As a child, I learned faith, hope, and love. I have not thought much about their relationship to each other and to me for many years. This pandemic has put me back in touch with those important connections. As someone recovering from excessive use of alcohol, sugar, food, and work, hard times challenge me at my core. The voices that I keep tamped down most of the time get louder. The anxieties I have learned to breathe through become harder to face. The desire for an escape or a “to-hell-with-it” moment increases. I lose my direction.
I’m probably not unusual in these reactions. Pandemics strain all systems – personal, community, and global. All around us, we see people struggling to make sense and take control of a virus we don’t know and can’t control.
If we are fortunate, blessed, graced, or whatever your word might be, we have some internal preparation for these kinds of times. The best preparation is our journey through past tragedies. Richard Rohr, the founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action and recovery writer, summed up his belief on the value of suffering from a quote from Carl Jung: “…So much unnecessary suffering comes into the world because people will not accept the “legitimate suffering” that comes from being human.”
From my experience, there are two directions I need to travel in dealing with tragedy. One has to do with feelings and what some call emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is how I learn to recognize and accept all my feelings and not have them control my behaviors, particularly through negative actions.
With feelings, it is easy to not know what you don’t know. If you don’t feel something, then it is hard to know what to do with the feeling. Therapists call this state numbness or frozen. Kids call it being shut down. Regardless, a fairly typical reaction to tragedy is numbness. That’s why grief is so unexpected and sometimes delayed for months, even years.
Feelings can be scary, which encourages avoidance. This is where the second direction comes in – spirituality. When I am scared, I have to find a way to believe I will be ok. If I grew up with no faith, have rejected my faith from childhood, or have not developed my own faith or spirituality I may be without a place to turn to face the fear.
When fear takes its grip, faith is required to quiet the loud voice of fear. This faith can take many forms. Some turn to the universal power for good, or the energy of love. Others have embraced or are open to a faith in God or Higher Power. Others believe strongly there is no God. Others don’t know and “act as if”.
Whatever we choose to believe in becomes really important in the midst of a pandemic or other major life challenge. Exercising whatever faith muscle we have shapes these turning points and our responses to life going forward.
Faith is ultimately our source of hope. Without faith, fear wins, and despair rules. With faith, we take a leap into the hope that this will pass. Ultimately our faith helps us face the ultimate fear – death. Which is why this pandemic is so powerful. It brings unexpected and unpredictable death.
Faith leads us to hope that life has meaning. Faith gives us hope to keep going.
With this hope comes the fuel to replenish our desire to love. As crazy as it sounds, contemplatives for thousands of years have shown the power of sitting in silence to heal brokenness and fuel love. Hope is the bridge from sitting in faith to acting in love. There are many ways to “sit in faith”. And there are many ways to show love. Look around and witness all the manifestations of faith, hope, and love in every community in the world right now. Is your compass showing you the way? Is there work on feelings, beliefs, or spiritual practices that might support you and those you love through this scary time?
Tom Adams writes on the connections between leadership, spirituality, racial justice, and emotional growth and recovery. He can be reached at [email protected].