding mentality is contagious. What if we all stepped back and asked ourselves what we truly need. Also, ask ourselves what motivates our behavior. If it’s fear or anxiety or control, perhaps we could calm ourselves and begin to trust the One who provides “everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33).
What can you do?
- Breathe. When we get anxious and fearful our breathing becomes very shallow. Train yourself to breathe deeply several times a day. You can do this by taking in a very slow deep breath through your nose, holding it for four seconds and then slowly exhale through your mouth, getting every bit of air out. Do this five times.
- Meditate. When your thoughts are anxious or fearful, they tend to rob you of any peace. You rehearse negative scenarios over and over. To reign in your thought life, focus on an image or verse that will restore a sense of calm. Try Psalm 46:1, Psalm 34:8, Philippians 4:6,7 or my personal go to scripture: Psalm 27.
- Practice generosity. Fear causes you to turn inward, to look out for your own interests, to protect what you’ve accumulated. Generosity moves you outside yourself. It gives to another to lighten their life. It brings them joy and, in return, you experience joy. In this season of quarantines, you can still take someone a meal, offer to pull their weeds, send a light-hearted or inspiring text. Give of yourself. You’ll find being generous to be a wonderful antidote to fear!
Please reply with your own ways of calming your fears so we can be encouraging one another!