Anxiety in the Epicenter of Covid-19

A Scary Text Message

Just yesterday, I got a text from a loved one who is a medical professional on the front lines of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Joe, it’s really bad. 

Nothing is helping these really sick middle aged people. 

And they just keep on coming. 

This was a first hand account of what many medical professionals in New York have been reporting this whole week. The most immediate problem might not be the virus itself. What another doctor friend told me was that most people will end up with mild symptoms and will be fine. The problem is three-fold. First, the virus is highly contagious and will infect a lot of people quickly. Secondly, of those infected, a large subset of people, enough to overwhelm all of our hospitals, will be in enough trouble to require intensive care. Thirdly, medical professionals do not have the supplies to either keep themselves safe or to help keep patients stable with either effective medicines and ventilators. 

This is not the flu. 

The Anxiety of a Major Crisis

Without exaggeration, it is safe to say that we are facing a crisis that is global in scale. And just as with any serious crisis, what’s needed is steadfast sobriety so that we can collectively tackle this problem and find a way to solve it. 

Those last two things are beyond the scope of my abilities as I am neither a medical professional nor a politician. But as a pastor, I’m hoping I might be able to help people find a measure of calm sobriety. The first problem we need to address is our collected level of anxiety.

Why is this the case? 

It’s because anxiety makes us prone to bad decision making. 

In his book, The War on Normal People, Andrew Yang cited a recent study that showed how people who were asked to pretend they had a $1000 car bill that they could not pay, took a brief IQ test and on average did 1 standard deviation worse than the control group. An imaginary bill gave people anxiety enough to drop their IQ by a whole 13 points. The study was replicated in India with farmers whose crops were wiped out, and similar results were produced. 

The threat of this pandemic is clearly filling people with fear and anxiety. One only needs to take a look at the empty shelves of toilet paper and the very full shelves of Corona Beer at any given supermarket. And this would also partially explain the rise in Covid-19 inspired racist attacks on Asian people all across the country.

Covid-19 inspired Racism against Asians

Earlier last week, the FBI issued a warning that the number of attacks on Asian people were expected to rise. This has borne itself out in story after story all this week. One story even involved the stabbing of a 2 year old Asian child and her family  at a Sam’s Club in Texas. When the assailant was questioned by police, he admitted that he thought “Chinese people were spreading Corona virus to people in the US”. Clearly, this is not sober thinking.   

My family and I are in Queens, NY, which is now the borough that has more Covid-19 cases then any other in NY. It weighs heavily on my heart that my family is not safe here, or anywhere for that matter, either from the virus or from fearful people who are unable to think clearly. 

It is then very apparent to me that we have to deal with this anxiety first. 

And we do that by looking at our Christ, the one who calms storms.

The One who casts out our fear

When Jesus says: ‘Do not be anxious’, He did not mean that everything is going to be fine. He was speaking to a people who lived during a time that had no fever reducers like Tylenol, no vaccines or anti-virals and as CS Lewis once pointed out,.no anesthesia. Pain, suffering and death weren’t a matter of “if”. They were always a matter of “when”and that “when” always was understood and accepted to be ”soon and VERY SOON”.

Yet Jesus still said those words and really meant them. And by in large, no one laughed when they heard Him say it. Many instead trusted that what He said that day was true. 

He told us that there was a God who loved us, a benign Pater Familias, whose great house we had been adopted into as sons and heirs.  This Father loves his house so much that even the birds and flowers are greatly cared for. And we are worth so much more to him than birds and flowers.

So what now?

Here in NY, there seems to be tough times ahead as the apex of the contagion has not yet arrived. Many more people are going to get sick. Some may even die. But we don’t need to be anxious. Trust that there is someone who loves us, and has been working since the beginning of time to secure our eternal well-being. And use the peace that arises from that trust, a peace that transcends understanding, to bravely face the days ahead with sober courage. 

We are lighthouses.

Anchors in storms.

Peace (shalom) makers who are called sons of God by a world that is groaning, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay.

So we love. And love greatly.

Love like the Father loved us first. 

For perfect (ie mature or complete) love casts out all fear.

Joe Kim

Joe Kim is the English Ministry pastor at Emmaus Ministries in Bayside, NY. He was born and raised in Levittown, Pa. He has a BA in Music from Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa, Georgia and an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is married to Emii and has a daughter Norah. Joe has been in ministry to various age groups since 2001. He enjoys reading, playing the guitar, eating, sleeping and breathing…in that order.

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