By JIM NICHOLS
Many of us have heard that preachers (or writers) often preach or write what they, themselves, need to hear. When the product comes out, it may not be obvious, but I believe it is often true. That is an admission from me that I want to talk to myself here and let you listen in.
These seem to me to be difficult days. This is true on a global scale as well as personal scale. Pre-Christmas weeks are stressful by themselves, but adding a pandemic multiplies that. You and I will always remember these months and how (at least for me) they challenged my emotions and, to a certain extent, my faith. Certainly, times such as this are not unprecedented in our lives; we each have had losses of loved ones and times of worry and discouragement. Although those times are not unusual in our past, there is something different now it seems to me.
It strikes me that this is a more collective trauma than most of us have encountered before. I was born during the Second World War and my early education filled me in on the adjustments, sorrows, compromises, and anxieties of wartime. Although there have been subsequent wars and other national traumas such as the World Trade Center event, in many ways they have not had such an all-encompassing effect.
Do you feel as if COVID is all around you? I do. My next door neighbors. Church friends. Work colleagues. Family members. Most have not been fatal infections, but many have been serious to the point of being alarming. The situation has been complicated by the unpredictability of the virus and parallel unpredictability of individual responses to it. As a scientist, I am impressed at the marshaling of investigation that has occurred to bring us closer to a vaccine, although I believe there is still much to be learned. The fact that government at every level has not been well-organized, helpful, or consistent has been a problem. The fact that many seemingly adults disbelieve in the seriousness of the pandemic is incredible and their lack of compassion and cooperation in minimizing the spread is, frankly, infuriating.
It would be easy to be discouraged.
With the background of the pandemic sit the other traumas of people we care about. With or without COVID, we are all still aging. Cancer still exists, as does diabetes. People still have strokes, heart attacks, and accidents. Every time we have a biopsy there is a possibility that the results will be something we do not want to hear; and those possibilities increase with every year of our lives.
Just this morning in our house, we spoke of friends or patients with new physical challenges so difficult that we almost try to block them from our consciousness. Some people right now have physical situations that are just plain awful.
Furthermore, it seems we are surrounded by deceit, lying, bullying, and racism, much of which is so obvious that it is hard to understand how some can ignore it—yet they do.
I do not believe that it is an accident that part of my personal devotional time these COVID days is the book of Psalms. Partly because they are a mixed bag from multiple writers, all my concerns are displayed there. My discouragements are their discouragements. My angers are their angers. My fears are their fears. Yet, integrated among the writers’ honest and dark statements are blossoms of hope and peace and light. I believe we have those words to help us keep our balance between, frankly, the awfulness of some parts of life and the grace and care of an eternal God.
Can we memorize and act on powerful messages such as, “What and who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Can we in community keep reminding one another that the answer to that question is, “Nothing and no one.”
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain