So You Survived a Global Pandemic. Great! Now What?

“What were some things in your life that were hard or painful for a little while, but then when it was over, there was celebration?” Lydia asked, reading the question from the night’s devotional entry.

It is Holy Week. We (I) decided for Lent this year, we would strap in, buckle up, and get through the second volume of The Family Bible Devotional together as a family. I confess that every single time I reach for this book, I hesitate, expecting that one/some/all of my family will look at me like I’m the lamest mother on the earth for making them read about Jesus. 

This has never happened. Our family cracks jokes, reads Scripture, answers vulnerable questions, and frequently weeps together over the stories in the Bible and the corresponding conversations. I will be forever grateful to Our Daily Bread for making me write a devotional, if for no other reason than the joy and intimacy it has brought to my own family.

OKAY, enough of the cheesy sales pitch. 

A couple of the entries we’re reading right now align almost perfectly with where we’re at in the church calendar, coincidentally traveling through the encouragement and prayers Jesus spoke over his disciples during their last hours together right smack dab in the middle of Holy Week.

At first, the kids struggled to come up with answers to this question, what hard or painful things eventually turned to celebration. In John 16:16-33, Jesus tells his disciples that “very truly, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”

“What about moving?” I suggested. We’ve moved several times over the course of our kids’ lives, and each move was hard and painful at the time, but in the end, we’ve been able to celebrate new experiences, new friends, and new memories. They listed several other experiences then, relationships and injuries, illnesses and diagnoses that were all hard and painful at the time, but later brought rejoicing. 

“I can think of a lot of times,” I said, because of course I can. I am an overflowing bucket of rainbows for every rainy day.

Jesus uses the analogy of a woman in the pains of childbirth. “When her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.”

In the midst of all of that pain, women are able to bear down and believe, hope for, and expect life on the other side.

“What about Grandma Rose’s cancer?” Elvis said.

“That was hard and painful,” I agreed. “And I think even harder and more painful than your birth.”

One of the other questions in this evening’s devotional prompts parents to share their children’s birth stories, including adoption stories. Elvis knows his story intimately, how he spent so much time in the NICU, how he was near death, how his existence is a miracle. All of my children’s births are miracles, really—in any other age, it’s likely I would have died, or Lydia would have died, without medical intervention.

When it comes down to the circumstances and mechanisms that have to go just right in a woman’s womb, every birth is a miracle. It is miraculous that we survive that whole process.

Elvis survived respiratory distress syndrome and pulmonary hypertension at birth. “I always knew and hoped that you would live,” I told Elvis, refraining from sharing again the overwhelming sense of peace that It will be okay, words I’d hear years later quoted by Julian of Norwich but sensed first as if they were spoken into my ear, driving back to the hospital before Elvis had made the turn toward life. “I never dreamed or hoped that my mom would recover from cancer.”

And yet, here we are, one year removed from the good and unexpected and miraculous news that my mom’s battle with stage four kidney cancer is over. The cancer is gone. The cancer is gone! In the last year, it has shown no evidence of returning; there is no evidence of disease. 

When you’ve walked daily through pain, suffering, and the ever-pressing reminder of your mortality, what do you hope for on the other side? Is there hope? 

And when what has pressed down on you is suddenly removed, life reborn, tomb cracked open, how do you live on the other side of that miracle?


If you are reading this right now, congratulations! You’ve survived a global pandemic!

For three long years, we’ve done whatever it takes to try to survive, some of us more diligently and maniacally than others. Some people didn’t make it, and some of us have been permanently scarred and damaged by it, but here we are. Alive. We did it! 

All of that protection, all of that care, all of that work, what was it all for? What was on the other side of survival?

Maybe Life is curious to see what you would do
With the gift of being left alive
How love, how give
Spread the higher purpose
And cut through all the shuck and jive… 

Marc Cohn, “Live Out the String”

Yes, the virus rages on. Wars and rumors of war rattle and destroy lives around the globe. Gun violence takes the lives of the shooter and the shot. Plants and animals are going extinct, the planet is heating up, the oceans are filling with plastic, and forests are turning to deserts. Teens and adults alike are popping pills and filling all of their hollow wounds with alcohol to numb their nerves so they can just exist, on the verge of their own extinction. And every single hour, someone pours their pain and rage into someone else. 

And yet we survive. What for? 

David Von Drehle addressed this recently in his column, “We’ll never solve our many crises without this one ingredient:”

Joy is becoming countercultural; in fashion instead is a heavy coat of doom. Anxiety and depression are endemic, psychologists tell us, and why wouldn’t they be, when optimism and cheerfulness are taken as signs of obtuseness? When happiness is a dead giveaway that someone either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care, how very bad things are?

Yes, there are so many terrible things in this world, but, Von Drehle says, how can you work for something better if you have no vision for a more hopeful, joyful future? Von Drehle begins his article observing a cardinal out his window, which brings him joy and reminds him of people he loves, despite the threat to songbirds globally. He continues:

Here’s where that cardinal finally lands: One cannot usefully address a threat to birds if they do not delight in individual birds. (Maybe not all of them, but some.) One cannot meaningfully answer the climate crisis if they lack excitement about the human capacity for invention and reinvention. One cannot make progress toward equality and inclusion if they don’t see and love the potential of humankind — enemies included — and one cannot build the future if one fears the future.

If, upon surviving this global pandemic, all we do is shift our eyes to the next global pandemic, lurking in the unknowable future, or zoom in on this pain and that source of anxiety, hunkering down with no vision beyond this current reality, what hope do we have? We have no hope, except to continue plodding through our own daily, menial lives, eating and drinking meaninglessly. What is it all for? What was it all for? What do we persist in living for?

You cannot heal what you do not love.

This is the countercultural message of the cross. You have to walk through the valley of death to reach the city of life. Jesus’ way of suffering is the gateway to everlasting hope, hope that doesn’t disappoint us, because he modeled for us the heart of God’s love, love for Pontius, love for Judas, love for the mockers surrounding the cross, love for his fleeing disciples, love for his helpless mother, love for the secret followers, love that is so patient and so kind and so merciful it was willing to bear the weight of death on an unjust cross to show the way of love to us. 

He invites us into that same human journey, to feel all of the feels, to allow pain to bind us to each other, to use our inflamed grief to burn away lies to reach the tender heart of justice and love, to cause us to live, to act, to move on behalf of the hurting, the broken, the oppressed, without fear, without shame, with only love and hope and joy. That is the way of the cross, from suffering to death to resurrection to new life to freedom. 

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! 

Jesus came to give you life, and life abundant!

You are the living and breathing result of miraculous survival. Life is wondrous. Life is beautiful. Life is real and throbbing with the pulse of love in every fern’s tendril, in every unfurling seedling, in every formed memory, in every blink and breath and tear. If you do not treasure life in all its forms and fashion, then what are we living for?

What are you living for?

Von Drehle concludes:

It stands to reason — doesn’t it? — that the answer is not greater and greater attention to more and more crises. It is more time spent by each of us on the nurture of joy and the cultivation of hope. 

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the seeds of hope, the joy that is only possible because it is born from suffering. We have suffered much, privately, intimately, and universally. Those sufferings are just birth pains, forgotten in the midst of this new morning, this sunrise, this day in which you still breathe, still blink, still weep. There in the future, we vehemently hope for restoration because we love, because he first loved us.

Live out the string
a little longer darling
raise your voice and
make a joyful noise
there ain’t no guarantees
of anything
but live out the string

“Live Out the String” Marc Cohn

Cover Photo by Rifqi Ramadhan

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: