By Smyrna Khalaf Moughabghab
“I can’t take it any longer.” “I’m bored of everything.” “I’ve been like this for one year.”
I know many have heard these sentences or have said them or have thought about them in the last months. Recently, my children have been expressing more frequently their frustration with the lockdown. I know I am feeling similar emotions as well.
In Lebanon, we have been in almost full lockdown – except for emergencies and food – since the beginning of the year. In addition to the lockdown, people have been struggling to make ends meet amidst a crashing economy.
An economic crisis has been hitting our country since October 2019 and the value of the local currency has decreased by over 80% and is decreasing by the day. Many people have lost their jobs, and still others cannot access savings that are trapped in banks. Consider on top of all this COVID-19 then add the Beirut port explosion in August and the trauma it left behind.
This combined situation has taken a toll on people and I have been seeing the effects firsthand due to my work as a therapist. I have been seeing a rise in depressive and anxiety symptoms among people of all ages as well as higher levels of suicidal thoughts among teenagers. I am also witnessing couples’ and inter-family relationships deteriorating under the pressures.
As I reflect after a year of pandemic, I see that almost everyone is suffering including our children and our spouses… and yes, we too are suffering in similar ways. We might not have suicidal thoughts… or we might, we might keep our feelings inside us, bottling up our rage in our inner beings afraid to let it all out. Or, on the other hand, we might be extremely frustrated and spilling out our rage and anger on those who are around us… the closest people to us… our family.
We, as Lebanese, are a collectivist society (like many other nations around us); we love social gatherings, we enjoy relationships, and we thrive in engaging with our families. This is how we usually do life. Research has shown that happiness and wellbeing are tied up to how well people relate to their close relationships. People are happier and healthier when they have satisfying relationships. And this area of support for us has shrunk in the last year due to this era of uncertainty and COVID-19.
How can we who are dealing with hardships ourselves care for the members of our families and support them during this time?
In this post I would like to propose three skills that are beneficial in these times of crisis. If put into practice, they might help us engage better in our close relationships resulting in an increase of wellbeing specially during this era.
The first skill that we will need is compassion. Compassion is the attitude of the heart towards the other. When we look at Jesus’ life, many times we see that he had compassion for the people in front of him (Matthew 14:14, Luke 7:13). He could see their pain, their heart, and their emotions, and his heart moved towards them.
If we ought to put it in practice, compassion is looking at your children – especially your teenagers – and trying to understand how tough it is for them. How frustrating it must be that instead of investing in relationships with their peers, they are stuck in isolation and not growing their social skills.
Compassion is looking at your spouse and trying to understand the frustrations that are coming from the burden of responsibilities that don’t seem to ease as the economic situation worsens by the day.
Compassion is accepting that your family members have feelings that may be different than yours and that it is okay to let them experience those emotions. Compassion is moving into their world instead of bringing them into ours.
The second skill is kindness. Kindness is a good action done towards others. In Galatians 6:9, Paul encourages us not to grow weary of doing good. Also, in Ephesians 4:32, it states that we ought to be kind to one another and forgive each other just as Christ forgave us. Kindness is bringing a cup of water to the thirsty, a coat for the needy, shelter to those who have none… How does this translate at home with our loved ones whom we see and care for everyday?
It means taking the time to sit and listen to them, giving them hugs, empowering them to do things they are good at, engaging with them in their hobbies or activities that they enjoy. It means saying encouraging words and choosing to forgive them day after day.
Gentleness is the third skill. Gentleness is the attitude used when acting or speaking in relationships. Paul writes in Philippians 4:5 that our gentleness needs to be evident to all including the closest people in our lives. Gentleness comes from being humble, and a lack of gentleness includes someone who is easily angered and proud. It has been explained as a strong hand with a soft touch. How can we act in gentleness?
We act in gentleness by speaking the truth in the most loving way as well as by being firm in our decisions while showing love to others. We can be gentle by humbling ourselves and acknowledging that others are to be treated with respect and honor, that they deserve the same treatment as us – irrespective of their age.
Those three skills are woven together. When you start using one of them, the others follow. Some people think that those three skills are “weak skills,” but they are just the opposite. They require a lot of strength and self-control. People usually move away from them because they are hard to put into practice. In addition, our culture doesn’t help in modeling these skills. On the contrary, it models anger, rage, and accusations… people are watching and learning from them.
Today, let us move our eyes from what we see around us to what God has revealed to us and has modeled through Jesus Christ.
Let us be Christ, first in our homes… towards our family members.
I encourage you today to start using those skills.
You and I can do this, not by our strength, but by His Power!
I can because He called me to
I can because He showed me how
I can because He lives in me
I can because of the power of the Holy Spirit
I can because I want to be like Him!
Smyrna is an assistant professor of counseling at ABTS and instructor at Regent University. She specializes in marital and family relations as well as trauma counseling. In addition to teaching and counseling clients, she supervises mental health professionals in trauma counseling.