Cover image via Church Newsroom.
We are living during what might be called the Great Pause. In our globalized world of the 21st century, we have never seen anything quite like it. Businesses are still. Transportation is less. People wait in their homes, apartments, and places of work, wondering and struggling and praying. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed our world on the brink of a different era—and we nervously peer ahead and anxiously wonder about the transitions.
It is not easy. It is not pleasant. It is not the way we are used to living and being.
In the midst of all this, it is easy to feel paralyzed or panicked. I have those feelings. I wonder about the future. About the present. About each day.
And yet, I am forced to pause and consider and reflect when I listen to the brief, 1 minute and 46 second video shared by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – #HearHim: Listen to the Voice of Jesus Christ. The link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbhOg6AS_QY
It quietly counsels us to pay attention to what we hear “when noise gets muted” and “distractions get ignored,” when we by circumstance must “power down” and “calm down” and “slow down” – and Listen.
To listen not with our ears – but with our hearts. And then, we may hear, the sound of “a still, small voice.” A gentle reminder from the heavens. An invitation to a mighty change of heart. And an invitation to ponder again and hear again the message – the message of a silent night in Bethlehem and an empty tomb outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. The message given in words from our loving Father in Heaven: “This is my Beloved Son: Hear Him.”
A reminder to ponder and act upon this invitation came from President Russell M. Nelson, ordained prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on February 26, 2020. The invitation is available here: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/how-do-you-hear-him-a-special-invitation?lang=eng
Latter-day Saints believe that the invitation to ponder and follow heavenly instruction is always of importance. But this particular invitation, at this particular and unique time, from this particular prophet—it is a quiet but powerful reminder in this time of panic and pandemic.
Preparation for a Time of Panic
Although I use the phrase, I hope instead that this will not indeed be a “time of panic.” Of breathless frustration, stress, pacing to and fro, reckless worry. I get it. I feel it too. But, we will not truly be able to pause, to listen, to turn and look heavenward, and then turn and calm each other if we hold on to panic.
Christ offers a better way. A more peaceful way. He promises that though there may be tumult around us, in our inner lives and between one another we can have peace. His peace.
President Russell M. Nelson, as a prophet, arrives at this moment in history in a unique time. Suddenly, the world is in commotion and the Church which he is asked to guide under heaven’s direction is in need of making rapid and challenging adjustments.
I have noticed and thought about the online social media posts which highlight the uniqueness of having a trained physician as the current Latter-day Saint prophet during a health pandemic. I have a couple more thoughts on that. But even more, I am prompted to remember that the Master Healer, the Eternal Physician, is the Savior Jesus Christ. He is our beacon in these challenging hours and days if we, indeed, seek to Hear Him.
Now, as I think of the burdens placed upon the shoulders of President Russell M. Nelson at this time, it does seem unique to me that here unfolds a time when the man meets the moment. I don’t think that he sought the moment. Yet it is here. And I think of the preparation.
In addition to his many years as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, yes, President Nelson is a trained heart and lung specialist. He is a physician of renown in his field. So, he understands health and its vast implications. But a few other elements of his preparation stand out to me.
President Nelson did not only complete a medical degree in his training. He completed advanced graduate training, a doctorate, and spent many years as a medical researcher in addition to his surgical and patient care responsibilities. He has a scientist’s training and mind, and therefore an ability to understand the underlying complexities and difficulties of a global health concern that is new. He understands the difficulty of breaking new ground in diagnosis and treatment for emergent medical issues, as he himself participated as a pioneer across decades in heart surgery and related medical breakthroughs.
President Nelson performed heart surgery during the years that it was developing and new procedures and hard-won knowledge had to pave the way for the future. Putting such knowledge to work in the medical field required effort, teamwork, and courage—lives were at stake. He chose to do the difficult work of learning to stand in an operating theater, with a life in the hands of himself and the team of professionals working with him, and master the ability to be calm in the midst of a storm.
President Nelson did not perform one operation. He did not perform a dozen. He did not perform a hundred. He performed thousands. Thousands of times, he has been in the operating theater and learned the process of making critical decisions in challenging circumstances. Of gathering and sifting and understanding needed information at a rapid pace, making decisions about which resources and strategies to deploy, and adjusting in the process as circumstances required it. He learned to work with a team, to make precise and careful judgments, and to balance the strain of the circumstances with the wisdom of experience and the competence that accrues from the crucible of repeated experience. I have not quoted here from the accounts of his colleagues or others who witnessed his development and effort in the medical arena over the years. They are available to read. But it is instructive to learn that he developed the capacity for maintaining a calm, intense, but controlled and peaceful demeanor during times of great difficulty and strain in the medical operating theater.
Today, he operates in a different setting, the setting of spiritual decisions and counsel and direction for a global faith community, set today against the backdrop of a global health pandemic known as COVID-19. As I reflect on the preparation that has brought him to this moment, I am grateful that there seems to have been a divine convergence in his training across a lifetime in medicine and the moment that we face in the world today.
Perspective in a Pandemic Moment
All of us likely know more about viruses, and COVID-19, and pandemic issues, by far than we did a couple of weeks ago. We need to learn something because it seems to threaten to consume everything. At least, it feels that way. Our time, our workspaces, our financial stability, our health, our peace of mind—it is worrisome and difficult. Peace of mind is elusive.
I am grateful for the wisdom of public health officials, medical professionals, and even just commonsense parents and leaders and others who are helping us all in this moment. It helps. Our health matters. The health of all around us matters.
In addition, I am grateful for the invitation of a prophet of the Lord to pause, to avoid panic, to let ourselves listen for the divine voice of Jesus in our minds and hearts. When my mind is troubled, and my spirit is restless and worried, I am grateful that there is direction about where I might turn for peace. Although he is a physician by training, for more than thirty years now President Russell M. Nelson has been trained in another capacity—Apostle of Jesus Christ. He points us in that direction, the direction of the Master Healer, who can assist us to gain perspective and spiritual peace in this pandemic moment. May we, indeed, Hear Him.