…Get outside and get some exercise, and take your anxious friends with you. It’s amazing how a little, regular, physical exertion can improve your attitude. Physical exercise has a direct impact on our mental health. The release of endorphins has long been credited with the euphoria many people feel after physical exertion. Our bodies were designed to move, and regular moving provides so many benefits both mentally and physically that to ignore this important aspect of life is to miss a relatively simple fix.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Liverance.
Richard Liverance serves as the Western Regional Marketing Director for the Government of Israel Ministry of Tourism in Los Angeles, California. His work affords him the opportunity to meet with executives and advisors within the travel industry to educate and promote travel to Israel. His background as a pastor and Bible teacher for more than 25 years has uniquely suited him to make the case for the importance of Christian and Jewish travel to Israel, encouraging them to expand their understanding of their faith and the biblical text by visiting Israel, which is the very land of the Bible.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I determined to pursue a career in theology when I was in my late teens. I was captivated by the biblical story when I was younger and decided that I wanted to give my life to making the story of the ancient texts accessible and inspiring to other people since they contain such great wisdom, wonder, and sound principles for all aspects of our lives. During my studies in theology, I also fell in love with Israel, both ancient and modern; and as I pursued a career in Bible teaching, I decided to lead groups to Israel to introduce people to the geographical and historical context of the Bible. I believed that this was an indispensable part of fully comprehending the biblical text. Due to my background in Bible and my experience with Israel, I was offered an opportunity to work for the Government of Israel to educate and inspire Christians and others in religious communities to travel to Israel. Today, I work with both religious groups as well as the travel industry to promote travel to Israel. I attend conferences, give lectures and speeches, provide information, and network within the traveling community to educate, connect, and inspire as many people as possible to travel to Israel.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Well, I would certainly be remiss as a former Bible teacher if I failed to mention the Bible. That may seem a bit cliché. However, it truly is the book that has impacted and changed me more than anything else I have either read, thought, seen, or heard. Truthfully, it is really more than a book. It is a collection of books, written over a period of about 1,500 years by some 40 different authors. Normally, we would expect a literary work of that nature to have very little consistency or coherence. The wonderful thing about the Bible, however, is that despite its diverse historical composition, it possesses a remarkable coherence, consistency, clarity and singularity of thought. It contains not only captivating narrative and intriguing historical prose, but also beautiful poetry, strange allegory, amazing prophecy, inspiring didactic literature, and last, but not least, astounding and, quite honestly, terrifying apocalyptic literature about things to come, what we should expect, and how we should ready ourselves for it. Additionally, the Bible introduces us to ancient people, who were very much like ourselves with the same concerns, problems, anxieties, and challenges that we face today. It tells their stories and what they did and believed both through their failures as well as their victories. Many people, who read the Bible, resonate very easily with the lives of these personalities from long ago. These characters become ancient, literary mentors and counselors of sorts to readers today, aiding us in our journeys through some of life’s most difficult moments.
What I believe has most impacted me about the Bible is the context it has given me to comprehend human history. After more than 40 years of studying the book, I am convinced that the Bible is a real historic document about real historic people, events, and principles. I think most people, even high achievers, wander about without any real idea of who they are or how they fit into this overall thing we call “the world.” Where have we come from? Where are we going? What should we be doing? Who am I? What is this all about? Is life a random series of unrelated events, seemingly out of control, or is there an overall point or purpose to where this world is headed; and can we have confidence that it is actually directed by someone whom we can really trust? That singular goal or purpose to life is by far the driving theme of the Bible.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
The pandemic has certainly been an enormous strain on absolutely everyone. I consider myself to be a pretty stable, hopeful, and informed guy. Yet, there have been days and even weeks when I thought I was going to pull my hair out. OK, my hair is mostly gone anyway, so no big deal. Yet, all of us are grappling with sadness, loneliness, loss, anxiety, anger, and even depression to varying degrees. Added to this, many people are also experiencing huge economic pressures. A psychological diet of this sort of stress is extremely detrimental to who we are as human beings. We are designed to endure a great deal of hardship, but at some point, we break. For that reason, we must stay hopeful. Hope may not solve our problems, but it does take the cutting edge off our stress and allows us to find joy in the midst of our anxieties, which is really the goal of hope. This will carry us securely through anything life can throw at us. I love what I once heard a preacher say: “To hope is to cope.” I think that is a good, little nugget to hold on to and remind ourselves often.
