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What’s getting me through these days

A retired Presbyterian pastor suggests three tried-and-true tactics for challenging times

by Ken Rummer for Presbyterians Today | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Yellow mums. (Photo by Ken Rummer)

I’m a small child in a crib, struggling to breathe in the night, clogged up with what will turn out to be allergies and asthma. My crying rouses my parents who take turns responding.

Being picked up and held vertically helps. I can breathe better and settle a bit.

Back in the crib, I’m feeling the congestion return, cutting off the air. Again I’m crying. Again a parent comes in.

After several trips, my father says they can’t keep doing this. He returns me to the crib, says a prayer putting me in God hands, and goes back to bed. My crying does not bring another parent visit.

The memory of that night came back to me recently when I made of list of difficult times in my life. What’s getting you through these pandemic days was the question, and I thought I’d see what had helped get me through hard days before.

Out of that inventory, I identified three tactics that have helped me in challenging times, and more than once. You’re welcome to borrow any or all.

Resync with music

In high school I played violin in a baroque musical ensemble — strings, recorders, harpsichord, lacy neckwear, knee britches. I noticed that after two hours of rehearsing Bach and Vivaldi, my unfinished homework had quit shouting at me. Somehow the ordered notes had restored my inner order, and I drove home feeling more calm.

the Rev. Ken Rummer

Presently I’m playing beginner piano most days. When my fingers are on the keys, I’m not thinking about pandemics and worst-case scenarios and push-my-buttons posts on social media. And I’m feeling less anxious.

Cue up your favorite playlist. Take up a new instrument. Stream a concert by your favorite group. You may discover that your scattered fragments are finding their places. Engaging with music can do that.

Refocus with projects

Another tested tactic for difficult days is taking on a project. An out-of-state move in the middle of high school shook my foundations. But building a two-person sailboat with my dad that year filled a lot of empty places — even when the waves were sloshing into our open pontoons.

Currently, my wife and I are sorting pictures and adding captions for a photo book. The oldest grandchild just turned 10, so we are attempting a 10-year book featuring our four grandchildren.

Maybe for you it’s quilting or turning all the flour in your pantry into baked goods or applying the principles of tidying to your closet. Or painting your family room, or laying pavers for a new patio, or getting that old mower running that hasn’t started in two years.

Tackling a project paints a goal line out in the future, but not too far. Measured in days, a project takes the mind off uncertain months and years. And you can mark your progress.

Rebalance with faith

Reaching out to God is another of my tested tactics for getting through a difficult season. In the uncertainties of the present pandemic, an affirmation passed down through my faith tradition points to my deepest deep-down hope: in life and in death we belong to God.

I first leaned on this and found it strong as that small child struggling to breathe in the night. My parents had done all they knew how to do and they put me in God’s hands. Scared and exhausted, I finally did the same.

Not knowing if I would wake up again, I reached out to the God in whom my parents trusted and went to sleep.

Whatever your religious identity and commitment, you may find, digging down into your beliefs, something or someone you can trust, come what may. Stand there on that bedrock of your faith. It’s a way to regain your balance, even in these days.

Ken Rummer, a retired pastor, writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. Previous posts are available here.

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