Along with many, many other people around the whole world, I fasted on Good Friday and prayed for abatement of the virus.
I couldn’t fast for many years when I was Jack’s primary caregiver. Taking care of him took every ounce of energy I had, and when I eliminated food, my vision literally went black with swirling stars around the edges. Take care of Jack or go without food–pick one. I picked Jack, and acknowledged that caring for him without resentment or anger was my sacrifice, and that God knew this and accepted it.
Now that Jack has a rotating crew of professional caregivers, I can again fast, although I’ve found that I’m still the same when I forego eating for a couple of meals, which is to say, basically worthless. I’m utterly lacking in energy. I just can’t do anything. There is napping and reading involved, and basic levels of care for my other kids. The end.
I thought about this today in the waning hours of my fast. “I’m weak,” I realized. Fasting makes me utterly weak. Or perhaps it simply emphasizes my mortal dependence on Heavenly Parents. Are we not all beggars? Well I for sure am, and I mostly see it when I’m fasting. Maybe this is the point.
Because I don’t see Mother and Father in Heaven as being transactional with their love, I know that we don’t earn their help or our salvation. It’s given to us by grace. And yet in all of this, there must be some theology of putting in the work. President Nelson said last weekend that the Lord loves effort. Scripture shows us that to receive answers, we typically have to seek them, ask for them, yearn for them, and work for them.
Last winter was really bad for me.
I wrote very little during that time, mostly because I was living a kind of heightened, anxious, miserable existence. My emotions were impossibly entwined with those of my children. I felt all their pain, and it was too much. My path out of this bad place took enormous amounts of ongoing effort.
I’ve written before about how I went to the temple every week, I read all the books–religious, self-help, history, memoir, more religious, I went back to physical therapy and massage therapy for my concrete neck, and I went to talk therapy. Mostly what I did during this time though was accept that it was an anxious, crappy, uncomfortable time and that I was going to need to sit in it and feel it before I could leave it behind.
And I did leave it behind! Like, right when the pandemic quarantine started. I’m not kidding. I was healed and felt amazing, and the next week the world shut down.
This could seem awfully ironic or cruel, but the beautiful part has been that in the midst of uncertainty, I’m still healed. I still feel really pretty great, despite everything.
I was telling my therapist this via our telehealth conversation a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned that I wanted to make a social media post about all the books I’ve read during the monotony of social distancing. But, I remarked, a post like that might seem self-absorbed and tone-deaf to people with toddlers or special-needs kids who are struggling mightily to get through each long day, or to people who have to go work on the front lines, or to any of the people who don’t enjoy the roomy house and the mostly self-sufficient children and the option to teach my students via Canvas that I do.
“It might just seem really self-centered to people who don’t have the same options,” I told my therapist. She listened, and responded, “Or it could just be a post about the fact that you like books and you’re reading a lot to get through the pandemic.”
Then she remarked, “It’s not as though you haven’t already seen hardship. You’ve been through it. You’ve done it. And you’ve come out the other side. You can read books and acknowledge it, and it’s okay.”
This is why I love her.
She said it with such generosity and frankness. The fact that I’m not in the same horrific state of daily survival that I once was with young Jack, and newly-diagnosed Charlie, and infant Truman doesn’t mean that I can’t embrace and acknowledge the gift of having emerged from that darkness.
I’ve wondered if my Heavenly Parents allowed me to experience the worst winter ever in preparation for this pandemic spring. Was it coincidence? Or was it a tender mercy so I’d have shed my sorrowful chrysalis by the time the world fell apart? And if they did this for me, what should I do to share their grace and the Savior’s love with other people?
These are the questions I’m currently pondering.
We are all collectively wondering how we can serve when we are in isolation. Helping seems to be more personal, more quietly individual right now. We can text someone who is alone. We can pray for each other. We can sew masks and donate to food banks and order from small businesses. And it kind of feels like not enough.
Which leads me back to the Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ. We held a family prayer via FaceTime with my mom and some of my sisters this evening to end our fast. My mother prayed, and among her heartfelt pleas, she said, “We know, Heavenly Father thy strength and thy capacity to accomplish any means,” before she continued, praying for the whole human family affected by the virus.
We are weak, like I am when I don’t eat food.
We are vulnerable, collectively and individually to a microscopic virus which has upended humanity.
We are suffering, which Jesus Christ understands intimately because he willingly experienced all of our hurts.
But in our weakness, we can ask for God to see us and hear our prayers.
We can reach toward the Savior, who yearns for this moment, when he can grasp our hands, snatching us from sorrow and pulling us from the swirling waters of disease, of depression, of destitution.
My bleak winter taught me this, that I needed to fully experience the suffering–accept it and the lessons it gave me, and to then cast my sorrows on Jesus, who grants us the space and the strength to heal.