I have a confession to make: 2020 is beginning to wear on me, and I suspect I am not alone. I’ve really noticed it for about the last two weeks or so, and it is so vague it I can hardly describe it. Ennui comes to mind…weariness with the world in its current state. I feel irritable and out of sorts. As a psychologist I have tried to check my thinking because I know how much our thoughts influence the way we feel. But why do I feel so down about things? Because for the most part we are now living our lives as normally as we can.
We were pretty strict about being locked down when the quarantine first began. After all, we are supposedly in the high-risk group. But I got really tired of not being able to see my family, so on Mother’s Day I declared that our house was “open” and the whole clan came over. Being with my family helped immensely. Then slowly we began to find our new normal, although there is nothing that feels “normal” about wearing a mask. We are coming and going, doing things like grocery shopping, eating out, trips to Lowe’s and the nursery, but we haven’t been in any large crowds. I’m not sure there have been any large crowds to be in. Our church has still not completely opened, but we are moving in that direction. We have only been physically to church twice and maybe that is part of what feels so off, even though we have stayed connected electronically. My friend groups and other organizations are meeting via Zoom, and I have met friends for occasional lunches, coffees, and dinners. So why do I feel so off kilter?
I don’t have to tell you what is going on in our country. Just turn on the news (something this former news junkie can hardly do any more). The level of hate is something I have never seen among fellow Americans before. It just makes me sad, and I don’t see any end in sight. So one thing that has lifted my spirits is Hallmark’s Christmas in July. Yes, I have been watching Christmas movies, in fact, I just finished one.
What is it about those Christmas movies that make me feel better? The same 20 or so actors regularly appear in plots that are so predictable (and unrealistic) even I could write one. Boy meets girl, they usually don’t hit it off at first but later begin to fall in love (with an almost-kiss) until there is some sort of misunderstanding that sends one of them packing. However during the last fifteen minutes they get things straightened out, have a real kiss, and it snows.
What I love the best are those charming, picture-perfect Christmas towns. There are quaint main streets filled with mom-and-pop shops (or shoppes), carolers, cider, and always snow. Not dirty, slushy, day-old snow, but pure and pristine snow that doesn’t even make the cars dirty. The part that always gets me are the Christmas Eve pageants, choir performances, or school plays. Don’t these people have to be at Grandma’s on Christmas Eve? Doesn’t anyone leave town? This is where Jerry reminds me, “It’s only a movie!”
There is a psychology to why these movies make us feel better; in fact there is a psychologist who has studied it. Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center at Fielding Graduate University. Dr. Rutledge says one of Hallmark’s cinematic shortcomings is the thing our brains love: predictability. And oh, how we crave predictability in these chaotic times we are enduring. And we forgive the unrealistic story lines because they allow us to suspend our own reality for two hours. These movies allow us to experience a variety of positive emotions such as connection, empathy, love, warmth, and compassion that serve as a buffer to the stress of real life.
However, the feel-good doesn’t last very long. As much as I love me a good Hallmark Christmas movie, there is something much better. I know what to do when these negative emotions start to get to me. I go to the One who has the answers. I turn to the Bible, prayer, and my spiritual books. I have been reading through a beautiful little devotional book, The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times (thank you, Paula Carter). There are study questions at the end of each section, and one reached out and grabbed me the other day. “If you knew Jesus was literally standing beside you right now, how would you feel differently about your current Red Sea problem?”
That question has made a big difference, because of course, Jesus is here right now, in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives in every Believer. Nothing about the world situation has caught Him off guard. He’s got this. When I feel worried or depressed it is usually because I have forgotten that He is present, right here with me. Yes, the world is stressful right now, and may become even more difficult in days to come. But Jesus is walking with me.
I did a little Word study on the presence of the Lord. Here are some of the verses that spoke to me:
The Lord is near to all who call on Him… Ps. 145:18
The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything. Phil. 4:5-6
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go. Gen. 28:15
These verses and many more allow me to reset, to gain equilibrium. The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but I can rest. I feel much better. God is right here.