Much of the world went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020. I felt the initial days were like a retreat but eventually, with the weeks dragging on, my anxiety crept in. The mounting numbers, constant bad news, and continual uncertainty unleashed a depression in me. This depression took me to dark and frightening places, places I was unable to let anyone else into. It felt overwhelming and chaotic. My depression was mostly a sense of giving up. With the renewal of restrictions, the hope of normality fled. Even after restrictions eased, my apprehension continued. I became socially anxious, as a nagging worry relentlessly pounded my head, relaying more bad news to my brain. As I write this, I am relatively safe in my region, yet am aware of tighter restrictions in many other locales.
The topic of hope has been paramount to me during this season. When life brings unexpected challenges, it is easy to focus on the negative which produces increasingly anxious thoughts. I have been contemplating what hope looks like in the midst of fear; how hope portrays itself in a stumbling economy, a medical crisis, and global uncertainty.
These fears are not foreign to me. I lived with them when I was seventeen and received a diagnosis of depression for the first time, knowing that I could continue to struggle with this throughout my life. This fear resurfaced during some profound episodes when the depression returned. This fear also took up residence after a year of being physically ill with an unknown diagnosis, despite ongoing exams and treatments. Now with the longer nights and shorter days of winter, fear has grown due to my on-going struggles with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and the potential of a winter lockdown.
Perhaps you have also faced similar fears yourself -- fears of how a child born with a permanent disability will interact with the world and the fear that previous hopes and dreams for this infant have been demolished. Or the fear of having a lifelong illness or seeing a loved one suffer from an incurable disorder that ravishes their body and soul despite many pleas and prayers to God. In these moments, it can be difficult to see God’s presence. It can also be tempting to berate one’s self for the human qualities of questioning and doubting God’s goodness.
Historically, Advent marks the weeks leading up to Christmas in which churches and individuals prepare their hearts for a wonderful miracle. The incarnation of Christ coming to earth in human form is a time to embrace curiosity, amazement and hope in the midst of darkness, grief and loss.
In the past year, I have found the acronyms FEAR (False Evidence Appearing Real) and FAITH (For Anything I Trust Heaven) to be beneficial. There are so many questions in this world that are unanswerable: such as why God allows COVID, disability and depression. However, trust moves us toward delight and grace.
Hope appears when someone with a disability from my L’Arche community offers a gift at which the world marvels. A gift of singing, laughter and joy. A smile that penetrates the room. A gift of honesty and vulnerability calling each of us to embrace our own brokenness and replace it with the rawness of love. I saw a glimmer of hope when my depression lessened and with the right professional and personal changes I was once again able to work, study and enjoy life. Hope came rushing to me like a bird in the midst of my pandemic struggles when I felt the love of friends and a supportive community all around me. And hope ignited my soul like an unending flame when I discovered how my own past struggles and traumas are enabling me to be a more understanding minister for the people of God.
This Advent season may look extremely different. At the outset, it might be puzzling to think of any reason to celebrate such a unique and challenging Christmas season, yet we are still called to hope. We are encouraged to hold on because pain ends and to hold on to prayer every day, even in a global bleak midwinter.
Deborah Ruth recently ended her residence at L'Arche Highland in Inverness, Scotland and is returning to Ontario, Canada. She has worked as a live-in assistant for people with developmental disabilities in several L’Arche communities in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the United Kingdom. She is passionate about building friendships with people with developmental disabilities and supporting people living with mental illness. Deborah Ruth is a frequent contributor to ADN’s blog.