by Steve Bundy, Senior VP of the Christian Institute on Disability
“Please, quiet down, I’m on a call!” I said through gritted teeth. Even though I tried to exude calmness in my voice, in reality, I was like a duck swimming in water, calm on top, but furiously paddling just beneath the surface. My mind churned as I felt anxiety and pressure building in my attempt to balance working remotely while sheltering in place with my family. During this season of social-distancing, many can likely relate to the stress of trying to work from home with children who have their own pent-up frustrations as they attempt their new online education. Add to that no outside activities, no favorite shopping malls and no restaurants, and the “cabin fever” sets in.
When you’re a family like mine that has a child with special needs, it can be like adding rocket fuel to a fire. We are usually prepared for challenges surrounding vacations and holidays when routines are lost, but when weeks turn into months with no school, no therapies and no breaks—it can easily turn into no patience. Exhaustion and despondency can quickly develop when we as parents are giving constant attention to our child’s needs throughout the day with little to no relief. And, let’s not forget the challenges our children face. Many, like my son, cannot comprehend the reason for sudden school closures and changes to his normal routine. As a result, the occasional outburst is evolving into frequent full meltdowns.
The truth is that these are uncertain and unprecedented times for everyone. But I find peace in knowing that the Word of God transcends all time and circumstances. Scripture is indeed timeless, and we can apply it to our lives—even during a global pandemic. In Psalm 91, the psalmist reminds us that during the most trying times, God is indeed our “shelter, refuge and place of safety.” It’s believed that Moses wrote this psalm during the 40-year period of the Israelites’ wandering through the wilderness. It was a time, as the psalmist indicates, of “disease, terror and disaster.” If ever the people of God needed a refuge, it was during the wandering years. It is a psalm of comfort and confidence in the Almighty who provides protection and security even in the most uncertain and fearful times of life. The promise remains, “For those who live in the shelter of the Most High, will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).
If you identify with any of the challenges or frustrations I shared, I encourage you to read Psalm 91 aloud with your family. Discuss God’s promises and declare that he is your refuge! Pray and have an honest (and age appropriate) discussion about your family’s worries, anxieties and fears. As you adjust to this season of sheltering in place at home, here are a few additional tips that may assist you in not just surviving these times, but thriving in them:
- Spend a little extra time in your devotions. Whenever sports teams are disrupted and have setbacks, the head coach usually returns to the basics…the fundamentals that built the team in the first place. This is not a time to go “AWOL” on spiritual disciplines—press into the things of God. What is he teaching you? How is this season stretching your faith? If you are looking for a good daily devotion, check out Shelter in Place with Joni on the YouVersion Bible App https://www.bible.com/ or log onto Joni and Friends to access our online bible study www.joniandfriends.org/bible-reading-plans.
- Create a new routine and try to stick to it. There will need to be some flexibility relative to everyone’s needs, but a routine will help you and your family feel a sense of “normalcy,” decrease frustration and help with expectations. For special needs children, routine often helps decrease behaviors because they begin to get a sense of what is coming next.
- Celebrate the little accomplishments. Set small goals and simple action steps to get them done. All of us have had to put activities, events and trips on hold for this season. Completing small goals, as simple as they may seem, can give you a sense of victory and progress in your day, week and month. Reward yourself, your spouse or your children for their accomplishments.
- Reach out and connect to your church, Sunday school class or community group. Connecting virtually to others accomplishes a couple things. First, it helps prevent you from isolating and becoming emotionally discouraged. Sharing your experience with others can facilitate a sense of release and refreshment, reminding you that you’re not alone and that others know and understand what you are going through. Scripture reminds us to pray for one another all around the world that we would stand against the discouraging attacks of the devil who wants to devour us (1 Peter 5:8-9). Secondly, it provides you with an opportunity to minister to others. Taking your eyes off of your own problems and assisting others is often the best recipe for shaking off discouragement and replacing it with joy.
- Similarly, stay connected to your child’s school and to local social services. Schools are making teachers, staff and therapists available for consultations and providing virtual instruction. This can assist in keeping your child from boredom and can also help with routine. Likewise, reach out to the Social Services Agency in your community to find out what resources are available to your family. Depending on your level of comfort, additional caregiving or respite hours may be available. If you do welcome caregivers or respite staff into your home, be sure they are following CDC recommended COVID-19 protocols.
- Finally, live with grace. Lots of grace! Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember, every family member is living with adjustments, fear and disappointments. Work to accommodate one another’s needs, space and schedule. This storm will pass and on the other side you want to look back with gratitude for the grace you gave, not regret for unchecked emotions. As you receive the grace of God in your time of need, pass that along to those you love most!