While nurses continue to wheel patients with suspected COVID-19 infections into the ICU, Dr. Felix and his team frantically try to stabilize a patient brought into the unit a day before as his condition goes from bad to worse.
Before leaving the patient’s bedside, although exhausted and out of breath, Dr. Felix laboriously lifts his hand, and crosses himself, muttering a prayer under his breath as his spirit is tested yet again by the virus that has infected so many people.
Felix’s team is overwhelmed, and he finds himself doing this almost continuously: making the sign of the cross, invoking the triune God, and offering a quiet prayer. He says that his silent prayers give him peace and serenity, filling Felix with the knowledge that God is a companion who watches over him and his team through this crisis. Thanks to his trust in God, there is not a single day where Felix worries about his safety, exposure, or risk of infection.
Basic to our belief is the conviction that God watches over us; the image of the divine watchman gives us faith that God’s companionship will help control even the most difficult experiences and challenges.
Like Dr. Felix, the Bible tells stories of people whose faith in Jesus helps them get through the most difficult of times. For example, Mark Chapter 5 tells the story of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official, from the dead. I’m convinced that Jairus was filled with the overwhelming conviction that Jesus could heal his daughter. Thus, he seeks out Jesus in the crowd as his daughter lies ill, praying: “Come and lay your hands on my daughter so that she may be made well and live” (Mark 5:23). These words fill him with a peaceful certitude that Jesus is with him and his family in this moment of anxiety.
However, while he waits for Jesus, news arrives that his daughter has died. To heighten Jairus’ feelings of sorrow and loss, the messenger makes light of Jairus’ trust in Jesus, declaring it pointless and saying, “Why bother the teacher anymore?” (Mark 5:35).
Readers might think that Jairus would despair, believing that Jesus did not respond to the urgency of his entreaty. But instead, he is reassured by Jesus’ words to him: Jesus knows how devastating losing his “little daughter” is, turns to him, and whispers “do not be afraid” (Mark 5:36). And, instead of racing back home at the news of his daughter’s death, Jairus walks back calmly alongside Jesus and his disciples, drawing from them peace, comfort, and solace. Arriving at his house to a large commotion, he remains unperturbed.
The experiences of Dr. Felix and Jairus show the importance of prayer in the face of crises far beyond our power to control. As the novel coronavirus advanced from a wet market in Wuhan, China to a worldwide pandemic, shutting down businesses and schools and forcing the global population to shelter in place, Google searches for prayer skyrocketed, according to Jeanet Sinding Bentzen, an economist at the University of Copenhagen. In the face of pandemic, many, including Catholics, are using prayer and their relationship with God as a coping mechanism against isolation, uncertainty about finances and job loss, health fears, and the deaths of loved ones.
A 2018 Harvard University study finds that prayer brings people peace and imbues us with a positive outlook towards life. Those who pray daily report greater satisfaction and a more positive outlook, and they are in a far better position to deal with life’s crises. One of the study’s most important findings is of the far-reaching connection between mental and emotional health with religious activities such as prayer. Prayer makes us whole, placing us in a position to handle whatever challenge comes along.
Prayer also draws us closer to God and fills us with the feeling of divine communion and companionship. Prayer elevates us to a better position, allowing us to respond positively and effectively to challenges and reducing our worry, anger, and fear. It reminds us that we do not carry life’s burdens alone, but that rather God is with us always (Matt 1:23).
When Jairus remains unfazed at the messenger’s instruction to quit nagging Jesus and refrains from racing home to see his daughter, he is showing a sense of trust in and connection with the divine that steadies his feet. Jairus in control of his life instead of being swayed by life’s crises. This feeling comes with prayer and a sense of connection with God. Jairus teaches us that prayer provides emotional support and the conviction that God shares in our crises.
Likewise, with his reflexive invocation of the triune God and his muttered prayers, Dr. Felix connects with God and finds peace and strength even as he cares for the growing number of patients during the peak of the pandemic in his city. These prayers provide Felix with a sense of peace and tranquility, even in the toughest of times, such as when he treats a COVID-19 patient of his own age. It is then when he is inundated with feelings vulnerability to the virus. But his prayer keeps him grounded and from succumbing to his anxiety.
Both the novel coronavirus and the protests against institutional racial injustice have spiked anxiety and insecurity among many people, especially among those with existing mental health conditions. In these times, embracing God’s presence in our lives as a refuge and fortress in times of distress (Psalms 91:2) can be one way to cope with the current anxieties of our times. In fact, prayer and steadfast relationship with God are the fount of peaceful living in a world ridden with crisis and challenges.