The uncertainty with which people around the globe have been living for over a year has taken a toll, along with the actual lives lost and forever changed. Uncertainty is a frame of reference that makes most people exceedingly uncomfortable. We do not think our best thoughts, engage in clarity very well ourselves, nor act in the most compassionate manner when faced with uncertainty. Spiritual writer and psychologist James Finley indicates that an ultimate question for people of faith is: How can I learn to not let the conditions in which I find myself determine the foundational condition of my heart?
My wise friend, Emily, helped me recently, as she reminded me that the time we are in poses problems that are NOT of a technical nature. If the pandemic were a technical problem, there would be technical answers. Because we associate medicine with technology and because we experience the medical industry to have answers to many of our problems, it is understandable that we may approach this medical emergency as just another technical problem with “yes” and “no” answers: clarity about what is the right and wrong path.
However, my wise friend, Emily, also reminded me that this uncertain time is an adaptive condition, requiring adaptive solutions. This has frustrated many people as new data points us in new directions for behavior, treatment, prevention and more. Remember what St. Augustine wrote? “New occasions teach new duties.” But when the new occasions are unfolding as rapidly as they have this last year, it is hard to adapt. It’s a lot to take in, and besides all that, people are suffering tremendously economically.
Perhaps reminding ourselves we are in an adaptive situation helps us have more sympathy for those whose responsibility and mandate is public health, as they struggle to adapt with all they are learning. Adaptive solutions require learning. Learning requires humility and patience; both virtues are in short supply among the general public. People of faith, like us, value these virtues. In fact, they are for us more than virtues: they are gifts of the Spirit.
The last thing my friend said is, “Because this is an adaptive challenge, you will make mistakes. You need to be really humble about that, because you will make mistakes.” This returns me to the spiritual gifts needed to navigate the uncertain time in which we continue to live. Humility and patience are gifts we can all cultivate with the help of God. They are aided by postures of curiosity and compassion. When the people of God are rooted in these gifts, we are like trees planted by streams of water, making a habitation of hope and healing possible.