“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
— Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933)
These inspiring words from Roosevelt’s first inaugural address have become some of the most famous ever spoken by an American president. The commander in chief, who led our nation through the Great Depression and WWII, had an uncanny ability to instill calm and confidence in a people during the most anxious of times. He was peace in the midst of a storm. How we as a country desperately need that kind of peace right now. We live in uncertain and unprecedented times. The generations alive today have, for the most part, never experienced the kind of national – in fact global – crisis that we now face.
The pandemic of the coronavirus/COVID-19 has inspired panic, fear, and selfishness over the last two weeks. That cannot be our new normal. What we need right now is accurate information instead of more information, caution instead of fear, calm instead of panic, and compassion instead of selfishness. Roosevelt’s belief that “the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself” rings just as true now as it did 87 years ago.
For me, as a pastor, these words echo a timeless truth from the Gospels (Luke 8:22–25) where Jesus and his disciples found themselves in the midst of a tumultuous storm. During the tempest, the disciples feared for their lives, but Jesus fell asleep; they panicked but he was at peace. How is that possible? Was he unaware of the danger? Was he in denial about the seriousness of their situation? Did he simply not care? No. Instead, he had peace in the midst of the storm. He knew these were experienced fishermen and that they had taken proper precautions. But he also trusted in God. Jesus’ attitude and action demonstrate a two-pronged approach to the crisis, preparation and faith.
I think this is why Roosevelt’s leadership had such a profound effect on the “Greatest Generation”; he demonstrated and encouraged the need for preparation and faith, for ingenuity and trust.
We are being called to the same task now. We must prepare ourselves for what is ahead and prepare our hearts with prayer. We must dutifully follow the guidelines and procedures prescribed by health experts and government agencies. At the same time, we must put our faith in each other, in the strength of our communities, and ultimately in God. We can have peace in the midst of this storm.
There are simple things we can do right now to affect the outcome. 1) First, follow the CDC guidelines for social distancing. 2) Support local businesses as much as possible; the larger corporations can handle the financial impact better than your neighborhood shop can. 3) Don’t buy more than you need. Your neighbors have needs, too, and they may not have the ability to travel to get them. Trust that the supply lines will continue if we work together. 4) Check on your neighbors to make sure they have what they need. Compassion is one commodity that is always in short supply. 5) Finally, and above all, pray. Lean into your faith and trust that God will calm the storm before we are drowned. We will get through this if we pull together and have faith.