It is Friday evening after work, and I am pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot. The lot is at capacity, and I search for a parking space. Wal-Mart is often busy on Friday evening, but I can’t remember seeing it like this before. After parking a long way from the front of the store, I walk briskly through the light rain to the entrance. Once inside, I see something that I have never seen before. Every checkout lane is open, and each cashier has a line of customers waiting to check out. Fortunately, I just need a few things for the supper that my wife has planned for us and our granddaughters.
As I walk down the aisles, I see that there are many empty shelves. There is not a single roll of toilet paper on the paper goods aisle, and there are only a couple of packages of paper towels. There is no flour on the flour aisle. The canned vegetable aisle is decimated, with a few cans strewn here and there. I pick up a carton of eggs because there are almost none left, and I’m not sure if we have any at home. It is challenging to make my way down the crowded aisles. I am thankful when I can make my purchases and head home.
It has been a crazy week. The Covid-19 coronavirus has dominated the news cycle. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “the virus that causes COVID-19 is infecting people and spreading easily from person-to-person. Cases have been detected in most countries worldwide, and community spread is being detected in a growing number of countries. On March 11, the COVID-19 outbreak was characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease. Pandemics happen when a new virus emerges to infect people and can spread between people sustainably. Because there is little to no pre-existing immunity against the new virus, it spreads worldwide.”
Wherever you go, and whoever you talk to, the coronavirus is the number one topic of conversation. I know people have experienced a wide range of emotions regarding this outbreak, from fear to doubt and disbelief. As the days progress, I am seeing a general feeling change from, “this is nothing that I need to worry about because the news media is blowing it out of proportion,” to various levels of anxiety and a run on food and supplies at Wal-Mart.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization issued guidelines for protecting mental health during the outbreak. “Avoid watching, reading, or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones,” it advised. “Seek information updates at specific times during the day once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.”
I don’t regularly follow the stock market, but this week if you have seen any news at all, it has been unavoidable. After closing on Friday, March 6, at 25,864, the Dow Jones dropped to 24,277 at 10:00 A.M. on Monday, March 9. Major U.S. market indexes fell 7% almost right after the opening bell on Monday. The NYSE then triggered a market circuit breaker to halt a further plunge. Circuit breakers pause trading after reaching specific decline thresholds: If the S&P 500 falls 7%, trading will pause for 15 minutes. The circuit breaker pause slowed the steep declines, but the Dow finished the day 7.8 percent lower at 23,837.
Once again, U.S. stocks hit critical circuit breaker levels on Thursday, as global markets plunged over investor fears about the coronavirus global pandemic. “Just like Monday, we’re giving the market 15 minutes to process the down movement,” said New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham. “It’s working as it’s designed to function so that the market can absorb what news was out overnight, how investors are reacting so they can make decisions, and everyone gets a chance to see what’s happening.”
Maybe we need to be like the stock market, and when we are overwhelmed with uncertainty and bad news, just step back, pause, and take a break for a few minutes. Judson A. Brewer, an associate professor at Brown University, wrote in The New York Times, “without accurate information, it is easy for our brains to spin stories of fear and dread. In addition to being fueled by uncertainty, anxiety is also contagious. In psychology, the spread of emotion from one person to another is aptly termed social contagion. Our own anxiety can be cued or triggered simply by talking to someone else who is anxious. Their fearful words are like a sneeze landing directly on our brain, emotionally infecting our prefrontal cortex, and sending it out of control as it worries about everything from whether our family members will get sick to how our jobs will be affected.”
I am not a politician or a doctor or a scientist. I’m not sure which news reports can be trusted. So instead, I look to Jesus’ words for comfort and guidance. He said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 (NKJV). Jesus knew that fear and worry weakens us and interferes with our ability to respond effectively to the challenges of life.
Gentle Reader, although we must remain on alert against the virus, worrying won’t change our circumstances or lower our chance of infection. It won’t help us fight off illness or move us to action. There are things that we can do, such as social distancing and being diligent about washing our hands. We should take whatever precautions we can, but worrying and hoarding won’t help. Instead of worrying and being anxious, Jesus says, “do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have its own worries. The troubles we have in a day are enough for one day.” Matthew 6:34 (NLV) Take a break from the anxieties of these troubled times and trust God. “Since God cares for you, let Him carry all your burdens and worries.” 1 Peter 5:7 (VOICE)