After we’ve lived in difficult circumstances for a long period of time, it can be hard to change our mindsets to one of hope. We’ve all seen photos of brave Londoners digging out from the bombings during The Battle of Britain. Today’s pictures are far different as we continue to dig out from the first worldwide pandemic in over one hundred years. For some of us, COVID-19 seemed to have hit far from home — like people living in the countryside while bombs fell on London. For others, we’re still reeling from the losses of friends and family very close to us. Or maybe we had to battle with COVID-19 ourselves.
The Battle of Britain ended on October 31st, 1940, when the saturation bombing over London stopped after more than three months. The end of the nightly bombings didn’t mean the war was over, but at least people could move on from the nightly losses. Similarly, we’re not totally out of the woods today. However, it’s time to take steps back into the light and to focus on moving forward. And to do that, here are three steps to change your mindset and begin walking into a world that is more back to normal.
1. Changing Your Mindset From Anxiety to Peace
Let’s be honest: In many homes, our secondhand anxiety has seeped down to our children. Go to Google Scholar and type in “COVID and anxiety in children.” You’ll find endless articles from Spain, Turkey, China, Great Britain, and the United States saying that kids everywhere are awash in anxiety.
While the coronavirus “war” isn’t entirely over, and we’re still a long way from being back to normal, it’s time to choose courage and calm. To start digging out. To change your mindset. In Robert Epstein’s insightful article in The Scientific American Mind titled, “What Makes a Good Parent?” researchers found that the most important thing a good parent needs to do is to build love, caring, and attachment into a child. (For a clear, biblical first step on how to do that, see The Blessing). But if love, attachment, and blessing win first place in the “what does a good parent do” list, guess what’s second? It’s parents attempting to reduce and lower a child’s stress and anxiety.
Notice it says “attempt.” You don’t have to be perfect. It’s not your job to keep your kids’ lives anxiety-free. However, it is your job to model how to handle things that create anxiety. One of the ways you can do this is by changing your mindset.
Each child in our home comes with different degrees of susceptibility to stress. Scientists call some children “dandelion children.” In real life, dandelions are very hardy plants that are almost impervious to their environment. But there are also many kids scientists call “orchid children.” Like orchid plants, these kids are incredibly susceptible to the stress they pick up from us and their surroundings.
We Can’t Hide Our Emotions
Take a good look at your face in the morning. Studies on facial expressions show you can’t fake being calm. If you think you can, you’re deluding yourself. We all have an involuntary expressive system that overrides our words.
Have you ever had someone ask you, “What’s wrong?”
And of course, you reply with, “Nothing is wrong. Everything’s fine.” But it isn’t. And that person, and often our kids, see on our faces the reality of the emotion we’re feeling. It doesn’t matter what words we say; they can see right through them.
The Two Degree Change
Instead of covering up your emotions and pretending things are back to normal, do something different. Try an exercise I like to call “The Two Degree Change.” It’s a small but meaningful action that can make a real difference.
For ten days, tape two Bible verses to your mirror each morning. Each verse can help you authentically choose to dial down your anxiety level and dial up the courage in your heart, which translates to your facial expressions. Here are the two verses I want you to come face-to-face with each morning.
1. “Rejoice Always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
Writing coaches usually teach students, “Short sentences are better.” These two words are short and powerful. Focus on those words as you stand there in front of the mirror. Start by thanking God that you’ve got another day. It’s okay if you’re not perfect. It’s okay to be scared. But to rejoice always means right now. This day. Not as soon as you’re ready or when you’re not having a tough day.
If you’re feeling there still isn’t much to rejoice about, rejoice in the fact that Jesus Himself has said He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). He can help you be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9). Rejoice that God gives us a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11). Know that it won’t always be this tough or fearful. Eventually, things will get back to normal. Then from there, add your own list of things worth treasuring and celebrating.
2. “Pray Without Ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
This verse doesn’t mean you don’t do anything except pray all day. Instead, know that you can communicate with your Heavenly Father all day, every day. If you need a bit of help on this, here’s a prayer for courage and thanks you can borrow.
