What a year 2020 was. And 2021 isn’t looking a whole lot better. It’s been a shit show, and it appears the shit show isn’t stopping anytime soon. In the midst of that, I have been the recipient of important lessons and incredible gestures of kindness, love and support. I thought I’d share some highlights, if you’re interested. And I would love to hear what has been helpful for you.
Lately I haven’t felt much energy to write. (Lately, as in the last four years.) Some of that was because I felt my writing didn’t matter much and so I found myself feeling less and less inspired. My writing may not be my next budding profession, but I recently learned of someone who reads what I write and she encouraged me to keep it up. Her words brought tears to my eyes as she thoughtfully articulated what my writing meant to her. I tear up now as I think about her text. Two lessons for me:
- Do not underestimate the impact of your actions on another, positively or negatively. Remember that with your words and deeds.
- When someone does something that inspires or encourages you, say something. That affirmation might be exactly what he/she needs to keep it up.
These last four years have continually and painfully revealed our differences. We have felt them in this country on a collective scale. But we have also felt them in very personal ways, within friendships and our own families. Some differences I’ve encountered: the importance of character; political solutions; religious priorities; how we define “Love they neighbor”; who we see as the marginalized; what we define as true; which sources are reliable and maybe more importantly, which ones are unreliable… These differences have robbed joy, hope, community, connectedness. I know that these differences didn’t just appear, but they seem to be deepening. What continually pulls me through the awfulness and renews some semblance of hope is this:
- Remember the humanity of the other. When I lose sight of your humanity, I lose a bit of my humanity in the process. When I remember your humanity, no matter how different you are from me, there is common ground to be found. And it is there that we might be able to build something, if you are also willing.
Convictions matter. What you believe should drive who you are and the legacy you build. But convictions have been at the heart of much of what we have seen in our divisions. And our divisions seem to be becoming increasingly toxic. Shouldn’t our convictions be making this world a better place, not worse? As I consider the work I have done and continue to do, I can see how I have contributed helpfully. But I can also see, when I take the time to be honest with myself, how I have contributed to the toxicity as well. There have been many times, exhausted or frustrated or a combination of the two, that I have deferred to behavior that ended dialogue rather than contributed to it. I can also see examples of my own arrogance and self-righteousness. Not an enjoyable picture, but an important one to see and examine. My next lesson:
- Convictions have positive impacts and have negative impacts as well. A positive is that they provide clarity of meaning and purpose. A negative is that they create blindspots. We must continually seek to understand how we are contributing positively, and how we are part of the problem. If you can’t see both, you are more likely contributing negatively than positively.
My goal was to end 2020 with 11 days off AND two weeks of accumulated vacation time as a cushion moving forward. That cushion would provide me with a safety net if something unexpected happened. In a year of quarantine, the goal felt particularly important. In order to reach my goal, I went almost a year and a half without taking one full week off. I would take long weekends here and there, but that’s it. July 2019 was my last full week away from work. For those who don’t know, I work as a chaplain at a hospital that primarily cares for pregnant women and newborns. Note that they don’t call the chaplain for cases that go well. The grief I regularly companion others in is deep and difficult. Self-care, including time away, is essential to doing my work well and staying in my role longterm.
By September of 2020, I was on course for achieving but seriously doubting my goal. I stayed the course while finding ways to practice self-care, though noticeably limping along as I did so. Part of what prevented me from changing my plans was the fact that many of my colleagues also seemed to be limping along. It didn’t feel fair to take more time off because they needed it as much if not more than me. So I kept my eyes on the prize and I finally reached my vacation. I finished 2020 with 11 days off IN A ROW and more than two weeks in my bank of vacation hours accumulated.
The day I returned, I was welcomed with a heavy and full caseload. I noticed I not only had energy for the needs of that day, I finished the day tired, but not depleted. My time off had accomplished what I had hoped. I was not only rested, but my reserves had been refilled. Lesson learned:
- Self-care is essential to being one’s best self. Take time in small ways and big ways to care for oneself. Self-care is about knowing oneself, tending to oneself, healing and restoring oneself.
None of these lessons were new, though they have taken on new meaning. And they proved to be helpful in navigating these last few years. Each one has also helped make space to see and experience God in all of this, something that has been downright challenging these last four years. Too often the focus on faith has been about victory or blessing. I gave that up when I began to take seriously what Jesus had to say in the Gospels. But to learn what it means to love God with all of my being, to set aside what I want, to love especially when I don’t want to, to care for the marginalized – the lessons of faith, the point of faith – have been much richer in the darkness.
My hope in recounting what has helped thus far is that it might inspire you to explore what has been helpful for you. With how 2021 has started, I’m guessing we’re going to need all the help we can get. In spite of what the year brings, I hope that we can all finish 2021 saying:
- I did my best.
- I learned some things.
- I honored and protected the dignity of others.
Feel free to let me know how I did. Godspeed.