Let me offer these five principles to help us cope through the present crisis. First, we can be hopeful because Covid does not have the final word. If pathogenetic history has taught us anything, it is that this too will pass. Whether by vaccinations, or by the virus running its course, the Coronavirus will eventually be added to the surplus of viruses to which we are immune or over which we have prevailed. We have seen viruses many times more deadly and destructive than Covid come and go in history. This one will soon no longer pose a threat to us. That is a reason to be hopeful. In the meantime, be diligent to keep yourself and others safe.
Second, we can be hopeful because life is wonderful despite our hardships. We often blind ourselves to the wonder of life when we are in the midst of difficulties. We have a tendency to focus our attention on what ails us rather than on all the many simple blessings all of us have in life. That is an unfortunate and very common aspect of human nature. When my children were very young, they sometimes became anxious about the toys they wanted or did not have. I made it my mission in those moments to try to redirect them to appreciate what toys they actually did have and to try to show them some new aspect of how wonderful those toys really were. I was not always successful, but sometimes it worked like a charm. When we mature as adults we don’t really grow out of this aspect of our nature. Instead, it just becomes more sophisticated. We tend to artificially magnify what we are lacking at the expense of what we have. So, it’s important to remember that no matter what we experience in life, we sometimes need to redirect our attention to appreciate all that we have been granted — those simple, but very abundant and amazing blessings of life.
Third, we can be hopeful because we are not defined by what we do. Before the Coronavirus shut us all down, we became used to our routines. Some of us had very elaborate routines — the special coffee shop we visited daily, the cinema we went to on weekends, the favorite restaurant where we met our friends on Friday night, and of course our regular schedule of going to the office. For many of us, we loved our routines and became so wrapped up in them that we found a sense of identity in them. When those routines were interrupted, we lost our way. We weren’t sure any longer who we were and what we were supposed to be doing. My job is in tourism, which honestly is a lot of fun. I was constantly traveling. I was attending conferences and conventions every month. I was networking with people from all over the world. Not only did I get a great deal of satisfaction from that activity, but I also got a sense of identity from it. When tourism came to a standstill in 2020, so did I; and I had to begin to remind myself that I am more than my job. Take the time that you now have and the interruption of your routine to get in touch with what really defines you. Take time to develop the real you. Spend time with those you really love. Concentrate on aspects of your personality that you want to refine. Pursue constructive interests that you may not have been able to fit into your usual routine.
Fourth, we can be hopeful because we will most certainly get back to normal. Normal may be a little different than it once was, but it will be more like it was then than it is now. Businesses will open again. Restaurants will thrive. Some of our favorite restaurants may be gone, but new ones will emerge. Churches and synagogues will freely gather again. Countries will open their borders to travelers. Families will reunite. Friends will start coming over to visit. Life will go on. One of the greatest illustrations of how life generally works can be seen in nature. In the summer of 1988, Yellowstone National Park in Montana and Wyoming was nearly destroyed by fire due to both natural and human-caused fires both inside and outside the park. When the fires were finally extinguished, some 800,000 acres of the park was decimated. I lived in Wyoming a few years after those fires and I used to take my family into the park frequently. The most noticeable feature of Yellowstone back then was the number of burnt and dead trees covering the hillsides. Grove upon grove of lodge-pole pines had been reduced to bare sticks. A closer look at the base of those blackened and barren trees, however, revealed hundreds of new, sprouting, baby pine trees, working their way up to renew the forest. Today those sprouts are now mature trees themselves. By the grace of God, life is resilient. It has a way of overcoming all its obstacles and all forces that seek to destroy it. Life is destined to prevail. One of the greatest themes of the Bible is the victory of life over death. The pandemic will not thwart life. The pandemic will pass, and life will be renewed. So, decide to be resilient yourself, and don’t let the pandemic get the best of you.