A Prayer for Courage
“Lord Jesus, we’ve all been through so much. You know personally, because you went through it on our behalf, the extremes of both physical and mental suffering. You understand thirst and anxiety and feeling alone (even your disciples couldn’t stay awake an hour). Lord, help me rejoice in the fact that nothing can separate us from your love for us (Romans 8:38). Jesus, my child and my spouse need love from me today. They also need a little less anxiety from me. So please help my heart and mind to trust you for a special future. May my words and the smile in my eyes and face be real because You have given me calm and courage.”
Look up while you’re reading that prayer. Stop if you must and look yourself in the eyes. You’re not alone. It won’t always be this bad. You are loved. You can be a person who has courage, not anxiety. Courage can show up in your heart and on your face, and looking to Jesus can help change your mindset to one of peace.
2. Choose Compassion for Those With Scars
As you gain more confidence in being that courageous, non-anxious presence in your home, there’s a second step we need to take. As we gain courage and begin to return to normal, now isn’t the time to look down on those who are still scared, whether with real or imagined fears. If you’ve caught yourself doing that recently, it’s time to change your mindset.
Shakespeare writes in Romeo and Juliet, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” Be careful that as you gain courage and calm, and as Covid restrictions begin to lift, that you don’t begin to look down on someone who is still wearing a mask. It could be those riding a bike outside in the blazing summer heat or someone still masked up when they’re driving in the car, alone with the windows rolled up. Don’t look down on those still not willing to venture out if there’s the chance they might have to face a group of more than two. Things aren’t back to normal yet, for one. And second, you don’t know their whole story — nor understand their scars.
A True Story
In the summer of 1970, I had recently graduated from high school and served on a summer work crew at Young Life’s Silver Cliff Ranch. One of my jobs was to build a giant outdoor grill. We set it up in a beautiful open area above the camp, on the foothills of Mt. Princeton. Once it was built, we cooked hundreds of pieces of chicken for an all-camp barbeque that night.
After people started showing up, additional helpers put the chicken on the grill and flipped the pieces while they cooked. I ended up right in the front. My job was to use a set of giant tongs to grab a barbeque-smothered piece of chicken and place it on someone’s plate as they went by, which was why I saw what happened.
As I turned and glanced down the line, about three people away, I saw a young man who was close to my age. He had turned as white as a ghost, looking pale and frightened.
We were at a beautiful Colorado camp surrounded by smiling people. The campers had just finished a fantastic day sliding down hills. Now they were enjoying a top-notch dinner in a wide-open field on a stunning mountainside before a night of songs, skits, and a talk about Jesus. Yet none of that seemed to register with this young man.
As he got closer, I could tell he was shaking like a leaf. When he was one person away, he dropped his plate and started sprinting into the woods as if his life depended on it. And in his mind, it did.
The work crew boss was beside me. We looked at each other, left the line, and went after him. We finally found him deep inside the woods, shaking and crying. Finally, he was able to tell us his story.
The several hundred campers at Silver Cliff were high schoolers from several states. The young man had gotten special permission from his Young Life Leader in Texas to come to camp. He had graduated a year early from high school and gone right into the service. His last fourteen months had been spent on the very front lines in Vietnam, often in close combat. After his time was up, he flew home. He had been out of the service and home for an entire week before he packed a suitcase, got on a bus, and came up to camp with the kids with whom he would have just graduated. None one at the camp knew his story.
“It’s that open field.” He croaked out finally. “I kept waiting. I knew it was coming.” He was referring to mortar fire, which would have come if such a large group of people was out in the open in Vietnam. All of us were talking and laughing and not knowing what was coming. But he knew. That’s when he heard that terrible sound he’d been waiting for — though no one else heard it. It was the high whistling sound of mortars that got louder as they started raining down on people. The casualties. The screams. The hurt. Memories were flooding back, bringing back pictures, which brought back more memories. The cycle continued until all the noise in his head made him run for his life.
