Q&A with Rev. Jackie Stoneman: Facing Fears, Finding Encouragement
In her final days before retiring from her role as Principal of Mary Andrews College, Rev. Jackie Stoneman—a familiar voice of encouragement and faith for many of us, kindly agreed to answer some questions from Anglican Deaconess Ministries’ Creative Director Jo Kadlecek about the times we’re facing. We’re grateful to God for Jackie’s words and insights not only for these uncertain times, but throughout the years.
JO: These are strange and challenging times that obviously have not surprised God, even though they can be unsettling for us. You’ve spent years teaching pastoral care, pastoring others and encouraging many in their ministries. What would you say to Christians right now who might feel afraid or uncertain because of the coronavirus?
JACKIE: It’s okay to be afraid. The Bible constantly addresses fear, so God knows that we struggle with it. It is good to come to God and talk to Him about our fears and then to remind ourselves of his promises. We’re never promised (in scripture) that nothing bad will happen to us, but God always promises to be with us and give us His Holy Spirit. God IS in control and yet we don’t know how He is going to work things out.
I have found it helpful to allow myself to feel fearful for a limited time each day e.g. 15 minutes but then I read specific Bible passages that turn my thoughts to praising God and thinking about His character. Why do I do this? Because I am generally a fearful person, yet I have discovered that the thing I am most frightened about is being frightened! So it is good to be honest with God and others and then rely on the courage He gives us.
JO: What verse(s) lately have encouraged you through the challenges of these days, especially as you’re facing a new season of change as well as you retire?
JACKIE: The other night I was having trouble sleeping so I listened to the whole book of Revelation. It was great because the theme that came through chapter after chapter was that God is on the throne. Revelation describes the chaos in the world but points us to the reality that God is still in control, bringing about His purposes. He is the Almighty God, but He was also the lamb who was slain.
After that, I found myself reflecting on what God might do through this time. This virus has taken us all by surprise and yet, I believe God is doing something special in the world, in the Church, and in our lives. It seems to me that He has stripped away the idols of our western culture, making this a real watershed moment for people. Everything has happened so quickly. I wonder if people will appreciate more the things they do have in life. On the other hand, we know that the difficulties for many people will be incredible; not just the risk of being sick, but the financial implications, the isolation, and the anxiety. Things like domestic violence may increase in households, crime may increase; there’s so much for us to be praying about.
And now, as I entire retirement, I’m not sure what it will look like. Every single thing I had planned for the first couple of months has been cancelled! So I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges for me as time goes on, and have turned often to Hebrews 4:14-16, a passage that I find really helpful at the moment:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Jesus has accomplished salvation. He is risen from the dead and is ruling in heaven. Yet He has known suffering like we will never know and therefore He is compassionate. He is the kind God who understands us. He understands temptation yet He resisted. In these difficult times, we will be tempted to despair and let fear rule. But He not only understands, He has the power to help us – not to take away the difficulties but to enable us to move through them in His strength. This is why I can take my fears to Him and know that He will help me and love me – not condemn me.
“In these difficult times, we will be tempted to despair and let fear rule. But He not only understands, He has the power to help us”
JO: What specific women have modelled to you a calm and confidence in the face of adversity, who have particularly inspired you for what they encountered? What can we glean from them?
JACKIE: I continue to find Mary Andrews an inspiration. She was a woman who was very tiny in physical stature yet a giant in prayer and what she did with, and for, God. She never let obstacles stand in her way. She firmly believed that if God was behind something, He would bring it to pass. Her adventures in China were amazing. She, too, faced times of fear and uncertainty but kept on praying and trusting that God would lead her through.
JO: What are some practical steps you’d recommend we take for self-care during days of social distancing or self-isolation?
JACKIE: I think we’re in the early days yet so it will be interesting to see what happens for each of us as time goes on. I do think we need a balance between having people who we can talk honestly with about what is happening (on the phone or online) and also people we can talk about other things with. We need to resist the temptation just to be watching the news all the time! We’ll each handle this differently. Some people will need lots of face to face calls with friends and family, others will enjoy not having as much people contact.
And it’ll be good to establish some sort of routine in our days and to try and find creative ways to exercise. I also think we need to take the time to listen to ourselves, ask ourselves what we need and bring our concerns to God in prayer. We may learn some new things about ourselves. And we must remember to ask others what they need because it might be different.
JO: How would you encourage those of us in the MAC/ADM community to pray? In what ways can we serve others during this time?
JACKIE: Yes, let’s pray together: that we would draw deeper into Jesus’ love for us and not look for the evidence of His love in easy circumstances but in His big plan; that we would be able to see what opportunities He is giving us to serve Him and others through this time; that we would adjust to a new ‘normal’ with faithfulness to Him; that we would be honest with Him about our fears but also balance that with a new appreciation of who He is; and of course, that there would be a great turning to Christ and renewing of His Church. Yes, Lord!
Watch Jackie’s talks on ‘Daring Dreams, Disruptive Grace – Part 1 & 2’, from the ‘Back to MAC’ day at Mary Andrews College in 2019.