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Pious Petunia’s Guide to Coping Mechanisms

By February 10, 2017 6 Comments

It’s been a rough year so far. We could all use a little bracing wisdom from the ever-winsome Miss P.

Dear Pious Petunia: How do I cope?

Miss P: I’ve been receiving many letters of late whose plaintive pleas boil down to that very question. Thank you for summing up the general mood so concisely. What with a cacophony of conflict and chaos in Washington, the looming gloom of global climate cataclysm, the tragic nexus of tax season and Lent…. Dear me. Apparently a symptom of my own severe stress is a lingering allowance for alliteration. Well. We all must find ways to cope, healthy ones if possible. Unfortunately, in more extreme states of mind it can be difficult to determine whether one’s methods lead to mental calm, malaise, or madness. Hence, Miss P has assembled this little rubric. Try to lean toward the life-giving, won’t you? Self-care is good stewardship.


H   healthy
?    questionable
!    consider seeking professional help
U   underutilized but promising strategy

H weeding, browsing seed catalogs, repotting houseplants
? chopping down a perfectly healthy tree on your property
! using resulting wood to burn down the neighbor’s garage
U rereading The Bonfire of the Vanities


H running, hiking, biking, ab crunches
? coaching your child’s middle school basketball game
! signing up for the Dopey Challenge
U whacking a crash dummy with a single stick


H attending worship services, volunteering at church
? watching worship services on YouTube
! plotting a denominational schism
U composing hymn tunes for the banjolele


H Matthew 6:25-34
? Psalm 58
! Revelation 16
U Ezekiel 4:1-8


H cleaning and organizing kitchen cupboards
? taking a toothbrush to the bathroom grout
! arranging all household furnishings alphabetically
U setting up a tent and retreating to the backyard


H a bottle of wine with dinner
? a bottle of wine for dinner
! subscribing to
U taking up craft brewing


H napping, sleeping in on Saturdays
? becoming nocturnal
! rereading the Twilight novels
U hanging upside down


H petting the dog, walking the dog, talking to the dog
? brushing the dog’s teeth
! sleeping in the dog’s bed
U riding in the car while sticking your head out the window


H journaling, prayer, meditation
? binge-watching the murder mystery series Elementary
! binge-watching The Apprentice
U Bob Ross paint-along party

Debra Rienstra

I am a writer and literature professor, teaching literature and creative writing at Calvin University, where I have been on the faculty since 1996. Born and bred in the Reformed tradition, I’ve been unable to resist writing four books about theological topics: beware the writer doing theology without a license. My most recent book is Refugia Faith: Seeking Hidden Shelters, Ordinary Wonders, and the Healing of the Earth (Fortress, 2022). Besides the books, I’ve written well over two hundred essays for the RJ blog as well as numerous articles, poems, and reviews in popular and scholarly contexts. I have a B.A. from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) and a M.A. and Ph.D. from Rutgers. I am married to Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra, and together we have three grown children. Besides reading and writing, I love classical music, science fiction, fussing in the yard, hiking, and teaching myself useful skills like plant identification and—maybe someday—drywall repair.


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