That week at camp was the first and important step in that young man coming to Christ and beginning to deal with all his fears and hurts. But I’ve never forgotten how someone could see or hear something that wasn’t there in his mind’s eye. But it had been real for him.
You Never Know What Scars a Person Hides
We never know the scars that are keeping that mask on someone’s face. Instead of lecturing or laughing at people who don’t see the world as you currently do, go back to the verse on the mirror and “pray without ceasing.” Now, when you see someone holding on to that mask, you can pray they can have the courage to take it off soon. And that whatever hurt is keeping it on them, that it may lose its grip of fear that it has over them.
While we may know the bombs are no longer dropping and the mortars aren’t firing, remember we don’t carry others’ scars and fear. It is better to pray than mock what could be someone’s scar.
This third step is likely the hardest in getting back to normal: needing to re-learn how to relate with others.
Let’s face it. For many of us, we have spent over a year not being able to attend live church or be in a small group or Bible study face to face. Something is unnerving about all those walls that have stood for so long falling overnight with an executive order. Many of us have gotten out of the habit of engaging with people outside of our family. Changing your mindset to adjust back to normal can be difficult.
Think about your kids as you finally take them back to Target after the lockdown and things get back to normal. You’ll need to remind them to use their inside voice at a store when they’ve been as loud as they want at home. They will need to remember they can’t touch everything in a store as they could at home. Kids will have to re-learn how to reintegrate in so many places in their world as they reestablish connections with friends they haven’t seen in person for months. Going to camp can be an even bigger step for some. Lastly, they’ll need coaching on making new friends when school finally does start.
The fear parents have for their children’s IQ loss is overrated. Sure, kids may have lost some ground in math, science, and reading. Where our kids have lost the most ground isn’t in IQ points but relational intelligence and knowing how to relate well with others. (For help in getting your kids to build or rebuild relationships, see The Relationally Intelligent Child: 5 Keys to Helping Your Kids Connect Well With Others.)
In this case, what is true for your kids is true for you well. After more than a year of learning to step back from face-to-face relationships, we all need to re-learn relational intelligence and authentic connection. For most of us, that will take a change of mindset.
Creating Connections to Move Forward
Pressing forward and moving out from coronavirus’ grasp needs to start with going back to church. It can seem uncomfortable or strange after so long. However, choosing to reconnect with others at church can help us in so many ways. Not only do we hear God’s Word, through His Spirit, about His Son. We also get to use our strengths and gifts to help others — and be helped ourselves. Our questions can explore the hearts of people. We can use the empathy in our eyes and heart to understand someone whose hurt we’re hearing. (A side note: mirror neurons that reflect empathy don’t carry through on a screen.) It is vital to feel a real connection with someone as we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. But we must do this in person.
As a way to change your mindset, I’m challenging you to come up with almost any excuse to gather a group. For example, to celebrate a relative’s birthday party recently, our daughters rented one of the screens at a local movie theater. They paid a small flat fee, but they got an entire theater to themselves and twenty other people to watch a classic movie. The celebration helped both the movie theater with popcorn and cola sales, but it was the first time back at the movies for sixteen of the twenty people present. For many others, it was also their first time back in a group of people!
Be the one who reaches out to others. If you’re not a movie person, then we suggest your setting up a dinner for eight. Pick three other couples and then have a pot-luck dinner. Or, if you’d rather, pick a restaurant that also needs help. After dinner, head back to someone’s home and make it a game night. Or watch a movie and talk about it afterward. Or get together and ask the question, “What’s one good thing and one challenging thing about the last year and a half?” Doing these things are great steps toward getting back to normal. God created us for connection. You’ll be surprised how thirsty your soul is for relationships with others and how much their souls needs it as well.
Final Thoughts on Changing Your Mindset
These three steps can help you change your mindset and gain the courage to model calm for your children. We can be patient and prayerful for people who are still operating at levels of fear we may not fully understand. And even if it’s out of character, we can be the social chairman who shrugs off the fear and starts setting up opportunities for people to get together again as we try to get back to normal. We need connection and caring so much — especially as we walk from darkness and fear back into the light.