There’s always a silver lining — look for it. People are coming together in ways we haven’t seen before to combat this virus. We need to take comfort in knowing we’re all going through this, because it’s in togetherness that we’ll emerge better and stronger than before.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Commissioner David Hudson.
Commissioner David Hudson has been an officer in The Salvation Army for 45 years. Today, he leads the country’s largest social services provider as National Commander, overseeing 7,600 centers of operation across the country that help nearly 23 million Americans annually to overcome poverty, addiction, and economic hardships. Commissioner Hudson holds a unique position on remaining a beacon of hope and healing during times of great distress like COVID-19 thanks to his 14 years of experience as a corps officer (pastor).
Thank you for joining us David! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I grew up in a highly dysfunctional home. My father was what I would call a “functioning alcoholic” — his drinking prompted abusive behavior toward my mother and me for many years. This had a significant effect on us. My mother, an emotionally battered woman, had a hard time showing her feelings, which continued even after my father left us.
We moved a few times once my father was out of the picture, landing in Anchorage, Alaska, where my mom reunited with an old boyfriend. Together, we moved to Portland, Oregon, before things took a turn for the worst. Sadly, my stepdad took his own life. Although the circumstances were unfortunate, I was blessed to be united with my aunt, whom I lived with the majority of the time after my stepdad’s passing.
My aunt became a constant in my life. For the first time I could remember, I felt love — she expressed love like I had never known. At the time, my aunt was a retired Salvation Army officer, and together we’d attend the local Salvation Army’s services. My mother and I would attend together off and on as well, but transportation was an issue. I remember my mom calling around to the local corps to see if they offered rides. I’ll never forget the officer who was kind enough to do this for us, which eventually became a weekly occurrence. Every Sunday, this officer would make sure we got to The Salvation Army, and it was this type of kindness that stuck with me.
My aunt and that local Salvation Army officer became the most significant people in my life, both being the first to invest in me and show me the love I didn’t have as a child. I knew God called on them to help me, and I wanted to be just like them.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership has had a significant impact on me. Every January, I reread this book (in one day) because it reinforces my core belief that there is incredible power in believing in people. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, professor, and writer and, in his later years, felt that God called him in a new direction. He spent his last years in Canada serving as a chaplain for the mentally challenged.
While this book highlights the importance of community, it also reinforces the principle that people will rise to the level of another’s belief in them. It reminds me that if I really believe in someone, they will do their absolute best to reach my level of belief in them, just as I did with my aunt, who always told me to be my best self as I was growing up. This principle has been very important throughout my life and has impacted so many the way it did for me.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, can you help our readers to see the “light at the end of the tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During This Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1. People tend to believe our current reality is forever, but it seldom is. After 9/11, no one thought our life would return to normal, but it did. I think back to the time when we could go through airport security with a water bottle, and although we may not be able to do that now, we rarely think about it. Why? Because it has become our new normal. The same thing will happen this time, and we need to remember that.
2. There have been other pandemics in our history. The biggest difference today is having constant access to the news. In 1918, the Spanish flu infected millions of people in the midst of World War I. It was an uncertain time just like we’re all facing now. Back then, no one thought they had a chance of survival, but they did. They did survive. And we will survive this too.
3. There’s always a silver lining — look for it. People are coming together in ways we haven’t seen before to combat this virus. We need to take comfort in knowing we’re all going through this, because it’s in togetherness that we’ll emerge better and stronger than before.
4. Have you ever run a marathon? You get to the last mile and start doing everything you’re not supposed to. You think about your fatigue and how you want to stop, all while forgetting about the first 25.2 miles you ran. You forget about the progress you’ve made and instead focus on the dreaded distance you still have to go. I think this applies to our current situation, because we often forget how far we’ve come. A month ago, we did not have as many COVID-19 tests as we do now. These tests are giving us results in minutes instead of days like it previously took. We’re also moving faster to find a vaccine than at any other time in history. These are all things we should remind ourselves of and think about how much progress has already been made instead of how much further we have to go.
