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‘God understands it, too’: Religious leaders on finding faith in hard times

“Hope is our biggest grounding aspect right now."

This time of year can bring up complicated emotions for many people, especially as we navigate the second holiday season of the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge of the omicron variant.

Two religious leaders appeared on the 3rd hour of TODAY Monday to share advice for anyone struggling to find hope or faith right now. 

The Rev. Eva Suarez, associate rector of St. James’ Church in New York City, acknowledged that “in some ways, this COVID Christmas is harder than last year.”

“I think we knew it was going to be difficult last year, and it feels like a surprise now,” she said. “And I think what I’ve been thinking about the most is that God is really coming into our lives for those surprises. ...

“God is coming for all of it, the good, the bad, the scary, the hard,” she continued. “And I think when things are difficult, it throws what is wonderful and joyful into sharper relief, but we also need to remember that if things are not yet all right, then it’s not yet the end.”

Read more stories about faith here.

Rabbi Melissa Buyer-Witman, director of lifelong learning at Temple Israel of the City of New York, also offered advice for connecting to your faith during hard times. She said that while practicing your faith might mean praying in synagogue or in church, faith also has multiple “access points.”

“You can lean in and study with your community. You can find moments of prayer both in sanctuary but also at home,” she said. “And virtually — we have now accepted that virtually we can pray and we can be spiritual. We can also find faith through service to our community and to others. So there’s multiple ways to stay connected and to lean into your faith traditions in this moment.”

Suarez acknowledged that many people are feeling overwhelmed this season.

“I get it. And most importantly, we always tell our parishioners that God understands it, too,” she said.

She also acknowledged the pressure many people feel to be cheerful during the holidays, even if they are not really feeling that way inside.

“I think sometimes people think the purpose of a holiday is to wipe everything away and to distract ourselves, but I think one of the gifts of faith is that we actually get to look at the world with clear eyes,” she said. “And that means that when our hearts are breaking, we can remember that God’s heart is breaking too. And that when we are rejoicing, we are sharing that rejoicing with God and then with a community that holds us up together. So that’s what I say, that it is OK that things are hard. And I think faith encourages us not to be naive, but to be clear-eyed and real.”

While times are undeniably tough for many people, Buyer-Witman also encouraged people to hold on to hope.

“Hope is our biggest grounding aspect right now,” she said. “In fact, the rabbis say that when we meet our Maker at the end of days, we are going to be asked four questions, one of which is, ‘Did you have hope?’ And finding ways to seek connection, to be together, to remember that your tradition and your community is there for you — that is actively remembering that you have the opportunity to bring beauty into your world. It’s just around the bend, we just have to get there.”