When the world feels too big

Helen Thorne | May 19th 2021

For many of us, the world has shrunk over the past year. Rather than going out to work, we’ve stayed home – rather than taking our children to school, there have been months of sitting next to them in front of screens. Church has been online. Social events have been reduced to the occasional walk with a solitary friend. Homes that were once a hub of hospitality have been eerily quiet. 

Of course, much of that is beginning to change. There’s joy in welcome people into our yards and homes again. There’s something right about seeing people in church buildings again even if that’s with masks. But, if we’re honest, some of us are finding the opening up hard. Going out again feels scary – social interaction, exhausting. All the things we’ve been waiting for, don’t quite feel the panacea we expected them to be. 

There are reasons for the struggles. Many of us are exhausted. After a year of learning to do things differently, we have little strength for another shift in gears. Many of us are spiritually dry. There is a knock-on effect to not meeting physically as a church, a detrimental impact of multi-tasking as the online service plays in the kitchen while we try to entertain the kids or sit, depressingly, alone.

Hope in an Anxious World

Hope in an Anxious World

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Words of help and hope form the Bible for both Christians and non-Christians who feel anxious.

Some of our more senior brothers and sisters have lost significant mobility in recent months. Not dissimilarly, some of us are coming to realise that things like hospitality, commuting, interpersonal conversation are not constants in our lives but, rather, skills we have to keep up. We lose what we cannot maintain. Add into that the ongoing fears some of us have about our health, the repeated message in the media that it’s still not safe to do some of the basic things in life – like hug – it’s no wonder some people are finding it hard to re-engage. 

So how, as churches, can we help? 

It can be tempting to fall back on verses that simply tell us not to fear. “Be bold!” “Be strong!” Both wonderful gospel calls! But ones that are likely to be met by a desperate cry of, “but I can’t” by those who are feeling low. 

It can feel alluring to simply talk up the positives of meeting together again as a church. “It’s great to be here”, “What a joy to be meeting together again after so long”. But that simply alienates those who can’t assent to such sentiments. It’s more likely to encourage the struggling to stay home.

"But, at times like this, we often need most the beauty of biblical metaphors - with their pictures of protection, provision and more – to bring hope to people’s hearts."

Offer reassurance and permission

There are practical hints that can be given. Reassuring people that they don’t have to engage with every church activity as soon as it begins, will help them build stamina gradually. Giving permission to sit at the back, away from people’s gaze, can make returning feel less awkward. Emphasising that it’s OK to say, “hello” to just one other person and then leave after the service, will take the Sunday pressure down. Remembering that, actually, a few things have worked better online and being willing not to revert everything to in-person can be a wonderful thing! Encouraging single people to walk together to church so they don’t have to arrive alone, sit alone and leave alone will potentially make the experience less stressful by far. Funding taxis for those who have lost confidence in walking (or an appropriately risk assessed lift) can enable people to turn up. Acknowledging from the front how much it is appreciated that some people have pushed through the pain barrier to get to church will lighten many a fearful heart. 

Share Bible narratives and metaphors

In addition, we can remind ourselves of the great Old Testament narratives that show how God leads and loves his people well. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, David, Daniel – not exactly people whose lives were known for their ease! God cared for them. He will care for us. His character and compassion has not waned.  

But, at times like this, we often need most the beauty of biblical metaphors - with their pictures of protection, provision and more – to bring hope to people’s hearts. Metaphors speak of God’s activity now – they paint a picture of how he is active making tough things possible – and they help the struggler lift their eyes from their circumstances to their Saviour. 

Often, we can feel isolated in our struggles but reflecting deeply on what it means to have a Shepherd who leads us, cares for us and fights for us helps Christians know we are not navigating these tricky paths alone. Often, we feel vulnerable in our pain, but there is strength and hope found in pictures of God as refuge, rock, fortress and shield. It’s easy to feel that life is spiralling out of control, what a difference it makes – what confidence can grow – when we know that there is a King ruling, unfalteringly, above all things. How useless we can feel when we become overwhelmed, yet again, by the pressures of life – how important to know that God’s everlasting arms are holding us firm. 

The metaphors remind us of God’s character and the way he is active in our lives now. By spending a moment each day, reminding ourselves, and each other, what they teach – and actively joining the dots between our emotions and his actions - we can find true strength to persevere. 

And, little by little, we’ll all be able to return to some semblance of normality … together, in unity, at a speed that helps everyone engage.

Helen Thorne is the author of Hope in an Anxious World, a short, sympathetic and warm book that will help both Christian and non-Christian readers understand anxiety better, learn some useful techniques to cope with it and, most importantly, show how the living God can liberate us from its grip.

Helen Thorne

Helen Thorne is Director of Training and Resources at Biblical Counselling UK. She formerly worked with the London City Mission and has written Hope in an Anxious World, Purity Is Possible, Walking with Domestic Abuse Sufferers and 5 Things to Pray for Your City. She attends Dundonald Church in Raynes Park, London.

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