• Elizabeth Bernhardt

Faith + Work :: Anna Shafer, Part 2

Below, we continue listening in on Elizabeth's conversation with her cousin, Anna Shafer, exploring the intersection of Faith + Work, as a healthcare worker in the midst of a global pandemic. To read the first part of their conversation, check out this post.

EB: You’ve been on my mind a lot with COVID. Has it been a battle or not been a battle?

AS: It’s definitely been a battle. I had anxiety after [my youngest] was born, and it was manageable until COVID hit. And then probably the second week of March--yeah, that’s when everything started shutting down here--I really started spinning up, and the anxiety got to be a lot and I actually went on an antidepressant because between postpartum hormones and you know, a global pandemic, I was just having a really hard time coping.

EB: And you’re an essential worker, right?

AS: Yeah, and amazingly, so is my husband! [He worked at a brewery at the time of this interview.] We are one of the few couples I know who have still been going into our normal jobs. And then it became obvious that the epicenter was over in New York and Connecticut and I still have a lot of friends there, so there were prayers with that. But as we surged here, it’s just become a whole different level. We assume that everyone is positive. I’m wearing ski goggles and a respirator and a mask over the respirator and a plastic gown and gloves every time I go into a room and the emergency room. So, operating in the OR is just different.

I think my prayers have become a lot more [long pause] . . . I read Psalm 119 the other day and the psalmist spends a lot of time talking about how he meditates on God’s laws and spends his time--Psalm 119:114 is, “You are my hiding place and my shield. I hope in your word.” And that psalm has just become like a touch point for me, because I can’t plan anything. I can’t have a shadow of planning anything. Every time I go to work, my exposure levels are pretty high. So, it’s having to remind myself that my hope is in the Word of Christ and not what I can or cannot control. So that’s one aspect of it.

The other aspect is with treating everyone in love: I have some very distinct opinions on social distancing and masking and things like that. And those opinions aren’t shared. But the bigger thing is that, as a Christian, I’m called to love everyone, regardless of how they socially distance or mask, and this isn’t just at work, this is everywhere. So I keep praying that God would just give me a soft heart, that he would give me his heart to speak the truth when it’s needed, but just to love people well.

EB: So, if you were face to face with someone who didn’t want to mask, didn’t want to stay home, what would you want them to see about you that they’re missing?

AS: What I would want them to see is that the mask isn’t for me. Masking is for you. I think, as a Christian, I think masking is a really basic way of loving your neighbor. Because, let’s say I get COVID. I’m pretty low-risk. However, what we’re finding is that all these people that are so low-risk transmit it really easily because they don’t know they’re sick or they think it’s something small. But you’re still busy shedding virus everywhere. So, who am I then getting sick because I don’t know it? I’m not intentionally getting anyone sick, but I think that’s the bigger thing. For me, it’s about, how do I best love my neighbor? How do I best serve them? And as a healthcare worker it’s, how do I best serve my colleagues?

The medical community has been on hyperdrive since March. And now, in Texas, we’ve increased that level and I don’t know when this is gonna slow down. Because either we get a vaccine or herd immunity. And herd immunity is terrifying because that means that, like, sixty percent of the population needs to get it and a vaccine is a ways away, even if it’s fast.

So, that’s what I’d want people to know, and obviously that’s not a short answer or a short conversation, but I think that’s the bigger thing. I can’t force anyone to do anything, obviously. But part of it for me is making sure that, if I have a relationship with people, that they’re getting the facts that they need from a reliable source. It’s hard right now because everyone is tired and wants to be with people. I haven’t seen my friends here except socially distanced on a driveway two or three times, maybe, after the kids went to bed. Since March. I miss my people. And I get that that’s hard. And we were made for relationship and everything, but this is just a different time.

EB: How do you see God meeting you in the work that you’re doing and what it’s requiring of you as a medical professional, dealing with high stress since March? How do you see God stepping into that?

AS: I see his goodness and grace in little ways. The team I work with--we have a very high functioning team and the hospital has just really come together to care for all of our patients in the ways that we can. I see him working there. I also just see him working in the fact that I have--I’ve jokingly said it but it’s really true: “If I didn’t have Jesus right now, this would be really hopeless, right?” But I know that God is on his throne and that God is working and that he is good. I know that he is good. Regardless of what is going on, he is good.

And then the biggest thing is the Lutheran doctrine of vocation, which is that God has wired Elizabeth for acting and for connection with people and caring well for people and feeling what people feel so that she can show them [his] love. So [he’s] gonna use her in those aspects. Anna has been wired with a desire to care for people but with a passion for medicine, so [he’s] gonna use her in that way. It is the body of Christ, just in a doctrine format.

The other one is from the book In the Likeness of God by a physician named Paul Brand who worked with lepers in India and then he came and worked at a lab in Louisiana for a long time and one of my profs at Yale trained under him, and I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. But he talks about the human body and the body of Christ.

But the thing is, my calling to my vocation hasn’t wavered through all of this, even in the midst of COVID and the increased challenges of going to work in a time of a global pandemic when I’m going to care for people. I know that that’s where God has called me. And I will say I’ve had to be very deliberate about making sure I’m spending time with God because otherwise, it’s very easy for Satan to use anxiety against me.

I have zero doubt in my mind that Satan is attacking Christians right now because we have such a time to show people the love of Christ in this time of uncertainty and unknown and panic and fear. Like the weight that’s been put on pastors and ministry staff of trying to figure out, how do we do ministry in a time like this. [Anna is a pastor’s daughter.] And the thing is, God is working and God is moving and I think that Satan is panicked. That’s “the Anna” [coming out].

EB: No, it’s not “the Anna.” I was about to piggyback off of you. I feel strangely encouraged in this season. So much of the cultural commentary leading up to this has been about looking past our prosperity, stripping off all these masks that we’re wearing, and remembering God. For me, maybe just because I’m an artist, I’m looking at the pandemic and how clear life and death are to everybody right now and how much has been stripped away, and I go, “Finally, this haze has been lifted and we can see what matters and have a chance to actually look at eternal things because we don’t have anywhere else to look.”

AS: Yeah, I agree. I agree. One of the prayers that I started saying more is just for the kingdom of God to come. First of all, I’ve prayed for the return of Christ more than I have ever. Not in a fatalistic way, but, “Gosh this world is broken. When you’re ready, God, come and redeem it.”

About three weeks before lockdown happened, I went on a women’s retreat, and we spent time in contemplative prayer, and I had my daughter with me, who was at the time like four months old. I’m sitting outside and she was actually sleeping and I thought of this phrase that my parents learned a couple years ago: “If you look for the birds, you see the birds.” And this flock of birds flew overhead. And it’s the same with the Kingdom of God: if you look for the Kingdom, you see the Kingdom.

A special "thank you" to Anna Shafer for sharing her story of "Faith + Work" with us.

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