In a time unlike quite anything we’ve ever seen, we don’t have a script to look back to for what we did the last time we were here.
The COVID 19 pandemic has impacted every single one of us, and – as followers of Jesus – we want to know how to hold onto hope, bring hope to others, and face down fear. When it comes to that word ‘fear’ especially there can be no small amount of pressure to act like we’re not afraid at all. Dr. Melissa Baartman Mork says we can’t deal with that fear unless we first acknowledge it’s there.
“We absolutely need to acknowledge it’s there, and do away with the stigma within the church especially. We need to do away with the stigma around fear, sadness, depression, grief, and all of these responses that – man, I’m having right now. I’m having the whole range of emotions right now, and – if we name them – we can manage them.”
“This is just basic emotional intelligence. If you can name what you are feeling, then you can pray it. We can come to the Lord with, ‘God, I am so scared right now.’ But if we’re not even acknowledging it, if we can’t name it, identify what it is, it’s very hard to pray through it.”
Dr. Mork points to a wealth of examples the Bible gives us of putting this kind of honestly into practice.
“We have so many models throughout Scripture of men and women of faith who were able to say, ‘I’m scared.’ ‘I’m sad.’ They rent their clothing. They grieved deeply. Jesus grieved deeply. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. He prayed about His own fear before He faced the cross. Who are we that we think we’re above that? That we are beyond that?”
Something that may not feel completely natural at a time like this is laughter. But Dr. Mork believes it’s never been more important to use the great gift of humor we’ve been given.
“It gives us an opportunity to think about things from a different perspective, and it allows us to connect. A friend of mine said the other day that laughter is the next best thing for connection to hugging. If we can’t hug each other, if we can’t have physical connection through handshakes and patting each other on the back, we can share a sense of humor and connect that way.”
“It provides some levity, some oxygen, and some undeniable life. When we are able to laugh in the face of the ambiguity, the unknown, all of the bad news, and all of the fear – when we are able to find something to laugh about – whether it’s memes online or something funny on Netflix or a game of Uno around the kitchen table, if we can find a way to laugh with those around us we are finding power. We’re reclaiming something. And we’re laughing in the face of Satan. We’re saying, ‘No. No you can’t have us. We are still intact. We’re still connected. We still have optimism, and zest, and hope. That is an act of faith!”
Dr. Melissa Baartman Mork is a professor & the Chair of the Department of Psychology, Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement at University of Northwestern, Saint Paul. She authors the timely title Navigating Grief with Humor.