“Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:12–13).
Everywhere we turn today, we are confronted with speculation about the effect the COVID-19 virus will have on our nation. The optimists believe we’ll turn a corner and get the pandemic under control. The less optimistic see a long season of suffering still ahead.
I’ve thought many times lately about conversations I had with my mom, who was alive during the Great Depression and World War II. She often told me that my generation couldn’t even imagine what it was like to embrace the kind of shared sacrifice and disruption that those two events created.
Today, I think we have a taste of some of what my mom’s generation lived through.
And we shouldn’t lose sight of just that: our parents and grandparents lived through it. It was hard. Painful. Many suffered. Some died. The fact that it was hard and painful should not be minimized or easily dismissed. But our parents and grandparents endured. The country endured. In fact, in some ways, the country grew up a bit. Maybe we will, too.
The optimists believe we’ll turn a corner and get the pandemic under control. The less optimistic see a long season of suffering still ahead.
My mom was born two years after the Spanish Flu pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide. That number is staggering. Even the lower estimates for deaths from the coronavirus are hard for me to imagine—I can’t wrap my head around the idea of hundreds of thousands of people dying from a virus in our day. Imagine living 100 years ago and trying to wrap your head around a death toll in the tens of millions.
I have a friend who turned 81 last month. He wrote me a couple weeks ago and shared memories from his childhood:
I was born near the end of the depression and can well remember how poor we all were, often wondering if we would have food or kerosene with which to cook and heat. And I am reminded of what occurred during World War II, during my grade school years, when many vital things were rationed and many families could not find a home to live in.
At times my grandfather, uncle, and five cousins lived with us in a two-bedroom home, along with us seven of my own family (with one bathroom also used by the seven folks next door). Those were some tough times, but back then we looked out for each other. And we never locked any doors. Strangers were always welcome. There were no homeless people; just people who did not have a home of their own—they were always taken in by someone, often total strangers. I remember one morning waking up to a total stranger sleeping on our couch. (Dad found him sleeping in a car and brought him home that night to sleep at our home.)
Some have stated that the virus is a curse on our nation (and other countries) because we have forgotten God. Maybe so, but it could also be being used by God to help us see our need for each other, sort of like we did in the 30s, 40s and early 50s.
Thinking about what our country has been through over the past 100 years provides us with perspective. There are still hard days ahead. Having schools shut down and events or programs canceled is stressful. Millions have already lost jobs. There’s sadness and disappointment associated with how this pandemic is affecting and afflicting each of us.
And of course, there are people being infected right now with COVID-19. Most of us won’t be. Depending on how effectively we’re able to “flatten the curve” in the next few months, it’s possible only a few of us will actually know someone personally who’s died of the infection.
Regardless, we must be vigilant. If we care about other people, we have a mandate to do all we can to reduce the spread of the virus.
If we care about other people, we have a mandate to do all we can to reduce the spread of the virus.
But we must also be alert to the opportunities in front of us to learn and grow from this experience. They’re the ones who know firsthand that suffering really does produce endurance. And endurance really does produce character. And character really does produce a kind of hope that doesn’t put us to shame (Rom. 5:3–5).
The Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes a Lenten collect that is appropriate for us to pray in our current situation:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.