One of the recurring themes in my conversations with my therapist is grief and the grieving process.
An important shift in my way of thinking and feeling has been to acknowledge grief is the name of the experience when death comes, not only to people in my life, but to hopes, dreams, expectations and even to my “normal.”
Whether you believe in 5 stages or 7 stages, grief is a process and very late in life I’ve come to recognize all the little deaths that have provoked seasons of grief in my life – as well as the traumatic deaths that I was already aware of. If you wanted to label 7 stages of grief for the sake of giving name to some of the feelings and experiences that we go through, you might use this list:
Shock and denial.
Pain and guilt.
Anger and bargaining.
The upward turn.
Reconstruction and working through.
Acceptance and hope.
I sank into the grip of a strong depression during the pandemic before I knew I had to get in to see a therapist. Finding a therapist is a story for another time, an adventure that was probably not best taken on during a depression. Thankfully I landed with a very good therapist who has been immensely helpful for me. Early on he said that what I was describing I was feeling sounded like grief and while that might have been obvious to everyone else in the world, I had missed it. He didn’t talk me into it or convince me of it, naming it was all that was needed and it was a “ta-da!” moment of revelation.
When the pandemic started, I naively thought that we would all hunker down for 3 weeks and then we would get back to normal, virus eradicated. Then I realized that while some localities in the world took this approach, worldwide it would not be done so easily and in my own locality the direction to “hunker down” sounded like “burn the Constitution and hate Jesus!” I was stunned by the hoarding of toilet paper and cleaning products – not so much by those who grabbed more than they needed out of fear but by the vast number of people who hoarded essentials as an opportunity to make money off the misery and need of others. I was stunned by the politicization of the pandemic response. I had failed to see how deeply the divide had been drawn in this country. What I had thought was a negotiable difference in ideology turned out to be, for many I know (or knew), the contrast between light and dark and good and evil. And while I thought my Christian friends would rally around “the least of these” and be moved by the compassion of Christ to deny ourselves and inconvenience ourselves for the safety and well-being of others, I had quite a different experience of the Church. “Mask” and “Vaccine” became the new shibboleths of fidelity to Christ. Virtual meetings for the well-being of our neighbors were “faithlessness” and “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” in direct disobedience to Jesus.
And the political division just went wider and deeper and people who I feel really love Jesus were on the side of the divide I wasn’t on and looked, to me, to be willing to turn a blind eye to evil on their side (as I am sure I looked to do from where I was from them) and the relationships that I thought were secure, the values of the Church I love and the Way of Jesus that I felt was clear and connected me with so many beautiful people – all of a sudden didn’t.
Just as the pandemic was becoming a thing, I went on a Sankofa journey with our local church. We walked through the hanging graveyard of the lynching museum and read the names and numbers of black and brown bodies who had been hung on trees like Jesus, their futures stolen, because a white person didn’t like the way they looked at them or didn’t look at them. We walked among the hanging garden of the murdered and felt the injustice in our souls. And then over the last year I listened to Christian leaders arguing and lying about the meaning of Critical Race Theory and pushing for our educational system to deny the reality of what white people as a group have done to and against black people as a group. And I can only grieve the vitriol, the accusations, the false claims of my colleagues – even those of color – who deny the truth that the north American church is still practicing racism. We talk about the black person we’ve given a seat at the table like I’ve heard white people say, “but I’ve got a black friend, so I can’t be racist.”
I thought I knew the Gospel. I find myself grieving over what “gospel” means to me and what it seems to have come to mean to the people in charge of the narrative.
I’m not sure how to be a neighbor anymore.
I’m not sure how to do my job as a pastor anymore.
I’m not sure what my people value anymore.
I’m not sure what it means to be a good citizen anymore.
I’m not sure what the word “facts” and “truth” and “integrity” mean anymore.
I’ve been part of a network of churches or a denomination (it’s hard to say what the difference is) for many years now. It’s been a big part of my identity, to be honest. For my wife and I, finding this network was like finding the home you always looked for but didn’t know where it was.
But over the couple years of this pandemic, we’ve entered into a re-organization process that I’ve been extremely uncomfortable with. The narrative is that my discomfort is because I’m stuck in the past and more committed to what God WAS doing than what God is going to do next. But if you know me, if you’ve read me, you’ll understand that I love reformation. I’m really big on becoming more like Jesus and leaving things behind. You also may have picked up on, via this blog, how much I think our network/denomination needs change at some very fundamental levels. I’m not afraid of or against change. It’s simply that I believe the way the kingdom comes is the kingdom that’s coming. And that process has troubled me. Millenials using the ways of modernity keeps us firmly planted in modernity, not in post-modernity.
It’s pretty simple.
I say all of that, not to rehash my issues with my network but to acknowledge that his has been one more aspect where I’ve been in grief. I feel like I have lost my family. I feel like a dream has died rather than evolved or matured or developed into something better. For me it’s like replacing Darren Stevens on Bewitched or Vivian Banks of Fresh Prince. Some of us won’t be bothered and some of us, people like me, will. I don’t need anyone to grieve this with me but I have needed to name this pain as the grief it is so that I can begin to move through this process to acceptance and recovery – no matter how long that journey takes.
I’ve been grieving. Maybe you have too. Sorrows shared is a good thing and I’m available if you want someone to sit shiva with you as we grieve together what was and what won’t be and what could have been.
I’m not through my grief yet but knowing what to name this has opened up the door to a future I was starting to believe could not exist. And for that, today, I’m grateful.
Whatever you are going through, whatever pains and emotional weights you are carrying, I encourage you to find a good therapist who can walk with you on a journey of discovery and healing. There can be better days ahead.