In my previous blog on leadership in pandemics, I introduced six guiding principles: Do not give in to panic; Innovate if we don’t have resources; Be compassionate and protect the most vulnerable; Have faith in God and reflect and learn what he is teaching us; and Review and change things as new evidence emerges.
As I investigate my own life and the context around, I observe a ‘continuing panic’. Why? Because of the myriad information coming from the nations that are severely affected. This information is creating a deep sense of anxiety, fear and panic not only among the public but also among health care professionals.
This also emerges from a feeling of uncertainty. We in those countries yet to have a huge burden of coronavirus cases but locked down to prevent and mitigate, are overwhelmed by the predictions and future potential of how bad the spread could be. The uncertainty is creating sleepless nights, and inability to think and respond with a sound mind.
Added to this are the expected standards of care that are being shared from health care experts, and the reality of the contexts in which some of us work. The standards are unreachable, due to various reasons – whether it be scaling up of testing, PPE and other systems of care.
Then there is that frustration emerging from the cracks in our society that are more visible during this time. Like the thousands of migrant laborers that were stranded during the lock down. A senior leader from India wrote this – which expresses the reality.
‘This whole pandemic apart from exposing the frailty of our “powerful” in our nations and the cracks in our society between rich/middle class and the poor, the organized labour and the migrants, urban & distant rural, it also exposes the “poverty of our churches”. We are busy encouraging the flock at this time of social distancing (important primarily for the middle/rich). It not only shows we are out of depth in offering a perspective to this new situation but more importantly that we are “absentees in the public domain” — no one is even missing us (no surprise).’ (Jayakumar Christian, Chennai (personal communication))
And this frustrates those of us who are looking around at the reality of the context.
All this leading to a fear of engagement – and inability to understand what it means to engage. Fear for one’s own future, questions on the mammoth task ahead and the futility of what little we might be able to do. How shall we live amid this? In addition to cultivating and holding on to the six principles, are there other inner attitudes and spiritual resources that we need to draw upon?
Four more thoughts to consider (re-emphasizing some of the six), as we face these ongoing contexts of panic, fear and uncertainty:
1. Continue to cultivate a sound mind
The original Greek word translated ‘sound mind’ here is sophronismos, and it appears in the Bible only this one time. In other Bible translations, the word sophronismos is rendered ‘self-control’ (ESV), ‘self-discipline’ (NIV, NLT), ‘discipline’ (NASB), ‘good judgment’ (GW), and ‘sound judgment’ (CSB). The influence of the Spirit of God is required to produce a genuinely sound mind.
The sound mind Paul speaks of is a mind under the control of God’s Holy Spirit. In the sense of self-discipline, the word sophronismos denotes careful, rational, sensible thinking. Having a sound mind
requires a thought process based on the wisdom and clarity that God imparts rather than being manipulated by fear.
This is the sound mind we need to cultivate to look at emerging evidence and contexts through – a mind under the control of God, at the same time careful, rational and sensible thinking, and one that is not manipulated by fear.
2. Hold on to a hopeful heart
In times of uncertainty, where does our hope come from? Will it come from the various innovative ways we can respond, a wishful thinking (maybe denial) that the worst will not affect us and our country or a hope that we will be protected come what may – based on our faith in God?
Our hope in uncertain times should come from ‘certainty of a God who is sovereign’. The assurance that the God we believe in is one who will use these circumstances for a greater purpose. Though we cannot understand it today, we put our faith in that God who is certainly holding the future in his hands.
3. Explore ways of faithful engagement
We need to understand what faithful engagement means for each of us. For some of us, it might be being in the forefront of the battle, engaging actively, for others it may mean being in the background, supporting those on the front line.
Some others might be locked up unable to be out there, homebound. Even here we need to understand how we can contribute, either through prayer, planning, or keeping in touch with those in the forefront. And not to forget the costs the poor and the marginalised bear.
4. Encourage and motivate each other to persevere
We also need to come alongside people who are fearful and confused and encourage them. We need to be people who motivate the tired and exhausted to persevere. We need to find resources that will provide the strength for these people to continue in their love and good deeds.
‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, (may be online) as some are in the habit of doing but encouraging one another…. (Romans 10; 23-25).
Faithfully engaging with a sound mind, encouraging each other and giving hope, at this time of discouragement and seeming hopelessness is our calling. May we be such people.
ICMDA Regional Secretary in South Asia