Kurian Thomas and family outdoors in the spring sun
By Kurian Thomas

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to feel distressed and uneasy would be a great understatement—indeed, this event, as it unfolds, is causing changes we could never have imagined, some temporary, and some perhaps embedded in our souls and our society for months and years to come. As we physically isolate ourselves and wait for COVID-19 to begin its inevitable decline, our hearts and minds can easily succumb to the fears rising within us as we try to navigate this strange new time.

The pandemic has touched on some of our deepest concerns—safety, death, economic security—making us feel vulnerable and powerless and generating so many unanswered questions:

  • When will things return to normal? And when they do, will they be the same as before?
  • What other changes might this pandemic bring, and what short-term and long-term consequences will there be?
  • Will I and my loved ones be safe? Will we stay healthy?
  • What will happen if I get sick? Will I survive?

It is very normal for us to ask the questions that arise out of our deepest fears. These deep fears, wrapped around the tenderest, most vulnerable parts of our psyches, can act as protectors, helping us to think of solutions in times when we are indeed struggling to survive. Our fear can act as a guide, pointing us toward those things that are most important to us, perhaps those things about ourselves or our world that we’re trying to protect. But fear can also overwhelm, and we can end up living in fear with constant or nagging feelings of worry that steal our peace and joy and change how we view the world.

In this current crisis, overwhelming fear is having catastrophic effects, such as the xenophobic, racist attacks against Asian people; the hoarding of supplies, leaving those most vulnerable without; and the plunging stock market as investors make fear-based decisions. Deepak Chopra recently pointed out, “COVID-19 exposed how insecure most people actually feel, to the point that the real pandemic is fear.”[1] Fear, as it spreads and grows, chokes out a key component of dealing with a crisis: hope. And when a whole society begins to lose hope, then navigating successfully through a crisis can become almost impossible.

Looking at this from a spiritual perspective, and from the Christian tradition that my family belongs to, fear separates us from the divine as it “distances us from God and one another because it leads us to despair and lack of trust.”[2] Despair leaves us no room for hope in our hearts.

During such a time of upheaval as we now find ourselves in, how then do we deal with fear?

One answer to this question can be found in many of the world’s wisdom traditions; one such example can be found in the Christian faith, when the wise apostle John says:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear….” (1 John 4:18)

Love is a powerful antidote to fear, as it is difficult to focus on our fear and live in fear when we are intentionally cultivating love in our lives. If we shift our attention away from overwhelming worry and fear, toward cultivating and extending love, are there different questions we could ask ourselves? How might this shift in attention help change our perspective and our emotions?

  • How might I look for ways to lovingly connect with others during this time of isolation? How might I be able to connect with them–a phone call? A video chat?
  • Find ways to extend love and hope to the world by looking for ways to help during this crisis. What could I do to help others?
  • How could I extend love and hope through prayer, loving-kindness meditation, or other spiritual practices?
  • How might I extend love and grace to myself during this difficult time, especially when I’m feeling fearful? How might I cultivate hope within my heart during this time?

When we shift our thinking in times of crisis from fear to love, there is a spaciousness in the heart that leaves abundant room for hope to flourish. In the coming weeks, it will be increasingly important for us to be hopeful, and to model that hope for others as an antidote to the pandemic of fear. As we go forward, may we all create room in our hearts for hope and extend that hope to others who are feeling overwhelmed by fear.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fetzer Vice President of Spiritual Transformation Kurian Thomas and his family are using this time to live more intentionally. After their initial week observing the stay-at-home order, they began to look beyond the fear of the pandemic. They are now using this time of social distancing for more family meals, doing the household chores together, family prayer and reflections, positive conversations, and taking time to appreciate each other.

[1] Deepak Chopra, “COVID-19 and a New Way to Be Happy,” Chopra Foundation, March 16, 2020, https://chopra.com/articles/covid-19-and-a-new-way-to-be-happy.

[2] Constance T. Hull, “Don’t Let Fear Snuff Out Hope,” Catholic Exchange, March 12, 2020, https://catholicexchange.com/dont-let-fear-snuff-out-hope.