Resilience & Hope

As we continue to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian Jesuit Provincial Fr Quyen Vu SJ reflects on how we might overcome feelings of helplessness and find hope in faith. The gift of faith is given to all of us, he says, and we find an inner strength if we reach into the depths of ourselves. 

The Covid-19 pandemic does not spare anyone. Whether you are young or old, rich or poor, living in the countryside or the city, we are all affected by it. It has turned our life upside down no matter where we are on this earth. The lockdown and lockout have made it worse especially for those who require personal assistance, those in aged care facilities and those who need other people’s assistance daily.

Mental illness has become the second cause of people’s illness post Covid-19. It has increased during the lockdowns and will continue to affect our lives into the future. As human beings, we like to take control of our life and dictate how we live, play, rest and socialize. However, every now and then we find ourselves in a situation where we feel a sense of helplessness and we cannot do anything about it at all; it is beyond us and over and above our control. Things move into a different direction, a different situation that is beyond our ability to do anything about it. The pandemic has taken control of our life for the last one and a half years. No matter what and how we want to control our life and our daily activities, it does not allow us to do so. Our desire to interact with the wider community, with work colleagues and friends has been frustrated; opportunities to do so have been so scarce.

When we feel helpless, resilience is what allow us to overcome our helplessness. We have heard personal stories where people who find themselves in helpless situations are able to overcome them through resilience.

For instance, Winston Churchill, who failed his military exams and lost five elections but did not give up. He became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. His famous words are: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That is, “never stop moving. Never stop moving forward – even if you are only taking small steps forward, take those steps. Hopelessness is a beast. And if you let it, the darkness will pull you down and paralyze you. It’s usually better to do something than nothing.” Another person who embodies great resilience in time of crisis is Nelson Mandela. He is said to have had great resilience despite being locked up in prison for twenty-seven years of his life. Resilience is a character that demonstrates an ability to bend and not break.

When we find ourselves in a hopeless situation, then faith will enable us to overcome our hopelessness. Hopelessness can be debilitating. It does not provide us with much hope at all.

The faith journey of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan shows us that hope can overcome despair and hopelessness. The late Cardinal Van Thuan was arrested for his faith and spent thirteen years in prison after the fall of Saigon in 1975. He endured harsh treatment and deplorable conditions. Nine of those thirteen years he spent in solitary confinement. During those long years of isolation and imprisonment, instead of giving in to despair and self-pity, Cardinal Van Thuan found God in the darkness of his life. He discovered that there is a purpose to life no matter that condition we find ourselves in.

He began using scraps of paper to compose messages of hope for other people. Faith allows him to overcome hopelessness.

Resilience and faith are tools to overcome desolations, challenges, and difficulties that we encounter along the path of life. All of us have this inner strength which we can turn to when we find ourselves in a crisis, in isolation, in lockdowns and in situation of helplessness. Turn to our inner strength and reach deep down into our God-given gifts and strength. All of us have faith and hope. Faith and resilience are remedies for hopelessness.