As community transmissions of Covid-19 increase it can feel really unsettling and frightening. That the virus is invisible and even asymptomatic until its effects become all too real for those who contract it, causes further anxiety and distress. While much has been learned about this secretive enemy, there is still so much that scientists have yet to discover. Fear is probably an even greater enemy than the virus itself, as it magnifies every cough, headache (many caused by stress) and temperature rise to almost catastrophic levels. It sounds almost trite to suggest that we shouldn’t let fear overwhelm us, if it were that simple we would have switched off our ‘fear’ gene years ago. It’s ok to be afraid, it really is! It’s natural, understandable and a more than acceptable response. However, dwelling in fear is not sustainable, it drains us, weakens us and leads to significant mental health issues.
Facing our fears may help, recognising that no matter what happens we are not alone, there are family, friends and church fellowship to walk with us through the darkest valleys, and even carry us where needed. Learning from the experiences of others may also help. I often wonder what it was like hunkering down in Air-raid shelters eighty years ago in London, Coventry, Dresden and all too many other cities. Wry and even morbid humour kept people going. People learned quickly that the bombs you could hear were falling elsewhere; it was the silent ones that got you! A people decimated by war-time terrors learned resilience and fortitude, but it came at a huge personal cost.
In the plague that was the Spanish flu of 1918-20, similar fear and isolation were prevalent. Thank God we have not even come close to that death toll! (50 million). I remember, in a different parish, talking with the widow of a friend of mine who had died very suddenly. She was devastated and dreading the funeral as she feared she would not get through the service without falling apart. As a young curate, all I could offer her was that I believed she would be ‘given’ enough strength to get through. I still hold dear to my memories, a significant moment when I looked at her over the coffin of her beloved husband, as we sang his favourite hymn. I winked, she smiled, we both knew that God had delivered strength for the moment.
In some ways that’s as much as we can hope for, and as much as we need: strength for the moment. So often it is when our minds race ahead to the ‘what-ifs’, ‘maybes’, ‘if onlys’, that our faith and trust stumbles. We are assured in Scripture that ‘perfect love drives out fear’ (1 John 1: 18), and that God’s ‘grace is sufficient for you, for my (God’s) Power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). Horrible, bad and wicked things happen, it’s part of life, a reality that shakes our confidence and even our faith: but some things never fail. St Paul identifies ‘faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is Love!’ (1 Corinthians 13:13). Whatever this time of trial brings to you I pray daily that you will have heaven-sent ‘strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience, not sorrowing as those without hope, but in thankful remembrance of your great goodness, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those you love’ (and those you do not yet know). ‘Courage dear heart!’