At this time of unprecedented crisis the entire world is single-minded in its focus on the prevention and containment of the coronavirus. And while this daunting challenge may well stretch our healthcare resources and financial fortitude for an as yet unknown period of time, our innate survival instinct can easily overwhelm the rest of life still going on around us. We shop, stock up, and even hoard sufficient supplies to calm our momentary sense of helplessness at least for a while.
Amid the worldwide chaos engendered by a pathogen that can be neither seen nor quantified, our daily challenge is to manage the fear and anxiety of uncertainty. As those who have experienced the death of a loved one know only too well, the day to day struggle with loss of control is an inescapable dimension of grief that easily distracts us from the sum and substance of predictable daily life.
When my husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness in mid-April one year, from that day forward for many weeks to come I was rather oblivious to most everything in life except the dire dailiness of a race against death. A few months after he died an acquaintance asked me about some event that happened during the three months of my husband’s illness. My quick response was, “Oh, I missed the spring that year.” In truth I have little recollection of anything during that time except coming and going from the hospital each day and my relentless inner struggle between hope and despair.
As the coronavirus crisis has unfolded over the past few weeks, I have been especially aware of the reminders of spring and new life. There has been unexpected comfort in the fresh beauty of the first daffodils emerging from the earth, the rich color of tulips in bloom, the first tentative azaleas in bud. It seems as though almost overnight trees have burst into full leaf. And as surely as these first suggestions of spring will fade and nature inevitably moves forward, so too the coronavirus in time will run its course and life will return to some semblance of normal.
How we live into this liminal time of anxious waiting can frustrate our desire to go, do, and participate fully in the diversions and distractions of the world or it can grow our faith. When the world grinds to a halt in unison we have what is perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to push simultaneously both the pause and the reset buttons in our life. In this unfamiliar time of forced inactivity what we can do is seize every moment to do that which enriches our soul.
- We can pray fervently without ceasing for each person afflicted with the virus.
- We can pray with compassion that God will comfort and strengthen those who friends and loved ones have died from the virus.
- We can pray with gratitude for the stamina and strength of the nurses, doctors, technicians, hospital workers and caregivers who selflessly serve on the frontline of healthcare to overcome a stealth disease.
- We can pray for the discovery of a treatment and cure.
- We can use our time for physical and spiritual self-care.
- We can use our time to care for others at home or through technology.
- We can use our time to build deeper family relationships.
- We can abandon our petty squabbles and tired estrangements.
- We can be active carriers of infectious love, care, and forgiveness.
Often some current event is the catalyst that encourages us to focus more on the present than the future. When our perspective shifts, we acquire a new appreciation for that which is really important in life. This is especially true for those who grieve. When we are fully present to issues of survival in the here and now, often we are better able to reframe our personal loss.
In this unexpected meantime of life we have a rare opportunity for reflection and introspection, for communicating with our inmost being to learn more about who we are at our core that inspires our life going forward. When the moment arrives that the world can begin to relax the question will be how surviving a global pandemic has changed our response to the need for heightened compassion and humanity in everyday life, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 NRSV).
And much like the spring, this new life will seem more beautiful than ever before because together we have persevered through a time of great physical, personal, and economic stress and prevailed at last through the steadfast love, presence, and faithfulness of God.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
(Romans 12:12 NRVS)