It’s been a hard week. I find myself having PTSD-like responses to the recent surge in Covid-19 cases in our community. The questions of the past 18 months continue to ambush my heart and mind. They are difficult to resolve or even dispel.
As we continue to make a way forward, I can’t help but think about a passage from Jim Collins’ book on leadership, Good to Great. In it, he talks about a conversation with US Navy Admiral, James Stockdale, who survived eight years as a POW during the Vietnam War. While he made it through that terrible experience, many did not. Collins asked him, “Who didn’t make it out?”
Stockdale replied, “The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
Stockdale went on to say, “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Many of us are probably guilty of pinning hopes regarding Covid-19 on benchmarks along the way. “By Easter, things will be back to normal…” “By summertime, surely…” “By the time school gets back…”
In our congregation this past Sunday, we looked at a familiar passage from the letter to the Ephesians. There, we read, “we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”
The truth, friends, is this: we are likely going to be facing this health crisis for a while to come. We don’t know when this current surge will end. We don’t know how many more variants or surges are still before us. Eradication doesn’t appear possible. Therefore, we will have to coexist with this virus for the time being — maybe months, maybe years.
Another truth is this: we have tools in our toolbox. The FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine last week. We know about additional mitigation measures that have become commonplace: face coverings, hand washing, and physical distancing. Fighting against those tools and pinning our hopes on some arbitrary date in the future both fail to accept the reality before us.
Don’t misunderstand me: we will get through this. To use Stockdale’s phrase, we will “prevail in the end and turn the experience into [a] defining event of [our lives].” I have the utmost certainty that God’s power is able to deliver us. I have confidence in the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
Today, I choose to face the brutal facts of our current reality. I grieve for lives lost. I pray for those suffering and those serving despite their exhaustion. I also choose to remember and believe the words of Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome…” (John 16:33).