Battling anxiety and insecurity during Covid times
“It is not work that kills men; it is worry”—H. W. Beecher
“Do not let your heart be troubled; do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27)
Despite official government sources saying the numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases are due to more testing and honest information dissemination, the fact is, those numbers are increasing, and seemingly exponentially. There seems to be no end in sight, one might add. It does not help that the one at the helm has developed a pattern of delayed reaction at each critical point, starting with a denial of the problem’s seriousness, a hesitation to offend friends from whose land it originated, and then imposing a seemingly militaristic solution to a largely health problem where education and persuasion could have best responded to the crisis, in the first place. This is not this author’s opinion. It is the view of many health experts. One could raise the question of whether or not government management of the corona virus crisis is anchored in the widespread assumption of Filipinos’ lack of discipline and that, hence, soldiers and policemen are better enforcers of guidelines and rules than anybody or anything, reason and health workers included. One could easily build a case regarding Filipinos’ lack of discipline; but the same Filipinos once bonded in millions as one to forge the first bloodless People Power Revolution in history. And yet one could say we are in an entirely uncharted territory, and that, no matter what the situation on the ground is, we are still “doing good” compared to, say, the US and Brazil. As if the comparison is rational.
But the numbers do not lie. The Philippines, after it began easing what is considered the world’s longest lockdown, has, according to the World Health Organization, the fastest increasing cases of Covid-19 infections in the Western Pacific. Local legislators are naturally up in arms against what they call “something very wrong” in government handling of the crisis responsible for “delays in actions and responses”, “loss of focus” on strengthening “the health care system”, promoting “scare” instead of “care”, bad leadership leading to missteps by the country’s health department. One could go on. Understandably government sources defend themselves by pointing to other variables, such as differences in socio-economic realities among countries in Asia as well their health care capacities.
The net effect of all this among us ordinary citizens is fear and anxiety. We are in a crisis. We know our leaders are trying what, in all their honest assessment, their best. But their best is not enough. The crisis, instead of abating, is seemingly spiraling out of control. The lack of a clear coherent direction and consultation by those in top leadership positions with leaders on the ground is compounding the mishandling of those at the lower rungs. For instance, the good-intentioned programs aiming to help many Metro Manila residents or stranded OFWs and ordinary passengers to return to their provinces, instead of fulfilling dreams of new beginnings, have generated nightmares of Covid-19 cases where there used to be none and understandable resentment of local leaders. In one fell swoop, the once well-protected and quarantined communities suddenly acquired confirmed infections.
In many cases one encounters a Covid-19-realities-induced fatigue. People do get tired of staying at home for prolonged periods and even from following health protocols, such as the wearing of face masks and social distancing (heaven knows how we fare with hand-washing too). People get tired of hearing news on the virus and the increasing numbers it infects and kills. Even the hopeful numbers of recoveries could seem unreal and a bit contrived.
It is good to know we have not just human sources of comfort. We have a God who addresses us directly even and especially in our anxieties and insecurities.
- Peace that overcomes fear is a gift. “Peace is my farewell to you, My peace is my gift to you. I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not be distressed or fearful” (Jn 14:27). It is therefore a gift of the Prince of Peace who by his cross and resurrection has reconciled mankind with God. But a gift has no point if it is not accepted. Only when we accept the gift with the Giver in our hearts will we “not be distressed or fearful”.
- Peace means living in the present. One may object and ask how this can happen when it is the present that is full of Covid-19 realities and fears. But it is also in the present that we can avoid the virus not only by carefully observing health protocols but also by observing God’s protocols, such as showing our love for him by worship, meditation and prayer, and love of neighbor by our acts of compassion and service to others, seeing brothers and sisters in one another instead of suspected virus-carriers. “Do not worry about tomorrow,” says the Master. “For tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Mt 6:34).
- Peace comes from knowing Who we belong to. If I were a child of a king, I would never fear his officials, his soldiers, his subjects, or any forces within his kingdom. But we are children of more than a king, for all in heaven and earth are under his command. There is absolutely no one and nothing that is not subject to him. “But now this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name; YOU ARE MINE” (Is 43:1).
- Peace comes from cultivating an ever deepening sense of God’s abiding presence. In the many typhoons I had endured as a child in Eastern Samar my home province, it was always a source of comfort and strength to be aware of the presence of my father who was always there to protect us from danger. And he never failed his family. God, in an infinitely better degree, is always present and stands by our side, accompanying us through this crisis. But we need to sharpen and deepen our awareness of his presence by prayer, the sacraments and solitude, the easier for us to put our faith in his saving love. “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. FOR YOU ARE WITH ME. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).
- Peace comes from renewing our trust and submission to God in his Spirit. We all received the Holy Spirit when we were baptized, and more fully at Confirmation. But somewhere along the twists and turns of life, we lost touch with him. St. Augustine dramatizes this reality with his own admission, which many of us share with him, of how he looked outside when God (through his Spirit) was inside. When we allow ourselves to be enamored by creatures instead of by the Creator, when we turn more and more to the world rather than to the Lord, troubles and anxieties are trebled not diminished. In contrast, as many renewed Catholics testify, God’s Spirit liberates us from fear. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again. The Spirit you received brought about your adoption as children, so that by the same Spirit you call God, ‘Abba, Father’”(Rom 8:15).
In the end, because it is divine forces that create peace and aid us in overcoming fear and insecurity in these Covid times, prayer is our principal recourse as disciples of Jesus the Master. If it is true, as the saying goes, that “courage is fear that has said its prayers”, then we must listen to St. John Mary Vianney who says: “God commands you to pray, but he forbids you to worry.”