At a global moment defined largely by division, there’s one thing everyone can surely agree upon: No one wants to ever again experience a health crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Lives have been lost. Economies have buckled. “Normal” is being redefined — only to be redefined again — in real time.
But amid the pain and uncertainty, Latter-day Saints have also learned lessons that will serve them well long after the coronavirus has passed.
The Church News spoke to several members — an Olympian, a General Authority, a recent law school graduate and an international businessman — about personal, pandemic-taught lessons they plan to draw upon in the years and decades to come.
Slowing down the race
Like Latter-day Saints everywhere, the past few months for Olympic marathoner Jared Ward have been defined by disruption.
“I had a pretty rigorous racing schedule lined up for this spring and into the summer and everything was canceled — from the half marathon world championships in Poland to several 10K races around the country,” he said.
Ward also shifted the statistics courses he was teaching at Brigham Young University to an online format. “That’s been much less fulfilling than being in front of a classroom, because I love interacting with students.”
But the pandemic has also prompted Ward to focus on matters of eternity — those lasting things such as his family and the ordinances of the gospel. They teach lessons that are immune to any form of virus.
“COVID-19 has taught me perspective,” he said. “I have a tendency to get so busy with the many things that I put on my schedule. My days become checklists. I love the jobs that I have and the things that I’m involved in. But when a lot of that is stripped away, it’s been interesting to be reminded that my kids and my family and the things that we’re doing in the house are what I love most in life.
“Those are the things that are going to last.”
Ward said his family’s home-based Sabbath day worship is also increasing his appreciation for the sacrament — and the simple joys of participating in sacred ordinances alongside the people he loves most — his wife, Erica, and their four young children.
Partaking of the sacrament at home, rather than inside a meetinghouse, is different, he said. “But the ordinance is the same.”
Quiet time for a young lawyer
BYU’s recent law school graduation was like nothing Brittney Herman could have imagined when she began her final semester in early 2020.
The Texas native anticipated celebrating the successful completion of her three-year legal studies sitting alongside her classmates, her favorite professors and several loved ones. Instead, that milestone event was a virtual event — a scenario played out in online graduation exercises around the world for the so-called “Coronavirus Class of 2020.”
Beyond law school, Herman also holds the title of Miss Zion and had planned to compete in this year’s Miss Utah pageant. That’s on hold until 2021.
But amid the disappointments, the 23-year-old Herman said she has learned lessons that will serve her well in the years and decades to come.
“I’ve had the opportunity to focus on taking quiet time,” she said. “In our world today, there are constant opportunities to find entertainment and constant input into our brains.”
But for Herman, such abundances of external stimuli became less and less interesting as the pandemic continued. Instead, she is focusing on things found internally.
“I have found quiet time to have the Spirit speak to me and grow closer to God,” she said. “That’s something that is going to be a big priority for me going forward — finding that quiet time even after things get back to normal.”
One day the pandemic will pass. But Herman’s life will continue to be hectic and a bit noisy. In the coming weeks, she will begin working on a specialty tax law degree at Georgetown University. Additional pageants also await. But the lessons she has learned in the past few months will remain.
“I will prioritize God first and continue with that quiet time. That’s something that my spirit will continue to need.”
Miracles found amid worries and disruptions
Elder Mark A. Bragg, a General Authority Seventy and a member of the South America South Area presidency, said the ongoing pandemic reminds him that the Lord remembers His children. Nothing stops His work from progressing.
Elder Bragg said the visiting Apostle instructed the area presidency to immediately place smart phones in the hands of every missionary serving in the area. At that moment, a life-altering global pandemic seemed unlikely.
“But we took Elder Uchtdorf’s counsel as a prophetic direction,” said Elder Bragg. “By the time the pandemic really impacted the area, almost all the missionaries had smartphones so they could communicate with their president, their families and the members and the people they were teaching.
“It was a miracle.”
On a personal level, Elder Bragg calls the past few months “a sacred time” to learn more about the plan of salvation “and our place in that plan and what we can do to return to the presence of Heavenly Father and what we can do to help others.”
The ongoing events of the day have been awful, he added, but they have also prompted many to turn to God.
“It has helped me think differently, to ask different questions and to really take advantage of the spiritual nature of this moment,” he said.
In his ecclesiastical duties, Elder Bragg has challenged members and missionaries to examine the miracles that have occurred in recent months in their own lives. “Talk about those miracles with your family and recognize the hand of the Lord in all things.”
Elder Bragg’s own personal studies during the pandemic led him to a quote from Brigham Young — written over a century ago — that will remain with him long after the virus has abated:
“Instead of concluding that the Lord has drawn us into difficulties, and compelled us to do that which is unpleasant to our feelings, and to suffer sacrifice upon sacrifice to no purpose, we shall understand that He has designed all this to prepare us to dwell in His presence, to possess His Spirit, which is right and intelligent, for nothing but purity and holiness can dwell where he is” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:303).
Divine connections immune to any virus
In recent weeks, Gonzalo Sepulveda has marveled at the series of Falcon 9 launchings that symbolize humanity’s reach and unlimited potential. Simultaneously, the world’s earthbound residents are struggling to defend themselves from a ground-level attack known as COVID-19.
For the Chile native and businessman, the overwhelming events of the day are offering him new appreciation for connecting with the Divine. Pandemics, he has learned, last for a season. But one’s relationship with God is eternal.
“All this can offer us a positive vision. … We now have to pour out our soul in prayer to a merciful Lord, immerse ourselves in deep readings of the scriptures and count the blessings that we have as a Church, families and individuals.
“This is a time of learning, warning and exercising our faith. It’s about living spiritual experiences that we have never experienced before.”
A former Area Seventy and Church public affairs specialist, Sepulveda has always been a busy man. But COVID-19 has forced him to slow down a bit. It’s an impulse he plans to follow once the virus has passed.
“I have enjoyed living more slowly but deeply. I look at the mountains as temples, the clouds as messengers of life and the birds as ornaments from heaven. I have had more time to taste my food and not be in a hurry. I have had long conversations with my wife and laughed and played with my grandchildren. I communicate more with friends and serve the brothers and sisters of the Church, in a unique way, through the internet.
“In other words, contemplation and reflection are a great opportunity that this virus gives us, despite all the uncertainty.”