In the last year, we have endured physical, mental, economical, personal, and professional hardships. We’ve navigated “all the church things” over Zoom; weddings, funerals, worship, baptisms, staff meetings, and youth groups. That’s been hard.
In some cases, we’ve helped our community mourn death without funerals, celebrate weddings without receptions, and worship without in-person communion.
We’ve poured hours and dollars into COVID-19 safety measures and guidelines. We’ve check in on those who work in hospitals, prepare for hurricanes, and evacuate high risk fire zones. All challenging and devastating. This doesn’t even touch our own personal hardships, the dynamics of this year's election, or the calls for justice and reform echoing around the world.
I remember when George Floyd was murdered. I watched prayerfully night after night as the people and the communities I love protested and demanded change. I rallied and marched in the streets of my own city. I watched and marched because it mattered to them, and it mattered to me. I wept for days for Breonna Taylor, her family, her community and for Black women all around the country. I will forever be changed by the events of 2020, and I suspect the same is true for you.
Of all the things that continue to chisel at my spirit, the most difficult thing is carrying on with work, school, and social life as if nothing is different.
There is an unspoken expectation from some that we church leaders sit at our desks, type up our good morning emails, and dream about ministry as if there was no virus at all, as if our friends hadn’t been tear gassed the night before, as if my family and friends weren’t bunkered down in anticipation of a hurricane or evacuating their homes to escape encroaching fires. Do pastors and church workers compartmentalize in order to get our work done? Absolutely, we do it all the time. But where is the humanity in that? I believe we need more compassion, not less.
Here’s my plea. Say more not less. When something is hard, say it. When your spirit is disappointed, say it. When you are concerned, when you are mourning, and when you are hurt, say it. We do not need the added burden of pretending things aren’t hard. There is freedom to be had in being honest with one another in this way. Let’s make space to say more about how we’re doing and not less.
Each and every one of us walks into our work space understanding the importance of honesty and authenticity within our Christian community. Yet, when someone asks how we’re doing we enter the false narrative of “I’m good.” I think we ought to squash this falsehood and openly talk about the hardships of this year.
In making a commitment to be more open about our well-being, we also need to reevaluate what’s considered professional or not. As church leaders, sharing about our mental or emotional health has often been deemed unprofessional. Previously we’ve been advised to refrain from sharing “too” much or to not share at all. Boundaries are important. I won’t disagree with that.
But I would argue that our problem isn’t that we share too much. Our problem is that we don’t share truthfully.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we read about the moment before Jesus is betrayed and arrested. Jesus has shared his last meal with the disciples. He knows what’s coming next. Jesus goes off to pray. Before doing so, he says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” (Matthew 26:38).
Jesus admits to the disciples that he is overwhelmed with sorrow.
He then kneels down to pray and says “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appears to Jesus and strengthens him. And being in anguish, he prays more earnestly, his sweat like drops of blood falling to the ground (Luke 22:42-44).
Jesus displays something here that we often forget. God has a purpose for us. We can trust in a God that works for the goodness of all. We can have faith in a God who loves us abundantly. We can believe in heaven. We can believe in these promises and, at the same time, not be okay with the way things are right now. We can hold sorrow and hope all at once. We can have this moment too, where we are earnest with God and others about our struggles; yet not our will, but God’s be done.
We trust in the faithfulness of God and express our concerns for our colleagues in Colorado, California, and Louisiana. We have hope in what God has promised us while striving for change in this moment.
I believe that our willingness to hold space for the kind of honesty I’m talking about will encourage us to be more compassionate with one another.
It will encourage us to be more forgiving, to slow down, and to take on less. It will disrupt the narrative that “everything is okay.” It will grow us and stretch us as we wrestle with each other's realities. Right now, ignorance is not bliss, it’s negligence. We don’t want to do more damage, we want to facilitate healing and growth in our communities. That community includes you and your colleagues.
For what it’s worth, I give you permission to be honest about how you’re doing. I also push you to make more space in your day to find out how your colleagues are doing. When you ask someone how things are going, don’t do it in passing. Make sure you have the time for more than “things are good.” When someone asks you how you are, try sharing your realities in more than one sentence. I urge you to say more, not less. Let the truth be forthcoming and let honesty permeate your community. Let these things, guided by the Spirit, bring you healing and wholeness. Amen.
Jess Gulseth is a seminarian at Luther Seminary in St. Paul seeking ordination in the ELCA. Jess is a Director of Children & Family ministry in the Des Moines, IA area.
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