Franciscan Spirit Blog

COVID-19 and Our Lenten Challenge

By now it’s a cliché (it’s even become a trendy tattoo), but to “let go and let God” might be the best advice of all for us to follow.

“Trauma is a fact of life,” psychologist Peter A. Levine wrote in 1997. “It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.” While we can appreciate the sentiment, it was written long before COVID19 and its variants would become household names the world over. Trauma is a part of our human experience, though we are still trying to figure out how to overcome it.

According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, search terms such as healing and mental health were the top keywords in 2021. Coronavirus holds the top spot for 2020. This is not surprising, considering we are still, after two long years, mired in the pandemic crisis. And with our smartphones on hand and the deafening political infighting surrounding the disease, it’s difficult to remove ourselves from it. Truly, we are still stuck in a worldwide trauma.

The physical and psychological effects of prolonged stress can rouse the usual suspects: heart arrhythmia, stroke, depression, and anxiety. The spiritual consequences, which are vastly underreported, can be just as debilitating.

 

Let Go, Let God

In the summer of 2021, research showed that our COVID-19 fears began to dip. Vaccination numbers rose, while the strain on hospitals lightened. But by late November, with the omicron variant spreading throughout the country, our peace of mind took a hit yet again. Forty percent of Americans cited a growing fear that the variants could threaten their physical, mental, or financial well-being. The winter months confirmed many of those fears.

Living in a constant state of fight-or-flight and enduring the daily (or hourly) ebbs and flows of pandemic stress can damage our whole person—body and soul. But Lent offers a window into crisis management. Jesus, after all, knew how his story would end. He understood that his ministry would take him down many roads, but all of them would lead to Calvary. That must have lingered in his mind.

How did he navigate those waters?

By being quiet. While it’s important to stay informed about what’s going on in the world, news organizations relish focusing almost exclusively on the negative because it means an increase in views, clicks, and shares. Don’t play into it. Let’s try to limit our exposure to social and news outlets and spend some time in silence—as we read in Exodus: “The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still” (14:14).

By showing perfect faith. When Jesus anguished in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed to God for clarity and strength. He articulated his profound fears, but remained faithful, as it is described in Matthew 26:42: “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!”

By keeping perspective. If you are reading these words, you are either fully vaccinated or profoundly lucky. Regardless, that is something to celebrate. It’s important in these uncertain days to keep some perspective. We can only control what we can control. Consider Matthew 6:25–26: “Do not worry about your life. . . . Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap . . . yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”

By now it’s a cliché (it’s even become a trendy tattoo), but to “let go and let God” might be the best advice of all for us to follow.

 

Here and Now

When we were dealing with the first global wave of COVID-19 in 2020, Pope Francis reminded us that, as members of one human family, this is a shared cross to carry: “We are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.” He said those words two years ago this month. They are just as relevant today.

It’s impossible to know when this virus will be in our rearview mirror—if it ever will—or when our hearts will heal from the trauma. We all have our methods of treatment. In 2020, reports showed a 20 percent increase in both mental health counseling and liquor sales.

Perhaps the best we can do is allow the season of Lent to guide us through this very dark night, where salvation surely awaits. If we can live, not in the past or future, but in the present moment, we can become a more grounded, grateful people—and maybe a good deal wiser too.


This first appeared in the pages of St. Anthony Messenger.

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