5. Imagine this scenario: You’re arrested and sent to jail. At your sentencing, the judge says, “I’m sentencing you to jail,” giving you no time frame on how long you’ll be in there. Don’t you think that would be worse than being told you have five years to serve? At least you could count down the days until you’re free. The unknown, like what we’re dealing with now, is hard to process. If we had a time frame for how long the pandemic will last, we could at least count down the days until it is over. Although we don’t have a specific time frame right now, the government has put plans in place to reopen businesses and lift shelter-in-place orders when it’s safe. We are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Lean into that.
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
1. First and foremost, reach out to people, because good intentions aren’t enough. We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. When we see that people are experiencing anxiety, we have to act, not just intend to.
2. Learn how people want to be encouraged, because not everyone is the same. Some like to be encouraged through a phone call or video chat, and it’s our job to find out what that person prefers. Giving encouragement is about how others want to receive it, not how we like to give it. Just because it may remove your anxiety doesn’t mean it’ll remove theirs.
3. Purposely do acts of kindness. Just the other day, my wife bumped into our neighbors, who had returned from the store with a case of toilet paper in tow. In the midst of their conversation, they asked my wife if we had everything we needed. She briefly mentioned some items that were running low, and almost instantly, our neighbors gave us several rolls of the toilet paper they had just bought for themselves. While we were touched by this, it wasn’t the action of giving us those items that stuck with us — it was the act of kindness they showed even though we aren’t too familiar with each other.
4. When we feel anxious, it’s often because we’re focusing on ourselves. One of the best ways to overcome that feeling is to shift your inward focus outward. Start focusing on other people, and encourage others to get involved.
5. Above all else, we need to remember that we will get through this and things will get better.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
For me, physical activity is a great way to curb anxiety. COVID-19 has surely freed up time for us to focus on that. I’ve been walking every day, sometimes up to five miles, and I really look forward to this time. It’s cleansing. I usually listen to a fictional book while I walk to take my mind off what’s going on around us.
I think the sooner we accept the things we cannot control, the sooner we can stop feeling anxious. I tell myself that I can’t create a vaccine, I can’t help the airplanes fly — there are a lot of things I can’t do, but there is also a lot I can do. We need to focus on the things we can control.
Be active and present, or volunteer in your community if you can. We become part of the solution when we get involved. If that isn’t an option, call your friends and family to build a network of support to help you during times of increased anxiety.
Do things that help you relax, especially before bedtime. Studies show that laughter creates “happy hormones” that lower blood pressure and stress and make us feel good. I avoid watching or reading negative news before I go to bed. Instead, I watch something funny or uplifting. We can control what we see and hear, so choose something positive to boost your mood.
Talk to someone. If you’re feeling anxious, let people know, and tell them how they can help you. Choose not to live in an anxious state, and let people know how you’re feeling. The Salvation Army is running a national hotline for people who may need a compassionate ear or help. Staffed by our officers, who are pastors, we’re here to listen at 844–458-HOPE (4673).
Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My family and I always say, “I love you more.” It reinforces that someone loves you just as much as you love them. More recently, though, this has turned into, “I live you,” which I use just as much. This saying happened accidentally, as one day I was texting one of my daughters and typed, “I love you,” which was autocorrected to, “I live you.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized how true this saying is. If I truly do love someone, I live for them. My purpose in life is for them. I truly believe my life isn’t my own. I live for my family and everyone else I’ve chosen to invite into my life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Every day that I’ve been going on long walks, I try to wave and smile at the people I see. Without exception, they always return the smile, even in their face masks. If I had to start movement, I think it would be to pay the smile forward — because anytime this happens, for a brief moment, we all feel better.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can follow me a few different ways. Keep up with The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 response efforts at salvationarmyusa.org/usn/covid19.
Twitter: @Natlcommander or @SalvationArmyUS
Facebook: “Like” The Salvation Army USA at facebook.com/SalvationArmyUSA