Edwin Cheng & Kristin Pon
The past year brought challenges and uncertainties in ways many of us didn’t think possible. Medical education was no exception. Between cancelled or modified licensing exams, high service requirements, worries about occupational hazards, constant revisions to call schedules, and keeping up to date with ever-changing guidelines and policies in our work sites, training has been exhausting. In addition to the occupational and educational stressors, we are forced to find new ways of nourishing our hearts and souls in lieu of activities like travel, potlucks, and holiday celebrations with family, which range from inadvisable to law-breaking. It sometimes feels like our personal lives are indefinitely on hold, at the mercy of a virus.
Perhaps most important of all, disruptions in spiritual community have taken a toll on many of us. Virtual church services aren’t quite the same without shared physical spaces. Virtual Bible studies aren’t as intimate when we gather through our computer screens. Additionally, polarizing debates on politics and current events threaten to divide the church at a time when we ought to support each other the most.
“The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ.” (Piper, John, Coronavirus and Christ (Crossway, April 2020), 77)
As tumultuous as these times are, they are an opportunity for rapid personal growth. A staff mentor once remarked that we spend so much time in training just trying to survive and learn what we must without stopping to see what God is trying to teach us, or to examine the person that we are becoming. COVID-19 has brought along a great deal of uncertainty, anxiety and factors beyond our control that have revealed areas of character growth and weaknesses unlike anything else that we would have encountered in residency otherwise. Although at times unpleasant, scripture puts it very well in James 1:3-4 when the testing of our faith is highlighted to produce perseverance and maturity, so that we may be lacking nothing.
I really struggled with fear and insecurity during the pandemic. My best friend noticed this and lovingly sent me an article from The Gospel Coalition titled “The Fear Driven Life” by Jared C. Wilson. The following two quotes from the article really struck me:
We let fear drive our life when we start believing that greater is that which is in the world than he who is in us. […] The fear-driven life has a sense of security in its consideration, but it is trying to find in one’s own power the kind of security that can only be found in God. […]The fear-driven life is self-centered. It doesn’t see the union we have in Christ, and therefore the perfect security we have in God. It sees only what it stands to lose. Not what it has already gained!
If you are seeking your security in something other than God himself, he will come disrupt you. And make no mistake: the worst thing that can happen to you is to sail through life, comfortable and safe and easy, never realizing your need for God’s salvation, just gliding through the happy days of life right into the pits of hell. (Wilson, J. 2020, March 20. The fear-driven life. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/jared-c-wilson/the-fear-driven-life/)
Letting fear drive my life led to profound insecurity. I felt like a “practical atheist” on some days, relying on my “chariots” rather than the Lord (Psalm 20:6-9), whether that be having enough toilet paper or frozen vegetables. I started excessively worrying about things that would have never crossed my mind before, such as the security of my housing premises.
I also became very closed handed and selfish during the pandemic, most notably decreasing my tithing and monetary donations to Christian organizations or missionaries. I remember standing in a Walmart that I don’t usually go to and watching people snatch up toilet paper and other supplies and run. I wouldn’t understand until later, but this really affected me. Subconsciously at that moment, I started wondering to myself why I would help others when the world was “on fire” and it was every man and woman for themselves. This is in sharp contrast to a concept mentioned by John Piper in his book, Coronavirus and Christ:
One of God’s purposes in the coronavirus is that his people put to death self-pity and fear, and give themselves to good deeds in the presence of danger. Christians lean toward need, not comfort. Toward love, not safety. (Piper, J, 91)
The root cause of these issues was that I was looking around at everything going on in the world and believed the lie that God was not in control, not sovereign and not good. These are lies that I still to some extent believe today and battling my unbelief in these areas is a work in progress.
From March to June 2020, I felt like I was going through the stages of grief over and over again. I grieved the loss of a sense of safety, security, and stability. Like we were at war against this sinister virus. I grieved the loss of relative certainty that my loved ones would be safe and healthy. I grieved the loss of confidence that our healthcare system was adequately equipped to meet the needs of the sick and dying. I grieved the repeated loss of my expectations for the future, as plans changed at a seemingly lightning-fast pace. I grieved the loss and postponement of important celebrations like weddings and holidays with the family. I grieved the social division over racism and politics. I grieved for my previous faith in humanity – my belief that people were rational and civil. The past year has been an exercise of letting go of expectations, learning to accept uncertainty, and digging deep into the foundations of my spiritual convictions.
Amidst uncertainty and turmoil, I’ve been reminded of God’s goodness and that our ultimate purpose to know God and make Him known doesn’t change just because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. One day while driving to work, I felt a nudge to pray for a friend. Mid-prayer, I was reminded of the old hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul”. The songwriter wrote this hymn after experiencing unimaginable emotional suffering. He was brought to financial ruin and his children died in a tragic boat accident, yet he found peace in the Lord despite the heart-breaking circumstances. Later, I mentioned this hymn to my friend in hopes she would be encouraged. It turns out that she was listening to the hymn that morning as well. God used this hymn to speak words of hope and peace to both of us at the same time. I was reminded that regardless of circumstances, we can continue to say “it is well with my soul” because we know the Lord. In the past year, our world has seen so much fear, death, political instability, and social division. These are tragic. Yet we have seen inspiring solidarity, rapid advancements in science and technology, and resilience. With the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, I’ve heard countless weary healthcare workers express relief for a light at the end of the tunnel. Nonetheless, I urge you as brothers and sisters in Christ, to fix your eyes on the Lord as our ultimate light and salvation (Psalm 27:1). Let us be grateful for scientific progress while placing our ultimate hope in the Lord. Let us advocate for social causes while upholding unity as the body of Christ (Titus 3:1-11, John 17:22-23, Romans 12:16), and loving our neighbours (Matthew 22: 37-39) whether or not we agree with them. Let us respect governing authorities (Romans 13:1-2, Titus 3:1), while honouring Christ’s ultimate authority over all things (Matt 28:18, Ephesians 1:21-23).
No one can say when the pandemic will be over, or if life will return to our pre-pandemic notion of normal. Yet, I am certain of one thing: that our mission as followers of Christ remains to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord our God (Micah 6:8). Indeed, it is well with our souls because God remains faithful, good, and sovereign over the past, present, and future.