As she experienced the emotions and uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, Bracha Goetz turned to the tenets of her faith. As an Orthodox Jew, following the guidelines set forth in the Torah were already part of her daily life. As the outlook on COVID-19 begins to look more optimistic, Goetz says that she can reflect on the ways in which her faith helped safeguard her mental and emotional wellbeing.
“The basis of Judaism is gratitude, and gratitude is essential for enjoying life, said Goetz, a Maryland based author of the book “Searching for God in the Garbage.” “When going through a difficult time, focusing on being grateful for just one thing can help to uplift us.”
Like Goetz, more than a third of Americans say that the COVID-19 crisis strengthened their faith in a higher power and offered lessons from God, according to a report by Pew Research Center. Practicing those beliefs during a crisis can help support mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
“Religious faith or belief in a higher power gives personal meaning, explanations for world events. They may help us make sense of suffering and distress from our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jerome Short, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Psychology at George Mason University. “Belonging to a faith community can offer support from other members and reassuring rituals that soothe our distress.”
The presence of a higher power can help believers feel that they are not alone, says Brian Flanagan, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology at Marymount University and author of the book, “Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church." “Christianity teaches us about a God who is present, even in the worst of circumstances,” he said. “But Christianity also proclaims a God who never abandons creation, and is present in our suffering in a way similar to that of a mother who suffers when her child is sick or hurting.”
“Faith for me means trusting in a God who is close and not distant, and in a certain sense is closest to us when we most need divine comfort,” continued Flanagan.
Belief in a higher power has long been linked to improved physical and mental health, such as a recent study by the Mayo Clinic. “Religious and spiritual practices are associated with greater life satisfaction, less anxiety and depression, and longer life,” said Short.
The increase in the practicing of faith that occurred during the COVID-19 crisis offers religious leaders an opportunity to sustain that momentum. "We all got a huge push forward spiritually, as we have stopped taking so many things for granted that we may not have appreciated before,” said Goetz. “Now that we have seen how many of the precious blessings in our lives can be gone in a moment, we have become more grateful people.”