Has this pandemic made you fearful? Are you afraid that you or your loved ones might catch the COVID-19 virus? Are you nervous about even going out in public? Afraid that life will never be quite the same again?
For many of us, the coronavirus crisis has only added to our list of things to fear. As if we didn’t already have enough things to be afraid of!
There are fears common to many of us, such as fear of spiders or snakes, fear of public speaking or fear of falling.
Then there are the more unusual phobias, such as fear of clocks or clowns, balloons or buttons, and even beards. (Full marks to you if you know that triskaidekaphobia means fear of the number thirteen.)
There’s no end of things to be afraid of in this world. But is fear always bad?
No. God gave us the emotion of fear: it’s there to save us from danger.
But we need to differentiate between good fear and bad fear.
Once the worst of this pandemic is over, psychologists warn that many of us may suffer from post-traumatic stress for some time to come. Some of us will have lost a job, seen our business close down for good, suffered isolation and loneliness, or may have even lost a loved one during the COVID-19 crisis.
But is PTSD a given in these circumstances? Is there different outcome that can occur, an unexpected benefit that may arise out of these difficult times?
Psychologists say yes: there’s such a thing as post-traumatic growth. It’s been found in survivors of war, cancer, and natural disasters. Some people emerge from a crisis with increased spirituality, a greater sense of personal strength, new priorities and closer relationships with others. What could have broken them actually made them better.
This phenomenon reminds me a bit of “sea glass.” Sea glass, or beach glass, found washed up on shores, starts out as merely cast-aside pieces of broken glass. Perhaps they’ve been tossed overboard from a ship, or thrown into the sea from land along with other garbage.
These shards of glass endure years of being buffeted against the stones of the sea bottom. It seems like they’re being dashed about mercilessly by the relentless action of the waves. Surely no good could come of this?
There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.
If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.
The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.
It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.
When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.
I did. I loved taking it in my hand and shaking it to see the sparkly fake snow whip up into a blizzard around the little figures inside. I knew that the snowstorm was limited in scope, however, and would soon settle down. I had the globe in the palm of my hand, after all, and governed events inside.
But imagine the snow globe from the perspective of the tiny “people” inside it. From their vantage point, all they can see is whirling whiteness that seems to have no end. They’re blinded to the fact that outside their little bubble, there’s no storm at all: everything is calm and under control.
Life here on earth can be a bit like living inside a snow globe, can’t it?
During this worldwide crisis, many of us are concerned about the changes that are being wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We wonder what the world will look like once we emerge from the lockdowns.
Will life truly return to the way it was before? Will there be thousands of small businesses that will never reopen? Will we ever be able to gather in large crowds like we did in the past? Will the way we “do life” have changed permanently because of this pandemic?
It’s at times like these that we need something that never changes, much like conifers. During the winter, when deciduous trees are bare, I’m thankful for coniferous trees. These loyal friends, like the spruces, pines and firs, still have their mantle of green, which they’ll keep year-round. These silent sentinels might not be flashy, but we can count on them not to change.
The lockdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic have produced some unexpected results in the natural world.
With fewer vehicles and industrial machines operating, noise pollution has been reduced so dramatically that seismologists can hear sounds from inside the planet that they couldn’t detect previously.
In cities, reduced traffic noise is allowing people to hear birdsong, the chatter of squirrels, and the chirping of crickets like never before. People have been surprised to discover that they can now hear the flapping of birds’ wings as they pass overhead.
A quieter environment is probably also allowing animals to hear each other better. City birds usually have to sing more loudly than their country cousins to make themselves heard above the urban cacophony: perhaps their mates and rivals can hear them more easily now. With a reduction in ship traffic, marine mammals might also be finding that they can contact each other with greater ease now that there is less “acoustic smog” in the oceans.
If we can hear the creation better during the lockdowns, and creation can hear itself better, can we hear our Creator better?
As hundreds of millions of us are shut in our homes, nervously monitoring the news for the latest updates on the coronavirus, we’re also dealing with an unexpected side effect of this pandemic:
Many of us are gaining weight as we turn to comfort foods to calm us.
This is perfectly understandable. We’re in a global crisis right now, with the news getting worse day by day in some countries. Who would blame us for reaching for cookies, ice cream, fried foods or nostalgic casseroles to console us, even if they can only do so temporarily?
But is there a more lasting source of comfort, preferably one that’s low in fat and calories?
For those of us who are regular church-goers, the cessation of regular worship gatherings due to the coronavirus has been wrenching.
With churches shuttered temporarily, the children’s and youth activities, Bible studies, and men’s and women’s groups that they housed have had to close down along with them. Sure, some churches have switched to live-streamed Sunday services and online gatherings, but we’re not able to meet in person to worship or fellowship like we used to.
We probably feel a little hard done by, don’t we?
But there’s one group of Christians for whom these sorts of restrictions have long been an all too familiar reality:
During the past week hundreds of millions of people around the globe have been told to “shelter in place,” a phrase normally reserved for natural disasters or violent attacks. In today’s context, it means to stay at home for a certain length of time to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Good advice. But what if it’s your heart that needs shelter? Where can you go when you need protection from emotional distress?
The Bible speaks of a shelter that believers can turn to when events threaten to overwhelm us:
Thanks to COVID-19, we’re living in conditions that are almost unprecedented for many of us. Large swathes of the globe are living under the types of restrictions that many countries haven’t seen since the Second World War.
Students of history might be seeing additional parallels between the current pandemic and conditions during World War II. They might be calling to mind right now Winston Churchill’s famous line from a speech he delivered to the UK House of Commons in June of 1940, shortly after he became Prime Minister:
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was their finest hour.’ ”
Amid the news reports of hoarding and panic-buying, there are also some uplifting examples of people rising to the occasion and showing care and kindness to others.
Allow me to share with you some accounts of what may be some people’s “finest hour”: