The last year has not been good for much, but it has been great for fear. Fear is having a banner year. We have stayed afraid that we will catch COVID-19. We are still processing the news that there are new strains — just when we were getting used to the old strain.
After being cautious for so long, how horrible would it feel to get it now? Not only would we have a deadly disease, but we would have been careful for 10 months only to fail the final.
We are afraid someone we love will get sick — our parents or grandparents. Some keep calling their doctor to ask when the vaccine will arrive, because they do not know how to sign up online.
We are afraid we are not even close to the end. There have been more than 2.3 million deaths worldwide and more than 465,000 deaths in the United States and — no matter how fast we post and you read this — the numbers need to be updated.
We are afraid of the threats that surround us. We watched an inauguration without a crowd. Barricades and razor wire surrounded the National Mall because we are afraid of one another. We look at other Americans and see potential terrorists.
We are afraid of the tensions that consume our government. Many are afraid of a racial reckoning that has been 400 years in the making. We are afraid of the financial situation.
We are afraid of the emotional toll of the pandemic. This crisis has been hard on couples, families and those who live alone. We worry about those dealing with mental illness.
We are afraid of how the last year will affect children. Some of the children of the Great Depression worried about money their whole lives. Are the children of the pandemic going to worry about viruses their whole lives?
We should be afraid that we will become frightened people. We are afraid to be close to others. What if we are still afraid a year from now? We need to be smart and careful about spreading this terrible disease, and we need to be smart and careful about becoming people ruled by terrible fear.
“We need to be smart and careful about spreading this terrible disease, and we need to be smart and careful about becoming people ruled by terrible fear.”
For the last year, we have led limited, confined and constrained lives. A tweeter who goes by the name Ugh writes: “The one I miss the most is me. The old me. The cheerful me. The smiling me. The laughing me. The lively me. The me I used to be.”
What if a year from now we are still making every decision on the basis of what is safest? What if we do not make a friend for two years? What if we are afraid to give away any money we might need?
We could become so afraid that we never try anything. We could close ourselves off until we do not notice that we are controlled by our fears. We could get used to being afraid.
How are we going to be different at the end of this year? When we put the pandemic behind us, will we have learned to share more of what we have been given? Will we spend more of our time caring for others?
This hard year could teach us to be brave in the face of problems, grateful to God for calming our fears, and thankful for the hope beyond these difficult days.
This is from the Hopi elders: “There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.”
God creates saints in hard times. We learn courage on difficult days. Pandemics can teach us to be strong.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is the author of the new book Funny When You Think about It: Serious Reflections on Faith.