…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith: and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
EPHESIANS 3: 17-19 (NASB)
Forty years as a registered nurse and I have never encountered anything like this. A pandemic. I’ve done a lot of different things in my career… bedside nursing, ICU, mental health, and fourteen years in the operating room. The last two decades I’ve worked as a public health nurse. In ‘normal times’ I work in the Forest Lawn area of Calgary caring for school communities where I mostly look after the vaccination programs. A pandemic is a little outside my comfort zone.
In mid March, my team and I were ‘redeployed’ to help with the Covid-19 response and since then I have been working at the main Covid Assessment Centre in Calgary. Sometimes I’m working in the area where we actually do the swabs… in the clinic or one of the drive-thru swabbing stations. Sometimes I’m in the call centre. We work wherever the needs are greatest on a given day.
Being uprooted suddenly has been challenging and so has working in an unfamiliar environment with co-workers I’ve never met. Work conditions are pretty basic – no where to hang your coat, no fridge to put your lunch in, no food available on site. The call center gym has 30 or more staff sitting at individual tables with only the basics… a phone, a pen, and a stack of referrals. Oh…and hand sanitizer. The swabbing areas are fast paced and the PPE (personal protective equipment) is hot and uncomfortable.
The people we care for are scared. On the phone you can feel their fear. In person, even with their masks on, their eyes say a lot. I try to be the calm, kind voice on the phone. And in the swabbing areas even though I’m covered with face mask, eye shield, yellow gown and gloves, I try to use my voice and my eyes to convey gentleness, calm and hope.
These days I’m mostly working evening shift (3 to 11:30 pm). At the end of my shift I drive home on the dark empty streets. To help reduce spread of the virus, I put a garbage bag on the seat of my car. I come home and take my work clothes off at the door. I put them directly in the washing machine. I take a long shower. I try to clear my head. No friends or family to call at that time of night. Don’t watch the news. That’s not good at bedtime. I feel exhausted, yet restless. I drink chamomile tea. I breathe. I read. I pray.
How do I pray? Breath prayers are so good at bedtime or when I feel anxious or any time my head is ‘too full’. I use a two syllable word or sometimes a phrase. Inhale one syllable. Exhale the next. My favorite breath prayer words are “Je-sus” and “Yah-weh”. Whatever helps me feel grounded and rooted in God.
Most days I feel anxious as I get ready for work. Breath prayers help. So do short scripture verses or phrases. The first day at the testing centre, I must have said this one a hundred times before I arrived at the testing centre and throughout my shift: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”. Over and over. Rooting myself in God’s word. Grounding myself.
On most drives to work I listen to music. They are always ‘Jesus tunes’. Most often Steve Bell. I have four songs on a Spotify playlist. They loop. They are songs of comfort. Current favorites are ‘Almighty God’, ‘Everything We Need’, ‘He Will Know’ and ‘Praise the Father’….all rich and significant and grounding for me.
I need to stay grounded and centered at work. How do I do that? For years I have been praying ‘guerrilla prayers’….prayers on the run when it feels like the enemy is near. My favorite guerrilla prayer is “Help me, Jesus!”. When I’m thrown into an unfamiliar situation where the enemy is elusive and big and I can’t muster up more eloquent prayers, this rudimentary prayer has serves me well.
Healthy relationships include both speaking and listening. A gentle give and take. Breath prayers and ‘guerrilla prayers’ are more about talking to God. So how do I listen to God? When do I hear God most clearly?
When I walk outside I talk to God and God speaks gently to me. The firm ground under my feet, the warm sun on my face, the crisp air… they all tell me that God is near. God reminds me that He is a God of all seasons…even through the dry brush and wild grasses in the gully where I walk. My head clears. And I am able to listen. Really listen. I am refreshed. He restores my soul. I feel grounded again.
Contemplative Bible reading helps me keep rooted in God’s word. God speaks to me when I read scripture this way. I set a good amount of time aside… at least thirty minutes. I take a few moments to settle myself. I get comfortable. I breathe deeply. I read a passage of scripture, usually from the gospels, the epistles, or the Psalms. I read it silently. I rest with it. I read out loud. I soak it in. I might notice a word or a phrase. I sit. I ponder. I wonder. Maybe I read it again. What is this bringing up for me? Comfort? Discomfort? How might God be speaking to me in this word or phrase? I reflect. I might write the phrase down. What is that phrase inviting me to consider? I might journal. I might journal a prayer….or just words. I listen. What God has brought to my mind and heart will be with me for the rest of the day and often much longer.
Resting and soaking in God’s word invites me into deeper communion with God. Being still with God is soothing and refreshing. It is life-giving. I become rooted and grounded in God’s love through refection on God’s word.
The root system of a tree serves two main functions. Roots absorb and transport water and minerals from the soil to the rest of the tree. Roots also anchor the part of the tree that is above ground firmly into the ground.
The soil of God’s love is rich and fertile. It provides spiritual nourishment for our souls.
God’s love keeps us anchored and grounded when the winds of fear and uncertainty topple us. We only need to sink our roots in. Let the roots sink deeply into the rich soil. Let them spread broadly. Through spiritual practices like the ones I’ve shared, we can develop and maintain a deep and wide root system. These roots will sustain us during challenging times like the one we are all encountering right now.
How is your root system? Is it healthy and deep? Is your root system drawing nourishment from the soil of the love of God? Are your roots deep enough to anchor the rest of your tree when the winds of change and fear threaten to topple you?
We have a God who is good soil for our souls. God invites us to sink down into the richness of His ever-present love. At a time when many of us feel lonely and afraid, let me leave you with this hope-full invitation offered in scripture:
“Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness”. (Col. 2:7)