by Willie and Elaine Oliver
It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year that the world as we knew it literally came to a screeching halt. It still seems surreal. Millions of people sheltered in place, hoping and believing that if we all did our part, life would be back to normal in just a few weeks.
In an October 2020 report, Stress in AmericaTM 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis, the American Psychological Association issued a warning about the impact of pandemic stress on long-term physical and mental health. Surveys revealed that many Americans have seen, and will continue to see, declining physical and mental health due to their inability to cope with the stresses of the pandemic. Many will experience long-term consequences such as chronic illness, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. In addition, during the pandemic, young adults ages 18-30 have been most susceptible to suicide and suicidal thoughts. At least one in four have considered killing themselves in the past 30 days.
These statistics are very daunting and discouraging. Some of us may be asking, “God, why?”Perhaps some are even thinking that God is punishing us. In therapy, we often encourage clients to ask “what” rather than “why.” The truth is, there isn’t always an answer to why (although you may be insisting there is), but asking whatreveals a level of self-awareness that helps the client to participate in their healing and to moving forward. As we Christians reflect on this past year of living with the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps we would benefit from asking a few “what” questions.
Here’s one: What have we learned about ourselves, about each other, about God, and His ultimate plan for our lives? Here are some of our takeaways:
1. Faith in God is a huge blessing. The secular mind questions the logic of faith. However, when one is in the middle of a pandemic, logic provides no solace. Believing in the One who can calm the storm and comfort our fears is rational and transcendent. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”(Phil. 4:6, 7, NLT).
2. Cherish family and loved ones daily. We’ve heard these words over and over again, but after a year of social distancing, separation from loved ones, and a myriad Zoom funerals, perhaps it resonates now more than ever. As of mid-March 2021, 2.6 million people had died around the world in one year. We knew these people: they were our family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, grocery store clerks, nurses, teachers, doctors. May they rest in peace. But for those who remain, look out for them, reach out to them, call them, pray with them, hug those that you can hug. (Note: If you suspect someone you know is considering suicide, help them get assistance immediately: #COVID19MHI).
3. The human spirit is resilient. Resilience has become the axiom of this past year. It means having the capacity to adapt well and recover from adversity and difficulties. Who would have imagined that one year later, we would still be practicing social distancing, communicating virtually, wearing masks regularly (albeit grudgingly), navigating life in a seemingly new normal? We are stronger than we know, and better together.
4. We are on a mission. Despite the science and all we know about the coronavirus, so much is still unknown and seemingly arbitrary. For instance, why does an 83-year old woman with pre-existing conditions survive after contracting COVID, but a 35-year-old mom of two succumbs to it? So far, no answers are forthcoming to these “why” questions. However, if we ask “what,” it pushes us into a deeper understanding of God’s purpose for us while we remain here on earth. Do we need to do more justice, love more mercy, feed more hungry people, speak up more for the voiceless and the marginalized, walk more humbly?
None of us knows what the long-term effect or residual effects will be from this pandemic. To be sure, research studies will continue to reveal more damage. However, we do know that Jesus is coming soon. Let’s not waste the pandemic. Maybe God needs us to see each other more clearly, to trust Him more dearly, and to shine His light more brightly in a world that will continue to grow dark as we await His return. He promises a crown of beauty for ashes, and joy in the morning. Plan to get yours.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE and Elaine Oliver, MA, LCPC, CFLE are Directors of the Department of Family Ministries at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.
* This article was first published in the Adventist Review E-mail Newsletter on March 18, 2021.