Dr. Jim Langley is the Executive Director of St. Raphael Counseling.
All things in life are an opportunity to grow as a person. We can always become better spouses, better parents, better friends, and better Christians. This is the first (and hopefully the last) time that essentially the entire world has had to fast from the sacraments. Masses are cancelled, weddings are postponed, and people are dying alone without an anointing. It is not hyperbole to say that this is an unprecedented time in human history. Yet, God has allowed all of this to happen, and He never ceases in His call to each and every one of us to become holy. “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48). From my perspective as a Catholic husband, father, and psychologist, I have observed some lessons during the pandemic we can all stand to learn:
Our Utter Dependence on God
Being deprived of communion for the first time in my life has left my soul feeling “rusty.” I feel okay, but I’m a little more tense and a little less charitable. Yet, I am grateful because this is just a tiny glimpse of what it would be like to be truly deprived of God in my life. We rely on Him for our very being and there is nothing that we can accomplish without His grace. Because of this, gratitude should be our fundamental response towards anything life brings, even in the midst of fear and sorrow.
If you watch typical news headlines, it is clear that we live in a culture that idolizes itself. We lavish adoration on celebrities and the science and technology gurus would have us believe that we are on the brink of endless prosperity, power, and even immortality. I don’t think that God sent the coronavirus as a plague to punish us, but it certainly reminds us how silly our self-worship is and just how easily our delusions of grandeur can be stripped from us. Now is a time for all of us to reflect on the idols in our own life and embrace a penitential attitude that is despised by the rest of the world.
Fear is the Enemy of the Spiritual Life
This has been echoed by saints across the ages, and Jesus Himself tells us many times throughout the gospels to “be not afraid.” Fear makes us hide. It turns us inward and makes us selfish. This is different from “fear of the Lord” as a gift of the Holy Spirit, which draws us out of ourselves and into union with God. But given the circumstances, you are either a saint or totally naïve to be anxiety-free in the midst of this crisis, and anxiety is just a fancy word for “fear.” This is okay, but we all have to work to manage it. Practically speaking, anxiety has several negative side effects. First off, it is contagious. Think of the last time you had a conversation with someone who was really stressed out. When the conversation was over, you probably felt a spike in your own stress levels. This is especially true with our children who soak in their parents’ emotional states like little sponges. Anxiety also makes us turn away from one another. When we’re preoccupied, we don’t slow down to connect with, listen to, or even lean on the people who love us the most. Because fear makes us turn selfishly inward, we need to be intentional about getting outside ourselves. We have to be socially distanced, but we don’t have to be socially isolated. Find creative ways to connect with others. Believe me, there are many people who are suffering more than you in this crisis. Call them, send them a little gift, and find ways to get outside of yourself.
Refocus Your Priorities
There are a million forces that pull us away from God and away from our families. We always have bills to pay, diapers to change, and careers to build, and so we put off those things that are truly important until tomorrow. But why wait until tomorrow? With bars, malls, and stadiums closed, God has done us the favor of making us give up things for Lent whether we wanted to or not. This really is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to deeply assess your values, relationships, and spirituality. Your values (and how well you live them out) are your recipe for happiness in life. How well is that recipe working for you? In the end, the prescription for surviving the coronavirus is the same one for a successful Lent: pray, give, and fast.
In this time of uncertainty, it’s easy to get caught up in our own anxieties, perhaps even more than usual. Besides the fear of possibly getting sick, being cooped up at home only heightens that feeling of anxiousness. However, as Paul writes in Phillippians 4, “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” In this time of panic, let us be intentional about asking God for the peace that only he can provide — and provide it he will.