I sat for hours trying to figure out the best thing to write in these long days of social distancing. I considered writing “Five Steps to Mental Health and Wellness” or “Three Questions to Ask Before Returning to In-Person Church Services.” Another possibility that fits my life stage perfectly would have been “How to Work from Home While Your Children Climb on Top of You.”
But I didn’t write any of those. First, I’m sure that someone already has, and a quick Google search will give you many resources. However, the real reason is mostly because I don’t feel like I’m doing any of those things all that well. The truth is, the last three and a half months have been all consuming, and I struggle with the monotony of the days and the never-ending challenges that they seem to present me with. These days are hard.
Having small children feels especially difficult without a village. I know that parenting small children is always a challenge, but suddenly there is nowhere to take them. They can’t visit grandparents, aunts, or uncles. We can’t hire a babysitter for a couple hours away.
Parenting children isn’t the only challenge, though, I also am a bivocational pastor, which means I am still pastoring while also working on other projects. I’m pastoring a people who are anxious, tired, and struggling with their own issues. Our single people are struggling with isolation. Parents are struggling with how to work and parent children. We have individuals who are suddenly unemployed and wondering how they’re going to make ends meet. There are healthcare workers exhausted from long, hard days caring for others in ways they never anticipated. And there is fear and anxiety for the health of aging parents. Sunday comes every week, and my congregation is longing in ways they haven’t before, for a word of comfort and hope. A word that inspires them to do the good work of the kingdom of God, even in these difficult days. They are looking for meaningful ways to connect with one another and the God who loves them.
After long days of parenting, I have to somehow figure out how to muster the energy needed to write sermons, edit curriculum, and reach out to my congregation, while simultaneously staring down a pile of unfolded laundry, a sink full of dishes, and a floor scattered with toys.
Maybe the worst part is that the feeling I feel most presently during these days is guilt. Guilt that I am not spending as much meaningful time with my children as I should. Guilt that I’m not getting as much work done as I should. Guilt that I didn’t exercise or start a new hobby. Guilt that I want a few minutes to myself. Guilt that the house is a mess all the time. Guilt that I feel overwhelmed by my job when so many others have lost theirs. It is overwhelming.
While I don’t have a three-step plan to help with these hard feelings, I do think that acknowledging and sharing them is important because worse than being physically isolated is feeling as though we are alone in our emotions and mental state. So, to you who feel guilty and weary, you are not alone.
It wasn’t a message for those already filled with joy; it was a reminder for those suffering great loss. It was a message for a people who were filled with survivor’s guilt, grief, pain, and struggle.
I’ve been reminding myself daily that God’s mercies are new each day. I often forget that this seemingly cliché refrain comes from Lamentations 3. It seems like a jubilant reminder, but it was a reminder in the midst of great loss—while the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, after Jerusalem had been left a burning heap of rubble. It wasn’t a message for those already filled with joy; it was a reminder for those suffering great loss. It was a message for a people who were filled with survivor’s guilt, grief, pain, and struggle. It was for those who were wondering if there would ever be a return to some kind of normal life, where they could live and worship without anxiety, fear, guilt, or grief. It was a reminder that God was still present with them even in the midst of the worst of times.
God is with us with new mercies even now because God is still with us even in the worst of times. God is faithful, steady, and merciful. We don’t need to have all the answers or solve all the problems. Instead, we can cry out laments of guilt, grief, and struggle, and yet we can still trust that God is with us even now. We are not alone.