My biggest spiritual crisis hit me during Pedro’s cancer crisis. I thought growing up in a Christian home and asking Jesus to be my Savior would insulate me from life’s woes. Not so. I had to learn how to take care of myself spiritually during a crisis.
During the present COVID-19 crisis, we all need reminders on how to take care of ourselves. When disaster strikes, we easily forget familiar routines and ways of managing healthy self-care. April’s series will provide hacks for self-care–mental, artistic/academic, physical, and spiritual–during a crisis.
“I’m back in the hospital,” Pedro’s voice came over the cell phone in the middle of a team parents’ meeting at our daughter’s gymnastics class. His voice sounded worse, whether from the paralysis caused by cancer or because his condition had worsened, I didn’t know.
I breathed deeply, and gripped the phone and jumped into crisis mode as I hurried to the lobby. For the past week, he’d been at his brother’s house waiting for his next round of chemo in California.
“Doctor says we haven’t killed it. Dizziness from the cancer.”
“What are our choices?”
“More chemo.” Pedro’s voice sounded so discouraged. “Might not work.”
“More radiation.” This time, his voice broke.
“What happens if you get more radiation?” I struggled to sound strong, to not break down.
“Doctor says I’d have Alzheimer’s memory.”
“I can be there by three o’clock tomorrow,” I assured him. “We don’t have to decide right now, do we?”
“No. Be here soon.”
Somehow, I made it through the rest of the parent’s meeting. I made it through tucking our girls into bed and explaining that I had to go help Daddy in San Francisco the next day. Afterwards, I went to my school to hold auditions for the senior play.
A week of prayer meeting had just ended, and the principal and our pastor stood in the lobby of the chapel. When I explained what the situation, I finally broke down. The enormity of the decision seemed too much to bear.
Where Two or Three Gather
How could Pedro teach if he had the memory of an Alzheimer’s patient? How could he continue being a daddy to our girls if he might not even remember their names from day to day?
We stepped into the copy room, and the pastor and principal prayed for me and for Pedro and for the decision we had to make. I knew God had control of the situation. My faith had remained stout throughout the ordeal of cancer. So far.
I kept busy until late into the night, creating sub plans and deciding who would have what part in the play. My early-morning flight took off, and I felt grateful that the seats next to me held no passengers.
The Prayer of Relinquishment
I had time to think. Someone had left a copy of Catherine Marshall’s book, Adventures in Prayer in the patient library at UCSF. During my last stay there, I’d picked it up and started to read it. I pulled the book out of my backpack and opened it to the place where I’d left off.
The chapter title seemed to mock me. “The Prayer of Relinquishment.”
Oh, I’d given up so much for this cancer. I’d given up my normal life and lived like a nomad. Never in one spot for more than a week or two. I camped out in Pedro’s hospital room, our office at home, and random hotels.
Even his doctors and interns changed every two weeks. I often found myself on an airplane with nothing more than my computer and a few pairs of clean underwear and no idea as to where I’d spend the night. I’d learned to shift for myself in the big city and in the big hospital.
I’d given up being shy about asking for help and I’d given up taking a shower at the same time every day. Time with our girls seemed like a distant dream. I’d given up regular meals, regular exercise and regular sleep.
Could I relinquish anything else? I gave myself a mental shake and settled down to read the chapter. It would take my mind off the decision that waited like a dark abyss.
Intellectually, I knew and acknowledged that God’s presence and control. But as I read, I realized that while I may have given Him control of the situation, I’d never relinquished the desires of my heart.
Ugly-Crying on an Airplane
More than anything, I wanted the pre-cancer Pedro back. I wanted my partner, my best friend, and the father of our children. I didn’t want to make all of the decisions on my own, I wanted Pedro to help me and grow old with me.
Praying for healing came easily. God had answered prayers over and over again, as Pedro reached each new precipice. But admitting to God that I hadn’t relinquished the deepest desire of my heart? Not so easy.
The time had come. I bowed my head and started writing furiously in my prayer journal. In it I confessed that I’d held on to my dreams rather than holding on to God. I gave God my dreams of normalcy, of a healthy husband, and a happy family.
