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I can’t

| Tuesday, October 6, 2020

If you had 60 seconds to deliver a message to the entire world, what would you say? This was the premise of an international competition last May. I thought about entering it, but I just couldn’t find the words. I thought of all the one-liners and words of encouragement I’ve heard since March, and then it hit me: We’re talking about COVID all wrong.

Think about every motivational speech you’ve heard the past seven months. They all seem, more or less, to be variations of “we will get through this and be stronger and more united than ever before” or “this will pass and things will get back to normal.” These words are supposed to comfort us in the difficult times we’re in. But they don’t, or at least shouldn’t.  

Part of me really wonders if anyone believes we will actually be stronger and more united because of the pandemic. After all we‘ve seen in the past few months — from riots and political animosity to people literally fighting in grocery stores over food and parking spaces — we know deep down that these are nothing but hollow and unfeeling words.

The problem, it seems, is that our culture today can’t deal with any admission of weakness. See how the phrases are worded. They offer no words of hope for the dark times at all but merely skip over the present and put all their hope into a hazy future. Indeed, they act as if everything will be “OK” once a vaccine is developed and the restrictions are lifted, as if we were perfectly fine before the pandemic and that once we just “get through this,” we’ll finally be “OK.” We all know what a lie this is, but it seems we’re so desperate to pretend we’re always happy that we’ve become unable or unwilling to admit that we’re not. We know that the vaccine will not solve our deepest troubles, but we cling to it because all the other things we run after, even if they were enjoyable for a time, have left us utterly empty inside. Not knowing where to turn, we act like these things — whether it’s our grades, our internship and job prospects, our physical fitness, our appearance, finally finding the “perfect” boyfriend or girlfriend or something else — will make us happy because it seems to make everyone else happy. In the back of our minds resides the heart of our fear, something we would never ever admit: the creeping suspicion that the things we’ve been told will finally give us rest and fulfillment are not, in the words of Dane Ortlund, “saviors“ at all but are “masters” that “will neither forgive you if you fail them nor satisfy you if you get them.” So we find ourselves running. Some of us never stop. We are like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in “Catch Me if You Can,” always afraid of being found out, constantly terrified that the searchlight will one day shine upon us and we will be exposed for not being as smart or as kind as our carefully crafted public image suggests.  

But to stop here, to simply say “it’s okay to not be okay” or “everyone is feeling the same thing” and nothing else, is the greatest tragedy of all. It is to say: “Yeah, everyone else has the same problems. We don’t have the answer either, but you’re in good company.” This is like someone saying to you on a sinking ship that even though you don’t have a seat on a lifeboat, they don’t either so there’s no need to worry. This makes me feel even more lost. I don’t want solidarity in misery. I want answers! I want life!

But with all the self-help books and meditation apps, we know deep down that they won’t work, at least not for long. We know we can’t find the answer within ourselves. In the words of one preacher, “a man who is drowning doesn’t need faith in himself, he needs a lifesaver. A condemned man walking to the electric chair doesn’t need faith in himself, he needs forgiveness. A man lost in the jungle doesn’t need faith in himself, he needs to know the way out.”  

We’ve been chasing after two things all our life: the desire to be fully known and fully loved, and there is only one place where our heart’s yearnings find their fulfillment, and that is in Jesus Christ. To accept the Cross is to admit that you don’t have it together, that there’s something wrong with you and that you can’t fix it. But it also provides the answer: the atonement, redemption and love that we so desperately need and desire. God is able to forgive you, not because He doesn’t know what you’ve done (He knows that full well), but because of what He has done for you and for me. He sees all of it — and it is because He sees it that He went to the Cross for you. Religion says “you must do this and that before I can accept you.” Christ alone says “This is my body given for you … ” (Luke 22:19).

In Him, we are fully known and fully loved. In Him, we find the answer. To those empty, to those tired of running and faking it, to those desiring the Truth, forgiveness and hope, God’s word calls out to us right where we are: “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16; cf. Isaiah 9:2). This is something no one, no election, no pandemic can take away from you and that nothing else can give you. We cannot earn this, yet it is presented to each and every one of us. You must either accept or reject Him. There is no middle option.

Andrew Sveda is a sophomore at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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