No disease, however fierce, has the last word on who we are

While so many are becoming neo-prophets of doom and gloom, and as hearts sink beneath the weight of fear and anxiety, Christian believers – now more than ever – are summoned to speak and proclaim glad tidings and words of joyful hope to their neighbors.

Commentary

Several years ago, I was struck with a pretty intense dose of the flu. Somehow the flu shot was overlooked during my physical exam that year, and I paid the price. It was brutal. I didn’t understand how severe the flu could be.

My life was consumed with a fever, dehydration, coughs, diarrhea, a runny nose, body aches, a sore throat, and massive fatigue. And it went on for several weeks, weakening in symptoms, but just as debilitating and annoying. Even after I was back up and about my regular duties, I still suffered from body aches, coughs, and fatigue.

Of all the symptoms, however, the most distressing were the mental and emotional ones. The thoughts that went through my head were downright melancholic: Will this ever stop? Will I get back to my regular life? What did my regular life used to look like?

These kind of thoughts were the things that most hurt me. They allowed the influenza to take over my life, my mind, and my heart. It seemed as if I had entered a new world, the “flu world,” and everything else that I loved, cherished, and valued had departed or vanished. I started questioning whether I would ever leave the world of the flu and get my life back.

The physical sufferings alone made life hard enough, but the mental and emotional ones made the things of life seem overwhelming and impossible to accomplish. I didn’t have the energy to do anything, and my worst enemy – the strongest one in weakening me – was precisely the ones I could control, namely, those mental and emotional thoughts and feelings.

It took a lot of prayer, concentrated reflection on the past, and intentional thoughts of hope and joy for me to start feeling better, and to counter the darker and heavier spirits that were swirling around my head and heart. It wasn’t easy. It also took a lot of candid and humbling conversations with care-givers and family members, with awkward requests like, “Please tell me this will all pass and I’ll get better,” and, “I can’t remember what it’s like to be able to get up and finish a day’s activities. Tell me how that used to be.”

This experience has been on my mind a lot over the past several weeks, especially as I have seen a similar distress and desolation in the minds and hearts of many people during this pandemic and its quarantine.

People are legitimately scared, confused, and anxious. People are asking, “Will this ever pass?” and, “What will life look like after this virus?” People are beginning to question what life used to be like before the pandemic and wondering if life will ever return to what it was.

Some of these questions are understandable, but many of them are exaggerations born from long-suffering and the darkness of this pandemic. Our reaction to such concerns has to be sincere and legitimate, but also marked by a certain measuring and tempering of our thoughts and emotions. If we’re not careful, such thoughts and feelings will overtake us, and they will become our lives.

But we were made for more. We were not born for darkness. No disease – however fierce – has the last word on who we are. We are the children of God, light to our world, the carriers of a message of love and salvation, and such an identity and message gives grace, correction, and guidance to wayward thoughts and the fallen spirits that want to terrify us, absorb us, and overwhelm us.

Saint Paul says to us, just as he told Saint Timothy: “Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, love, and self-control.”

In the midst of the real suffering, sorrows, and concerns of this pandemic, therefore, Christian believers are called to be the voice of reason, the models of disciplined emotion, the examples of selfless service, and the constant witnesses to hope.

We are called to rekindle the spirit within us and to be the difference. We are particularly called to speak words of encouragement, consolation, and inspiration. While so many are becoming neo-prophets of doom and gloom, and as hearts sink beneath the weight of fear and anxiety, Christian believers – now more than ever – are summoned to speak and proclaim glad tidings and words of joyful hope to their neighbors.

During this pandemic, as darkness seeks to cover the earth and the heart of humanity, there is a unique possibility of this being a truly Christian hour. This can be an hour for the Christian message to shine out and lift our world out of its darkness and reveal to it the kingdom of light, truth, reconciliation, and abiding hope.


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