2020 Brought Trials for This Patient and Doctor. But Faith and Love Still Grew.


New research defines spiritual fortitude: a quality that can help us face this year’s trauma.

When Julia Wattacheril, a transplant hepatologist, was redeployed to the ICU triage at her hospital in New York City this spring, she faced “pure disaster management at peak.” In the first 26 minutes of her first shift, she “had three rapid responses (acutely unstable patients before a cardiac arrest), two arrests, and one death.”

“The hardships are many,” Wattacheril says. Some of the difficulties health care providers face include “acute exacerbations of what we experience daily: chaotic work environments, being underresourced, dealing with medical consequences of social injustice,” and others.

But the most painful hardships, says Wattacheril, came from lack of human connection, as medical professionals walked down “eerily silent hallways” where it was “hard to tell who was whom, given required personal protective equipment (PPE),” she said. “We had no time to think, no time to learn, no time to prepare, no time to discuss.”

As a Christian bearing witness to ongoing suffering in the hospital, Wattacheril finds that her faith is her “bedrock.” “Through anchoring Scriptures, a rich prayer life, a community of friends struggling together, and lots of meaningful music, I have a means toward understanding suffering as a path towards greater compassion and empathy.”

Wattacheril’s story reflects a common question: In a world turned upside down by COVID-19, how does our faith sustain us, even when suffering continues?

The New Testament talks repeatedly about the idea of enduring in the face of suffering (Gal. 6:9; Rom. 5:3–4; 2 Cor. 4:16–18). Endurance could also be called “spiritual fortitude,” …

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