Joy. Contentment. We are built with an amazing ability to experience these at any time. In times of strife, during suffering, and even in pain, people throughout history have attested to this truth. Paul the Apostle wrote about it from jail. In prison with a death sentence over his head, he wrote what would later become books within the Bible. He wrote letters of encouragement to Christians. He wrote that to live was “gain” and yet to die was also “gain.” He did not fear death because he believed that he would live eternally with God. And so he gave of himself in a way that he could…through letters.
Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist helped fellow prisoners in the concentration camp he was imprisoned in; he encouraged them, counseled them, inspired them and remained hopeful. After he was released he wrote about his experiences in A Man’s Search For Meaning, an inspirational book even today. Corrie ten Boom helped other women and shared her meager vitamin drops in the concentration camp she was in during the Holocaust, and wrote about her experiences later in a very inspirational, now classic book, The Hiding Place.
Can we learn something from these people which we can apply to our present time? The Covid-19 virus has taken many lives. For those of us trying to stay well, especially for those who are most susceptible, it is frightening. The state of our world or our country may seem crazy, and some may be having trouble maintaining hope for the future.
Contentedness is not ignorance, nor is it impotence. In the realities of life and the knowledge of the same, we are called to act–to help–to make changes according to our abilities and talents. One of my friends who is a college professor is truly and rightfully concerned for students, for her own children and future grandchildren. She is devising novel ways to teach during this time in which on-campus admissions are declining and online students are increasing. This is extremely stressful for educators yet she is modeling resourcefulness, good citizenship and activism.
It is easy to lose hope, but we must fight against that. A psychologist friend told me a story which he would relate to illustrate hope: A man was given one last match in a pitch-black room. Not knowing what else was in that room, his fear and hopelessness told him it could be dangerous if there were something flammable in the room. If there was nothing then what was the point? He argued with himself and finally decided that if it were perhaps the last light he would see, then so be it. He lit the match. In those few precious seconds of illumination he saw that the room was empty, save for two things– a flashlight and a door. He got out. Had he given in to despair he might not have escaped.
Last winter I made the trip of a lifetime. I traveled in the UK with my daughter, and it was incredible. In a sense this is puzzling because at the same time I was scared half to death as I was driving the twisty, narrow 60 mph roads with more roundabouts than I ever want to see again. With white knuckles I chastised myself for thinking I could ever drive over there, and felt as though I would ruin the trip because of it. Not only that, but one of my sons was hospitalized while I was on the plane flying to London. Upon landing I learned of it. My husband insisted I not come home, that he could handle everything. I wondered if I was a bad mother, and if my worrying would ruin the holiday. I plowed through the worry, and of my fear of having an accident (especially because a huge news story at that time was of an American woman who tragically hit and killed a British citizen). Yes, it is puzzling, that I now look on those weeks as wonderful and life-changing.
It may be easier for those who have a joyous life event going on now to distract them…a new baby, a new love relationship, a successful job. I have written before that in dark moments the best thing we can do is the next right or good thing in front of us…even if it is doing a load of laundry, or washing the dishes, or sweeping a floor. The next right thing will then present itself. That next moment may show the way or illuminate the hope that is truly there.
Throughout human history there have been tragic and difficult times. Mothers for centuries have worried for their children and the future. Keep striving…not so much with the goal or end in sight, but for the sake of forward motion…for the journey…for the moments…the marvelous, complicated, painful, miraculous, stressful, painful, beautiful, blessed and joyful ones. They are all there. One day life will be at an end, that is sure for every one of us. So speak kindly, give generously, offer help. Therein lie contentment and joy.