When COVID-19 first started, my youngest was finishing up high school. As schools and everything closed down, I think most of us expected (or at least hoped) that the situation would pass fairly quickly.
I definitely didn’t imagine my daughter not being able to return to school for the rest of her senior year. I definitely didn’t expect to have online church as the only option for as long as we did. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we saw missionaries having to work for months completely from their apartments, using only technology to engage with people. Many missionaries had to leave their missionary service altogether, or were reassigned to different locations in their home countries. I never imagined that my missionary son would have to come home early because of a pandemic. I never imagined sending off another missionary into a pandemic.
While we’ve seen a return to schools and church and more “normal” life, to a degree, now the Omicron variant has made us have to make shifts again. Medical systems are strained. Medical workers are exhausted and staffing shortages are an issue (because some have quit the profession for how difficult this has been, and because many are sick). Many schools are needing to make significant adjustments (including going online in some cases) because of the number of teachers and students who are sick. At least where I live, testing capacity is now far beyond demand, and treatments for COVID are in short supply and/or don’t work with this variant. In my local area (a cluster of 9 congregations), we just went back to online church because too many people are sick and our leaders hope to slow the spread in our community.
And, as throughout the pandemic, emotions continue to run high as different opinions about it all are expressed and explored and debated.
At the beginning of the pandemic, a quiet voice whispered to my spirit, “There is more going on here than COVID.” In my own personal experiences, although COVID has been so difficult for so many reasons, this has been true.
In the larger picture of things, this has also been true. There has been a great deal of loss, to be sure, and there have also been compensatory blessings. I’ll share a simple example that I learned about this weekend.
When COVID started, an instructor in the religious education system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decided to put his lessons on YouTube for his students. (I was familiar with his channel, but didn’t know the history.) He never could have imagined that “six months later we hit our one millionth view, as people around the world are eagerly pursuing an unshaken faith in God by immersing themselves in His word.” (https://unshaken.podbean.com/) On YouTube, his video series, Unshaken, has almost 59,000 subscribers, and the podcast version of Unshaken has over 1.9 million downloads. Where in the classroom, students get to spend about 24 hours or so in a given semester exploring God’s word together, with these videos, people who have listened, Jared Halverson says, have spent a cumulative total of five solid days — or five semesters’ worth — of time immersed in the scriptures — all because of a pandemic and the upsides of living in a digital age. (When technology is used for good, such good can happen! #UseTech4Good)
Another example is RootsTech (which is coming up again soon). Last year, RootsTech went virtual-only for the first time. RootsTech is the largest genealogy/family history conference in the world. When they first announced the all-online version of RootsTech, they projected 40-50K people would sign up. Soon, they realized their projections were significantly off. In the end, over 1.1 million people participated in the 2021 RootsTech conference! And leaders of the conference realized, through the constraints COVID presented, that they could make materials available all year around and thus serve more people than ever before. (See https://www.deseret.com/faith/2021/3/3/22307976/what-drew-more-than-1-1-million-to-attend-rootstech-connect-2021-family-history-genealogy for more on RootsTech 2021, or RootsTech Connect)
COVID has been a difficult challenge, to be sure, but stories like this are legion. I don’t share any of this to minimize the horrible things that have happened, including millions of lives lost, numberless jobs lost or impacted, long-term health impacts from the disease for too many, mental and emotional challenges experiences or exacerbated by the stress and increased isolation many have suffered…and the list can go on.
And, as has already been mentioned, there is so much of division and contention around the politicization of the pandemic, and that has put wedges in families and cities and nations and religious communities and beyond.
This week, after wrestling (again) with some weariness from it all, I was reminded of a scripture that means a lot to me. For a little background, I’m struck by the statement from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about encouraging precautions such as vaccines and masks. Before they mention precautions, however, I’m intrigued that they call this time a time of war. “We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic.” Wartime situations call for different measures than what we are used to as normal.
As I think about this, I think: The war is not supposed to be against each other, but against the disease. Still, the length of this war has brought frustration, weariness, even hopelessness. “Does the journey seem long?” a hymn asks. I think most of us would say, “Yes! This pandemic just feels like it’s dragging on forever. I want it to be over!” “I’m so done with COVID!” I’ve heard many exclaim. Experts and prophets alike predict it will eventually move into an endemic phase. But we aren’t there yet. It’s not over yet. And, I remind myself, I need to not forget that for too many in the world, war is just part of their normal. (There it goes again….my heart can feel heavy even at the thought.)
So what can be done to keep from being buried in frustration or weariness…or even apathy or enmity toward others in times of war?
I love this scripture from Alma 62:41 in the Book of Mormon.
“But behold, because of the exceedingly great length of the war…many had become hardened, because of the exceedingly great length of the war; and many were softened because of their afflictions, insomuch that they did humble themselves before God, even in the depth of humility.”
When the journey seems long, when whatever wars we may be fighting — be they collective (such as this one against a global pandemic or other physical or philosophical wars that plague our world), or personal battles — turning to God for help can help us not lose hope (or help us find it again). He can help us heal from the impact of hard things. In His way and time, He can show us how He can make beauty from ashes (see Isaiah 61:3), and turn all things to our good (see Romans 8:28 or Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9). What if, in the end, no matter what the specifics of the war, the invitation is to let it all turn our hearts more toward God?
President Russell M. Nelson has said (a message that was repeated by many during the last General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ) [emphasis added]:
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives
and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
We are encouraged to have that focus be on the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Elder Russell M. Ballard recently said, ““The pandemic will [eventually] wear itself out, but don’t let it wear you out.”
I’m recommitting this week to seek God’s help so that my heart can stay soft as COVID and other wars continue to have such an impact on our world. I know I can’t do it without His help, but I have felt Him reminding me that He is there, wanting to send strength in time of need. [There are many Bible and other verses that explore seeking God’s strength in hard times. I just included a link I found on an internet search. See what other verses you can find in your own searches online or in your paper copies of scriptures.]
How do you recenter or seek for God’s strength in times of difficulty?