7 Ways COVID-19 Can Grow Our Spiritual Fortitude
Finding growth when leaning into the suffering of COVID.
Posted Nov 25, 2020
This guest post is written by Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage.
Graduations, weddings, and other celebrations canceled. Loved ones mourned. Friends distanced and smiles masked. The global pandemic has introduced us to new realms of disappointment, grief, and suffering. Such suffering could leave us with an exoskeleton of bitterness, anger, or fear wrapped around our hearts. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As Dr. Jamie Aten explains in his book, A Walking Disaster: What Surviving Katrina and Cancer Taught Me About Faith and Resilience, we can also grow a spiritual fortitude that “helps people withstand adversity—especially when there is no clear end in sight—as they metabolize and lean into suffering.”1 What might a spiritual fortitude born out of the suffering of COVID-19 look like, and how can we focus on this growth as we move forward? As we lean into suffering, we might discover growth in seven significant areas:
- Extraordinary endurance: Many have juggled Zoom meetings while supervising their child’s virtual schooling. Others have gone weeks without seeing an actual person in person. We have worried over a friend’s hospitalization or have suffered from COVID-19 ourselves. We have survived, and in some ways thrived, and we are convinced we can endure any hardship the world might hurl at us.
- Growing patience: Patience, Karen Swallow Prior tells us, is “the willingness to endure suffering.”2 As we endure suffering, we grow more patient with irritants large and small. Waiting months for “normalcy” to resume has helped us learn to relax when things are beyond our control. Where a minor traffic jam would have previously tossed us into noisy tantrums, we now look for the opportunity the delay might provide. When it takes 20 minutes for food to arrive at a restaurant, we wait patiently as we remember the long-delayed food deliveries in the height of lockdown.
- Confident hope: When we have seen the good that has come out of suffering, we gain hope for future trials. Maybe our family has rediscovered the joy of laughing and playing games together during lockdown; working remotely has given us that time to play. Even in disappointing loss, whether of solid employment or long-awaited celebrations, we have found that new hope arises, and we look to the future, believing that a “new normal” will eventually emerge from this season of sorrow.
- Strengthened faith: Our faith, like a gemstone being smoothed and strengthened by pressure and heat, is solidified and refined by trials. We have endured uncertainty about how long the lockdown will last, when a vaccine will arrive, and whether children would return to school in the fall. Some have endured the agony of losing their health, spouse, or job. When news of another severe season arrives, our tested faith assures us that our needs will be met, even if we don’t yet know how.
- Proven character: In Koine Greek, the word “dokimē” refers to a person “who has been tested and has passed the test.”3 COVID-19 has thrown down some daunting tests: fear of the unknown, anxiety about death, and grief in isolation, among many others. As we face these tests, we grow in maturity and integrity. Our suffering makes us wise and compassionate. We become tender and strong comforters—instead of tossing out spiritual Band-Aids, we sit with those who suffer, listen carefully, and give good counsel as the moment arises.
- Deeper joy: Joy, unlike happiness, is not tied to circumstances. Our newfound joy will grow out of gratitude for things we took for granted before COVID-19. When we meet up with a friend in our favorite neighborhood coffee shop, we are grateful for the freedom to do so and enjoy the moment more deeply. When we can send our kids back to school without fear of them being sent home to quarantine, we are grateful for their safety, and our joy deepens. Armed with the confident hope and strong faith that has been born from suffering, we know a deeper joy based on our conviction that the future holds restoration and renewal.
- Extravagant love: Suffering can draw us out of our self-focus and transform us into people who love extravagantly. Because we have known the kindness of a friend who left food at our doorstep when we were struck by the virus, we seek to bless others in sacrificial ways. Because we have experienced the loneliness of social distancing, we now take time to stop and speak to our neighbors. Where we used to be too busy with work or distracted by social media for face-to-face interaction, we now prioritize relationships and seek to build community. What a powerful and profound difference such extravagant love will make in a world starved for human connection.
Even in the midst of the sadness and loss of this season, we have every reason to believe that we will emerge more resilient, more faithful, and more loving. With that powerful hope, we can lean into our current suffering, looking forward to a day of renewal and restoration.
This article is adapted from Elizabeth’s book, From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis.
About the Author: Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage, MACS, M.Ed., writer, coach, and speaker, is the founder of Living Story. Elizabeth has written From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis and The Waiting Room: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in a Health Crisis.
(1) Jamie Aten, PhD, A Walking Disaster: What Surviving Katrina and Cancer Taught Me about Faith and Resilience (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2018), 187.
(2) Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2018), 192.
(3) John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 142.