We’ve all become more acquainted with fear during this pandemic.
And the truth is that fear, in a situation like this, is actually a good thing. We are dealing with a global threat that has already and will continue to have serious consequences for us, our loved ones, and communities. And a healthy amount of fear is necessary to awaken us to this threat and take the right actions to protect ourselves and others.
In other words, a certain amount of fear is normal, healthy, and necessary.
But then there is another type of fear: an exaggerated and destructive kind that doesn’t serve us or others. It’s the type of fear that keeps us obsessively checking the news for tragic-ridden updates and the latest gloomy epidemiological projections. It’s the kind of fear that keeps us focused only on our own safety and needs as opposed to others as well. And it’s the kind of fear that can weaken our ability to have steadfast hope.
Hope isn’t blind optimism or a carefree disregard for suffering. And hope doesn’t always translate to having positive or pleasant feelings. Instead, it’s a willingness to live from a place of joy and remain confident that nothing can threaten the foundation of our lives: God’s enduring love for each one of us.
Maya Angelou once famously wrote, “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay.” So, what does it look like to “invite” hope to stay in our lives, especially now?
Establish a daily practice of prayer
We foster hope by consistently turning to God and asking for His presence in our lives and the lives of others. When we pray, we implicitly acknowledge that we don’t have control of the situation. We acknowledge that aside from the small things we can do (staying at home, practicing social distancing, etc.), we are somewhat helpless throughout all of this. But while helpless, prayer helps us remain hopeful because we know — in our bones — that God is walking with us, that we’re not alone.
It’s in daily prayer that we are continuously reminded that God is present and will not abandon us. Prayer allows us to place our lives in His hands. We’re able to trust that, as Christ told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Prayer empowers us to face our suffering with courage because we realize we are not alone — and that suffering and tragedy won’t have the last word. “God holds the world in his hands,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI, “and in spite of all darkness, He ultimately triumphs in glory.”
Hope doesn’t deny the reality of suffering and the challenging times we are living through, but it reminds us that they will not last forever. Yet, we can only remember this “good news” if we are setting time aside to hear the voice of God every day. (If you’re new to prayer, the Hallow app is a great place to start.)
Further, in prayer, we are able to discern what God is asking of us. How are we called to love others, even in this current lockdown? And while we may be asked to serve others in concrete ways (as discussed below), sometimes all we can do is offer more prayers: to be united with a relative 2,000 miles away, to ask God to comfort those struggling with loneliness and loss, to offer thanks for the selflessness of healthcare workers all over the world.
Through daily prayer, we tangibly place our hope in God — that His saving love secures our destiny.
Share hope with others
Loving others during this pandemic means keeping our physical distance. Yet, we can still share our hope with them by connecting with those who are feeling lonely or overwhelmed. We can check in on our neighbors and, if we’re healthy, offer to do their shopping or pick up their medicine. We can share words of love and encouragement with those who are mourning or unemployed.
And, depending on our situation, we can also still concretely love others.
If we’re locked up in our house with family or roommates, we can cook a favorite and delicious meal, intentionally set time aside to play a game or do something fun, or remain lighthearted and in a positive mood to cheer others up. Seemingly small actions like this, done again and again, spill our hope over to others and foster joy, limiting the opportunity for unhealthy fear to take root in our home.
St. Paul was locked in prison — a much more severe and uncomfortable type of lockdown than most of us are currently experiencing — and he continued to write letters that inspired and brought hope to others. Unsure of his own health and safety, he continued to do small things for the sake of others.
And the hope we beget in others through our small actions of love and service will come back to increase our own hope because we’ll be experiencing the fruits of solidarity and community. Reaching out creates a positive, hope-infused feedback loop that can maintain us and others during an otherwise difficult time. Again, this doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of suffering in our world or that we’re not still worried. It means both accepting the fear we feel and then choosing not to let it have the last word by acting for the sake of others in small ways.
Avoiding things that tempt us to despair
Of course, it’s important to stay updated with what’s going on in the world by checking the news and keeping informed. But when we’re sitting at home all day — perhaps bored, lonely, or restless — there can be a temptation to consume an endless tide of despair-inducing content online. It might be reading too many articles that angrily and unhelpfully criticize the shutdown. It could be consuming every single news piece with a headline boasting yet another alarming stat. Or it could be engaging constantly with a relative who won’t stop talking about how what was foretold in the Book of Revelation is coming to fruition and we’re now living in the end times.
In my opinion, overindulging in news only breeds excessive fear, causing us to become neurotically worried. News outlets need bad news to report — most of what they carry is about what’s wrong in the world, and that can make us lose sight of what’s right. Not only does this tempt us to despair, but there is a practical reason for not engaging in this type of behavior as well: it heightens stress. We’re all going to feel stressed throughout this no matter what, which again is normal and expected. But by making our stress levels unnecessarily worse, we end up hindering our immune system. In other words, these types of activities are not only useless, but they can actually increase our risk of getting sick.
Safeguarding our hope means staying informed and being responsible, yes. But it also means avoiding things that can tempt us to despair and prevent us from doing the things that foster hope — like praying and serving others — because we are caught in a debilitating web of worry.
Inviting hope to stay doesn’t mean we still won’t be fearful at times. But it does mean we’ll be able to turn from unhealthy and useless fear and more easily open our hearts to God in prayer and to serving our neighbor through small actions of love.