Tears wet the page, but I kept on writing. When I finished pouring out my heart to God, I felt completely drained. Giving up everything to someone else didn’t come easily to me. I closed my eyes and slumped back in the seat, hearing the roar of the plane’s engines for the first time.
I’d taken a leap of faith as surely as if I’d jumped out of the airplane without a parachute. Like an uncertain child, a thought popped into my mind, “Will everything be o.k.?” This time I wasn’t telling God what everything should be.
God’s Spelling Lesson
I opened my eyes and looked out of the window. There, below me, two rivers met and joined, forming a giant ‘Y.’ Coincidence? Probably.
I turned a watery smile at the flight attendant as she handed me a snack. She looked at me with concern. On a small airplane with lots of empty seats, a sniffling, snuffling passenger can’t go unnoticed.
I must look awful, I thought, as I turned to the window again, hoping to catch my reflection and assess the damage. Instead, the view outside caught my eye. A long, country road stretched across the flat terrain. At three even intervals, smaller roads joined the larger road, forming a perfect ‘E.’ Coincidence? Maybe.
The pilot announced our position and informed us we could see Mount Rainer on the left. I looked out the window again, but the mountain didn’t catch my eye. A large river flowed through an incredibly green valley. The trees growing alongside the river framed the perfect ‘S’ the river made before it disappeared into a darker forest of evergreens. Coincidence? Most certainly not.
Sometimes, God has to spell things out. This time, I got the message. YES, everything would be o.k. And this time, I knew that ‘everything’ would include God with me, no matter what.
How to Take Care of Yourself Spiritually During a Crisis
God’s spelling lesson took place in 2002. Ever since then, when I start to fret about the future and worry about present, he gently reminds me how to spell. The current crisis has hit us hard. Our renters can’t pay their rent (which we depend on to pay our mortgage).
We had to move Pedro’s parents closer to us, and we went into debt to prepare a new home for them, thinking we could easily pay it off when their home sold. But buyers, even in good markets, feel uncertain about the future and lenders share their angst.
I could easily spiral into a dark tunnel of worry about money, health, and the future. But I don’t. Instead, I practice these three disciplines.Check out these three tips for taking care of yourself spiritually during a crisis. #crisis #selfcare Click To Tweet
1. Relinquish Your Dreams
I’ve relinquished my debt-free dream to God. He knows the past, the present, and the future. By relinquishing my dream, I may have the opportunity to bless someone else. I challenge you to lay it all out before God and then give it all up to him.
God wants you to relinquish everything to him—in exchange, he promises that everything will turn out o.k. You no longer have to orchestrate the ‘o.k.,’ and that takes a huge burden off your shoulders.
2. Draw Close to God
James tells us in James 4:8 that if we come close to God, he will come close to us. Take care of yourself by making time with God a priority. Get up earlier if you have to, but schedule in your time with God and ask him to show you how to draw near.
3. Resist the Overwhelm
The liar wants us to believe that we can’t do all we need to do. He loves to point out our inadequacies and whisper words of self-doubt into our hearts. Resist. Say it out loud, “In Jesus’ name, leave me alone!”
You don’t have to turn into an instant perfect teacher. Come alongside your kids and ask them to teach you.
You don’t have to turn into an instant financial guru. Make a game out of making do with what you have. If your potato soup tastes different without milk, don’t disparage your efforts.
You don’t have to have all the answers in this time of crisis. Remember that God will provide all your needs—mental, academic, physical, and spiritual (Philippians 4:19).
Self-Care Means Tending Your Spiritual Needs
You can’t truly take care of yourself unless you learn to take care of all four domains: mental, academic/artistic, physical, and spiritual. In times of crisis, we can easily ditch all forms of self-care. We think we don’t have time or energy to take of ourselves.
But if we don’t practice (or start practicing) healthy self-care during times of crisis, we can easily find ourselves burnt out, overwhelmed, and free-falling into depression.
Self-care might look different during this time. You may need to ask your kids to come alongside you and learn about self-care in order to have time to take care of yourself. But that sounds like a win-win situation to me! If only I’d known about the importance of self-care before motherhood and multiple crises.