When Fear Became Faith

A retired nurse learns to cope with the anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic by praying relentlessly—and focusing on some important truths.

Posted in , Sep 10, 2020

A young woman praying over a Bible.

It started innocently enough. When news of the global coronavirus pandemic rocked my small-town West Virginia world, uncertainty began to choreograph everything. Prior to my retirement a few years before, I’d managed a hospital-wide infection prevention and control program, so I understood the threats to the world as we knew it.

Armed with a passion to “do something,” I stormed heaven. It didn’t matter if they were my loved ones or people I’d never met, I prayed the same head-to-toe infection prevention prayer over them that I once used for my patients. One night I stayed awake until 5:00 a.m., reminding God of the special vulnerabilities of certain family and friends.  I finally drifted off to sleep, only to be awakened two hours later. In a dream, I’d been visiting a friend.  Sitting six feet apart in her family room, we were both garbed in yellow isolation gowns, N95 masks, and protective gloves. As I pontificated every conceivable “what if,” my friend’s eyes grew wider and wilder.

I had told myself that I wasn’t a worrier; I was simply a “concerner.” But I was no different than the shoppers at Kroger who hoarded toilet paper. I’d called it prayer, but I’d managed my personal anxiety by trying to fix everyone in my path. My well-meaning petitions had escalated into unadulterated awfulizing.

Fear had me in its unrelenting grip. But things began to change when I happened upon a livestreamed sermon.  With a diagnosis of cancer, the speaker had been in the battle of his life before news of a novel virus hit the media. This guy isn’t talking from a hammock with a glass of lemonade in his hand, I thought. These truths are from the trenches.  

I found myself listening ever so closely. Here’s what I learned:

God is with us in the in-between places of life. Instead of hiding under a blanket in the confines of his bedroom, this guy, who had undergone chemo, as well as major surgery, and was likely immunocompromised, was holding out for hope. “The pandemic hasn’t taken God by surprise at all,” he said. “None of our troubles ever do.” His promise? God would be with every last one of us in the waiting.

Put your wisdom to work for you. I didn’t need to forget my years of nursing and infectious disease experience; that would be akin to tossing the baby out with the bathwater. Knowledge and wisdom come from God, the speaker said.  And fear as well. The healthy form of fear would guide us in the precautionary measures we needed to take. “The key isn’t to not have fear,” he said. “But rather to not let fear have us.”

View even this pandemic as an adventure. Admittedly, this tactic seemed a bit far-fetched. But then I understood that he was referring to an adventure of the heart and spirit. It reminded me of when, as a pre-teen, I was diagnosed with a condition that threatened every area of my life. But my mother had refused to allow it to rule my days—or  my dreams. Whether we were boarding a bus to a medical facility or waiting with a room of fellow sufferers, Mom smiled at strangers and celebrated life. She taught me the power of living in the moment, even when the future was hazy. Faith, hope and love guided us then. It would guide me now.

Reach out to others. I asked God to help me be a help in a new, better way.  Instead of trying to control every possible outcome, I followed the advice of my friend, Wanda, who in an email prayer said, “Lord, right now we need people, less ‘to-dos,’ and You.” My first step was to tuck a message in the mailbox of a once estranged neighbor. Holed up in her home, this woman’s perceived wrong no longer stared me in the face every day. I began to see her with the eyes of my heart, and gave her the benefit of the doubt.

From the confines of my cabin, I also sent encouraging notes to overwhelmed healthcare workers I’d once worked with and to former patients living with chronic illnesses. With their newfound alone times, these long-ago friends craved connection every bit as much as I did. As I dispatched both emails and snail mail with the promise of God’s unfailing love, I learned something all but forgotten in the frenzy. A timeless truth from 1 John 4:18: “Perfect loves drives out fear.” Social distancing, yes. But never heart or spirit distancing!

Place your trust in a changeless God. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us all that there are times when we alone are simply not enough. That included me—despite all the letters after my name that christened me as a so-called expert. I needed the help and guidance of my caring, all-knowing Heavenly Father who would never leave or forsake me. Through the twists and turns of my whole life, I had never escaped His watchful care. I might not understand everything about the pandemic, but He is still by my side. Even in this. Yes, especially in this.

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