Fifth, and most important, we can be hopeful because God is in control. Now, some readers may not believe that God exists, but the existence of God is a self-evident truth. Nothing can exist without him and since something exists, then God exists; and since he exists, he alone is in absolute control of what he has brought into being. We need to keep in perspective that the pandemic is a minuscule event in God’s overall plan for the world. While he is compassionate towards those who suffer, he is not troubled by the events that we endure. In fact, he is able to use everything that happens, good or bad, to accomplish his great will for all of us. The knowledge of that truth makes everything we go through a fascinating study. When I am faced with some difficulty, I try to imagine in what way this might fit into God’s plan, and what my role should be in learning all I need to learn from it. Try seeing the pandemic in this light and commit to being a blessing to others during a very trying time for everyone.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
First, get outside and get some exercise, and take your anxious friends with you. It’s amazing how a little, regular, physical exertion can improve your attitude. Physical exercise has a direct impact on our mental health. The release of endorphins has long been credited with the euphoria many people feel after physical exertion. Our bodies were designed to move, and regular moving provides so many benefits both mentally and physically that to ignore this important aspect of life is to miss a relatively simple fix. I find that I have my most noble and clearest moments of thinking while I walk. We need fresh air, we need sunlight, and we need physical movement. It does not have to be rigorous exercise. A simple, brisk walk can make all the difference. Granted, some people have physical limitations that prevent them from walking. So, do what you can do. Move whatever part you are able to move; arms, legs, hands, feet. Whatever it is, move it. Second, take time to read. Reading is mental exercise. Reading trains us to think clearly. It improves our ability to communicate, and it introduces us to new ideas or new ways of thinking about things we already know. As exercise is to the body, reading is to the mind. It can soothe. It can delight. It can inform. It can encourage, and it can strengthen our resolve. Reading and study of literature is really the best way to find direction. A small placard hung in a theological library I used to frequent. It simply read, “When I pray, I speak to God. When I study, God speaks to me.” I first read that sign many years ago, but I find that simple statement still rings true. We need to have regular input into our thoughts that is greater than ourselves to help us overcome the wrong thinking that often guides us. Third, take time to serve others. Serving takes our mind off ourselves and places it on others. It’s amazing how serving others can alleviate much of our own suffering. Being a blessing to others rather than a burden often lifts us out of our own circumstances. Often in the process, we realize that what others are going through is often much worse than we are experiencing ourselves. It brings a sober perspective to our thinking. Fourth, stay connected to family and friends. Talk together. Laugh together. Share your lives together. Even if you are unable to be together due to health restrictions, take time to call, to text, to zoom, or to facetime. Stay connected, because your family and friends are a God-given lifeline for you. Fifth, take time for God. I love a statement made by Jesus of Nazareth found in the Book of Matthew, chapter 11, verses 28 through 30. It reads, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” This may be one of the most comforting and assuring statements in the Bible. What do we need more when we are in the midst of anxiety, worry, and fear than rest for our souls? This statement captures the heart of God for each of us. When we are weary and overly burdened by life, we may find rest in Him. Take time for God.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Read the psalms of the Bible. The Book of Psalms was once Israel’s ancient songbook. Many of the psalms were put to music in ancient times and used in private and corporate worship. They are more than hymns, however. They contain extraordinary principles for expressing joy, understanding life, gaining confidence, and finding direction. They are beautifully written and often express the wonders and mysteries of life. They teach us to place our trust and faith in one who is greater than ourselves, in whom we find stability, protection, hope, joy, love, and peace. I can think of no greater resource than the Book of Psalms to deal with anxiety. Some of the Psalms are even known as psalms of lament, meaning that the author expresses personal anxiety, fear, or despair. Sometimes it is resolved in the psalm and sometimes it is not. The benefit to reading this type of psalm, however, is realizing that you are not alone in your stress. You identify with the author and find solidarity in suffering. You realize that there is someone who understands. There is someone who cares. This often serves as a means of great comfort.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I have always loved the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, because it strips away all the pretense of our lives and shows us what is truly important. One quote in particular has always intrigued me. It is found in chapter nine and verses seven through nine. It reads, “Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” What I find so fascinating about this quote is the satisfaction it teaches of living a simple, honest life. I believe that much of the anxiety we experience is self-inflicted. It is due to wrong priorities and bad thinking. This quote shows us that there is great joy in the simple things of life; enjoying the gifts God has given us, being a blessing to those around us, enjoying the people God brings into our lives. This has become especially important to me because I learned this truth the hard way. I lost my wife through a broken relationship that was very much the result of personal anxiety and dissatisfaction; both of which are destructive things to the human soul. Now having experienced loss, the quote rings even more true. I believe this quote captures the importance of appreciating and living by the simple blessings of life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I like to think that I have been a part of a great movement since I was a teen. I have mostly been a student of the movement, but have done my best to contribute to its success. It is the movement of introducing people to the power and the wonder of the Bible to transform the human heart. It is unfortunately not a popular movement. It often operates quietly and unnoticeably, but it is a very necessary and important movement, and one that continues to have an extraordinary effect in millions of lives throughout history and throughout the whole world.
As part of this movement, I would like to continue to do all that I can to see more and more people travel to Israel, which we sometimes like to call, “The Land of the Bible” because the stories of the Bible are primarily centered in Israel. I can think of no greater means to deepen understanding of the ancient and historic text of the Bible than to travel throughout the land of Israel, reading those ancient stories on the sites where they actually took place. It is a life-changing experience and one that expands our understanding, enlarges our faith, and inspires us operate as agents of reconciliation in a world that desperately needs peace, truth, and light.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!