“How are you doing? No, really, how are you?” Maybe you’ve heard these words (or even uttered them yourself) in a phone call or Zoom Happy Hour with your closest friends over the past three months. With the upheaval of the pandemic, protests, police, and presidential politics, there is one thing everyone can agree on and that is pretty much no one is actually “fine.”
Those of you who have had conversations with me (or read any of my articles here) know that I’ve been pretty open about the struggles I’ve faced the past few months, especially around the reinvention of church, the Mundelein LUNCH program, all while parenting and home schooling our ever-present 8 and 10 year olds. In fact, I’m a little concerned that I have probably been too open about my struggles.
On one hand, some people may find it comforting to know that usually composed, capable, and confident people are also struggling to cope with the many new and different challenges that have come our way. On the other hand (and this is where my concern comes in), knowing that your pastor is struggling with a myriad of issues could keep one who is also struggling with their own issues from reaching out to them for help. They might worry about ‘adding something else to the pastor’s full plate.’ Or, not wanting to be ‘a bother,’ they might try to minimize their concern and say ‘my situation really isn’t that bad’ and convince themselves and others that they are ‘fine’ because we’ve been conditioned to present that face to the world.
Being unable to gather has taught me a couple of things over the past few months. First, that in ‘normal’ church life, I get to observe how most of you are doing on a Sunday morning by virtue of just being able to look at you. I can see if one might have a hard time making their way into the building. I can see another wears the face of someone who is sad or frustrated or just not themselves, and I can spend a couple minutes with them in conversation and assess my pastoral role. Now to do roughly the same requires a phone call with each person where I can’t see if the words ‘doing fine’ match with what I observe. Second, I’ve learned that the one thing that has helped me get through the worst of the fear and anxiety and break through to healing is when I can be of help to others, including just listening to them vent their feelings.
In our church covenant, we promise “to watch over one another in Christian love, to love each other come what may and to remember each other in prayer and concern, to nurture and support each other in times of difficulty and to rejoice together in times of joy.” While physical distancing is right and necessary during these times and many of us are scrambling to keep up with the loads we are carrying, it doesn’t release any of us from these obligations. God has called us together as a community so that we will be here for one another and share our blessings and our burdens.
I’m concerned about the mental health of the congregation because I know that my own has been under strain. If you ever come to a realization that you aren’t really ‘fine,’ but are struggling, I beg you: please reach out to me and let me listen. You can call the church office, text or call my mobile phone, message me on Facebook, or send an email. I have no other clues to work with. I’ll set up an appointment with you for a phone call or video chat if you prefer. If you need more help than I am reasonably able to provide, I will help you find it. If you don’t want to talk to me, reach out to a trusted friend in the congregation. These are tough times, but God gave us each other as life preservers. Don’t be too proud to grab on to the lifeline.