Spiritual Practices for Times of Crisis
Grief, pain, isolation, fear, worry, and loss can upend our normal spiritual rhythms of life and our faith life as a whole. As Christians, what do we do? Do we grit our teeth, fake it ‘til we make it, and carry on regardless? Aren’t we supposed to be “thankful in all circumstances” and happy all the time? Should we just turn away from God until we feel better?
These are all valid questions and the answer we hear from God and read in the Bible is that we are to come to God as we are. Even if we are angry, disappointed, hopeless, confused or lonely – however we feel, we can acknowledge those feelings before God.
Here are some spiritual practices that may help ground you in your faith as the world around us appears volatile and uncertain, followed by some suggested resources available online.
- Reading and Writing Psalms of Lament or Complaint
The psalms are a wonderful example of how to bring our feelings to God. They are a collection of songs that reveal every high and low of human emotion, poured out to God, sometimes with weeping, sometimes with a raised fist. The song writers knew that God seeks honesty in all our conversations with Him and will meet us where we are.
Of the three categories of psalms – praise, thanksgiving and lament – the most common is that of lament or complaint. “Lament gazes unflinchingly at the present reality of pain and at God’s apparent slowness to save” (G. Brook Lester, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary). The song writers of the lament psalms knew that it is vital for us to be honest with God and did not shirk from telling God exactly how they felt. These psalms usually follow the format: protest, petition, and praise (Diana Gruver).
‘“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”’ (Psalm 77:7-9)
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (Psalm 25:16)
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
Writing our own psalm of lament or complaint may be a helpful prayer practice when we are in the midst of difficult times. It is a good example for us to follow and it can be therapeutic, both spiritually and emotionally, to speak the truth of our feelings and acknowledge our pain, both to each other and to God. We can use the protest, petition, praise format or take one of the following psalms and substitute our own situation for the one the psalmist is talking about. For example, instead of ‘enemy’, we could substitute Covid-19 or our job loss or our particular grief or fear. Psalms 6, 10, 13, 17, 22, 25, 30, 31, 69, 73, 86, 88, and 102 are examples of psalms of lament.
- Reading People’s Stories
- In the Bible are many accounts of ‘Great Men of God’ who, on occasion, reached their wits end and their emotions got the better of them. Some of them avoided God and some of them initially gave up. But they were all honest when it came to telling God just how they felt. One example is Elijah (I Kings 18 & 19), who fled from Jezebel in fear of his life:
‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.’ (I Kings 19:3-4). Read on to see how God met Elijah in this situation.
Another is Jonah. Jonah ran away, in exactly the opposite direction of where God wanted him to go, after he found out what God required of him (Jonah 1:3). We all know how God made himself known to Jonah again – through a shipwreck and being swallowed by a fish. Jonah comes to his senses, “In my distress I called to the Lord” (Jonah 2:1) and eventually does what God wanted. But even after his task is over, he is angry with God:
‘But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”’ (Jonah 4: 1-3)
In these examples, we see that the individuals continued their walk with God despite voicing their complaints and, at times, running away from him. We learn through their stories that God pursues us, supports us, loves us. No matter what.
- Biographies or Autobiographies of historical or contemporary Christians can also be helpful and inspiring, especially those who suffered and overcame difficult circumstances. Some examples are books by Corrie ten Boom (The Hiding Place), C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed), Elisabeth Elliot (Through Gates of Splendor), Richard Wurmbrand (Tortured for Christ), Brother Yun (The Heavenly Man) and books about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, James Hudson Taylor, and other spiritual ‘greats.’ Hearts of Fire (Voice of the Martyrs) and other compilations of people’s testimonies are also incredibly helpful in seeing real-life examples of people coping in adversity and the spiritual practices that sustained them.
- Spiritual Conversation
Sometimes, just having someone we can pour our heart out to can be a tremendous help in our spiritual life. But we need to choose carefully. Talking with someone whom we trust and respect is essential. Often it is better to go to a person who is not in our immediate family or circle of friends so that we can be honest and not fear any responses that may bring.
Pastors, priests, chaplains or Spiritual Directors are good choices and are trained in matters of questions of faith, confidentiality, and attentive listening. Spiritual Directors are people who undertake to companion you on your faith journey. They do not give advice, but seek to help you hear God and see the Holy Spirit moving in your life. They, together with pastors and priests, can provide helpful resources as well as a listening ear.
Finding a Spiritual Director can be done through word of mouth, contacting a local retreat center for a recommendation or by using the locator on https://www.sdiworld.org/find-a-spiritual-director/seek-and-find-guide. Even during these times of isolation, we can still have access to people like this through FaceTime, Zoom or Skype.
- Guided Prayer
Our prayer life can suffer when we are in distress or conflict. An inability to know how to express ourselves to God can paralyze any attempt at prayer, just when we need it the most. Loss of spiritual community as we ‘stay in place’ also has an adverse effect on those of us who find it easier pray with others. Having a structure of prayer presented to us or a reflection to follow can be extremely helpful and now, with our online lives, we have many choices available to us.
I use Pray As You Go (https://pray-as-you-go.org/) which is a daily reflection (music, lectionary reading, and guided prayer with quiet time for you to pray) produced by the Jesuits in Britain. (Being British myself, hearing accents from home provides another level of comfort!) It is always less than 15 minutes long and I find it extremely helpful when I am having trouble focusing in my daily spiritual life or when time is at a premium, such as when traveling. It is also available as an app.
Another wonderful resource is the Centering Prayer app by Contemplative Outreach. This has an opening and closing prayer with a period of silence in between. There are many such prayer helps out there and I would recommend asking your friends or Church staff what they find helpful.
- Reading, Memorizing, and Listening to God’s Promises
In times of trauma and uncertainty, concentrating on God’s promises to us is a reminder of the love that sustains and upholds each of us every day. Memorizing these scriptures can be very helpful for when we can’t concentrate on Bible Study. Bite-sized pieces of God’s Word can be all we need.
- “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
- “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8)
- “He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
- “In my distress, I called to the Lord, and he answered me” (Jonah 2:1)
We can also listen to songs of worship and praise if we cannot focus on the written word. Many of us have our favorite songs and hymns, our Spotify lists, or worship stations to listen to. Here is a Worship Playlist from InterVarsity: https://spoti.fi/2Ssd6rQ.
- Share with Others
We would love to hear about what spiritual practices are helping you in these uncertain times. Feel free to share on our Facebook page what is working for you. This might help others who are struggling with the same issues. Thank you.
*All Bible references are from the New International Version unless stated otherwise.