Dr Zoe Ekundare, a counsellor at Jesus House and part of its annual Uncommon Woman conference, UK, speaks to Christian Today about the challenges of the pandemic for women and how they can take care of themselves.
CT: How tough has the pandemic been for women?
Dr Zoe: I think a lot of the roles that women traditionally play have been magnified over this past year. Most mothers are homemakers and the ones who are primarily caring for the home. Normally they would get a bit of respite when children go off to school or husbands go off to work. Now they're stuck with it 24/7, cooking, cleaning and three full meals a day when before, they could just do breakfast and dinner!
CT: A lot of women have also had to shoulder the homeschooling burden and struggled with that. Have you encountered this too?
Dr Zoe: Oh absolutely. One lady told me she felt so inadequate and actually quite guilty because she felt that she wasn't able to give her children the best homeschooling and that was because she was working herself. She had deadlines and her own work responsibilities to take care of each day and she felt so guilty because her children's education was very important to her and yet she felt unable to give them her full attention. And sometimes she didn't know what to do herself! She didn't have the time to immerse herself in what they were learning in order to be able to explain it to them or make it fun and engaging for them, and that was very painful for her. It was really tough to keep herself going and keep them going.
CT: Guilt is something a lot of women struggle with - this question of: are we good enough as women? Are we good enough mothers?
Dr Zoe: There are mothers who go on websites and see all these 'super mums' and I try to tell them it's just for social media, it's not reality. But they believe it! And it magnifies these feelings of inadequacy. But another thing that has messed our emotions up is that we just don't have time for ourselves anymore. Carving out that alone time to just be has become so difficult. We end up depriving ourselves of sleep - which we need! And it becomes like a vicious cycle.
CT: How important do you think it is to be really honest with those around us if we are struggling and feel like we're not coping?
Dr Zoe: It's so important but if you have people around you that you can't be open and honest with, that creates a problem. And sadly a number of relationships are like that. They just don't feel able to say 'help!'. Or it's not been possible in the usual way to turn to their mums and say 'help, could you take the children for an afternoon?!'. So the quality of our relationships has become really apparent during the pandemic. People who need help sadly may not always feel able to articulate it until it reaches breaking point.
CT: As Christians, is there something we can do to be intentional about our mental health?
Dr Zoe: As Christians, I think now more than ever before, the first and most important thing is the importance of prayer and calling on the Holy Spirit - reaching out to the Holy Spirit to help. That has become more real now than ever before. Sometimes when we are under pressure the tendency can be to look inwards and lock ourselves in and try to soldier on on our own. But more than anything, now is the time to call for help. There may be no physical person around you to talk to, but you can always go back to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to give you what you need for the day.
It's about baby steps though: 'I just need enough help for today, Holy Spirit help me to order my day and find a time when I can just focus on You.'
The Holy Spirit has this way of making very difficult things seem very straightforward. Things can seem very daunting, but once you get in the presence of God, they become something that we just do!
CT: Have you been leaning on any Bible verses in particular during this time?
Dr Zoe: One that I always go to is Proverbs 3:5-6 - "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."
And another go-to verse for me is Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you."
And "Be still, and know that I am God", which is Psalm 46:10.
These are the verses I always go to.
CT: You are part of the Uncommon Woman conference being hosted by Jesus House this weekend around the theme of 'audaciousness'. What does being an audacious woman look like, especially on those days when we might not feel very audacious?!
Dr Zoe: I love what Joyce Meyer has to say about this. She says "do it afraid". Yes, you're afraid but keep doing it anyway, keep trying. And I think that's right. We can't let fear hold us down. We can't let our insecurities and our limitations lock us down. It's ok to keep trying and keep pushing the barriers. That's not to say that we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves. Rather it's to say: 'go for it!'