A Psychological Take on the Coronavirus and Lent:  Prepare for Prayer

Mar 19, 2020

By Peter Malinoski, Ph.D. 

We’re about halfway through the Lenten season, and how many of us predicted the kind of sacrifices would be required of us just a month ago? It’s been three generations since many of us have seen as much dislocation to daily life and our culture as we currently have with the coronavirus pandemic.  With the rapid changes and all the new challenges come great opportunities for growth, for those who are willing to “seize the day” in their prayer life.

It’s understandable that the current situation is increasing stress levels for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. One common response is a sense of shock, overwhelm, disbelief, powerlessness and dread, with an underlying question: “What is going on?” A deep sense of uncertainty and fear of the unknown has been quietly but rapidly accelerating.  And people are starting to act out, and even panic, from deep, often unconscious, fears.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and take a look at the current crisis through the eyes of faith, especially during this penitential season of Lent.

The First Pillar of Lent:  Prayer

“Social distancing” is the new lexicon.  As a consequence, almost all social outlets in the community are shutting down.  One of the effects of social distancing is the loss of relational connections – friends and colleagues at work, the gym, restaurants, sporting events, concerts, you name it.  That loss is keen, but it opens up the possibilities for other, even deeper relationships. 

Many people don’t realize or they forget that prayer is all about relationship.  Prayer isn’t supposed to be the dry repetition of vocalized formulas sent up into the ether. Prayer is actually a deep and intimate relating with God, our Mother Mary, or a saint, even if the emotions we may want are not present.  As our parishes cancel Masses and close their physical doors, other doors open up. God would never allow such losses unless it’s for our greater good (Romans 8:28). Greater graces abound for those willing to grasp them, as God yearns for a deeper relational connection with you.  We are His little children, so let’s go to Him with our fears, in our smallness, helplessness and weakness. Because of the stress in ourselves and in our culture, it’s often easier to get in touch with our needs, our vulnerabilities and our dependence on God. 

So let’s schedule the time with our Lord and our Lady, let us go to the silence of our rooms, shut off our phones.  Keep any computer screens, newspapers, magazines, memos, or anything else that would distract us out of our line of vision and set worries or stress in motion again.  Moms and Dads with kids at home – the car in the garage can be a refuge for prayer. Get creative. As the weather warms, it’s great to pray outside. We’re going to have to work at it, but if we seek and prepare, we shall find that space and time for prayer. 

Because of all the stress that we can carry in our bodies, it’s helpful to prepare to connect relationally with our Lord and our Lady.  Here is a very helpful psychological practice to prepare your soul, heart, mind, and body for prayer:

  • Take two deep slow breaths to help you become calm and to let your nervous system know you are safe in this moment. The slow breaths are a cue to your body to relax.  
  • Say the holy names of Jesus and Mary slowly and reverently (silently or out loud). The holy names themselves are a prayer and this step begins the deliberate relating. 
  • While breathing slowly, confide in God (any of the three Persons) or Mary whatever you are thinking, feeling or experiencing in that moment.  Share whatever images, memories, temptations, impulses, whatever is going on inside of you, even if they seem like distractions or may even be embarrassing – the realness is part of the relational connection. 
  • Take a minute to listen in silence to hear the responses from God or Mary.
  • You can repeat the first four steps as often as needed to really increase your sense of calm.
  • Then, begin your meditative prayer, rosary, or devotion.

In the next two blogs, we will explore the coronavirus crisis in Lent from the second and third pillars of Lent, fasting and almsgiving, and from a practical, psychological point of view. 

About Peter Malinoski, Ph.D.

Peter Malinoski, Ph.D., is president and co-founder of Souls and Hearts. He has been a clinical psychologist for the past 18 years in private practice in Indianapolis. He specializes in resolving problems and healing wounds that bridge the psychological and spiritual realms. A particular emphasis on unconscious psychological factors that thwart one’s capacity to receive love from God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and other people underlies his work. For more information about his private practice, please visit Secure Foundations.

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