Grace and Strength: Comfort in Hard Times

No sense in sugar-coating it; last week was a rough week at Gettysburg College, which flowed into an ever rougher weekend, with the news that most of our students were being sent back home.  Perhaps it comes as no surprise that most of them did not want to go—they enjoyed being on campus, they relished the time with their friends, and they liked being here, in this stimulating academic environment.  We liked having them here, too, and so the disappointment and frustration runs deep and extends all the way up the administration.  It was a very hard, sad decision. [You all know that we are early in the fall; more hard decisions are coming at other schools around the country.]

And yet, here we are.  The decision has been made, and we have to go forward; and while the immediate future will bring challenges—and, for some, those challenges are significant, no minimizing that—it also will bring opportunities.  But recognizing them, catching glimpses of them amidst the mounting disappointments, losses and uncomfortable transitions—that’s easier said than done.  When our mindset is on disappointments and endings, it is very hard to be open to hope and new beginnings.

I wish I had the perfect thing to say, the perfect words of encouragement and consolation—I don’t.  But, I do want to share two words that I have found comforting, and then a prayer.  The words are “grace” and “strength.”

First, grace.  In the presence and power of the Holy Spirit grace comes to us unbidden, every day, and surrounds us: people who care about us; the beauty of the natural world; interesting books to read, uplifting music to hear. And, through the love of that same Spirit, we are able to be a source of grace for others: a kind word, a helping hand, a listening ear, a smile and a laugh. Grace reminds us that we are not alone.

And strength. The Holy Spirit is not only grace-full and loving, she is fierce, and her feistiness dwells in us, too. I promise you, you are stronger than you know; you have resources and resilience deep within you that you can draw on to help you—and those around you—survive and even thrive. You are amazing, you are powerful, you are capable of surviving even a global pandemic. You are not so easily defeated or discouraged.  Strength encourages us to dig in our fingernails and hold on—and help others hold on, too.

Here is the prayer, excerpts from “A Prayer for Courage” [from To Bless the Space Between Us, by John O’Donohue]

When you find yourself bereft of any belief in yourself and all you unknowingly leaned on has fallen,

Steady yourself


Know that you are not alone

Invoke the learning of every suffering you have suffered.

Close your eyes.

Gather all the kindling about your heart to create one spark.

That is all you need to nourish the flame.

A new confidence will come alive to urge you toward higher ground where your imagination will learn to engage difficulty as its most rewarding threshold.

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