April 18, 2020 • Life for Leaders
“[Jesus] took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.”
“WHAT on earth is going on with you? Why did you slam that door?” I impatiently storm into my son’s room to find him weeping. Between hot tears, mumbling and frustrated explanations, I cannot believe I am having a conversation about video games not working while I attempt to work in this chaos of a quarantine life.
“I can’t FIX it.” My proverbial mother-of-the-year answer: “Well, that’s not a reason to cry and slam the door. WHAT can’t you fix? Let me help you.” With an eye roll for good measure he responds, “It won’t save my work, I’ve advanced to Level 6 but it won’t save my work so it’s making me start at Level 2. I’ve tried resetting and restarting since last night. I worked so hard, it’s not fair. I don’t want to start all over again.” More tears and face in pillow, and this mother-rookie-teacher-work-from-shelter-in-home just doesn’t seem to know where the magic button is hidden to reset the day.
I pause to listen to my own grief as his tears invite me to do so. My heart sinks. Here we are a few days after Resurrection Sunday, yet we are stuck in a cruel cycle somewhere between the Garden of Gethsemane and Good Friday. Just a few hours before a friend had texted me that he had lost his job due to the effects of the coronavirus at his institution. He isn’t the only one who has done so lately. It’s a door-slamming, tear-inducing, frustrated-fear type of situation. It is no longer a distant news clip; numerous losses and detrimental socio-economic implications have hit our homes and workplaces, as well as our friends and family in communities near and far. My son’s I can’t fix it and I don’t want to start all over again echoes in our souls as leaders holding our lives and the lives of those around us. It’s too much, God, and I can’t fix it. It’s not fair that people are having to start all over again, they’ve worked so hard. Loss of jobs, health, support systems, food and rent security, contact with family and friends, freedom—to say the least.
As a leader, I must acknowledge my human limitations and release any subtle grasp for control in this crisis. Words have often failed me in the last four weeks. The first thing I’ve had to learn to do as a leader is to lament as needed. To identify and name my losses is the first step in the grief process; to not run quickly to Easter Sunday but sit with the grief of the Garden of Gethsemane: my own and others’ grief. We serve a leader and a Savior that is well acquainted with the grief of both garden and Good Friday.
So I look back at the texts of Holy Week to grasp for some hope, yet again. The words of our embodied, very human Jesus have a pulse right here: I am deeply grieved. Remain here. Stay awake with me.
Friends, we have never walked this painful path before. We do not have many answers. Yet Jesus reminds us that he knows what it is to be deeply grieved and agitated. We cannot change our challenging circumstances overnight. In fact, we may have to learn to co-habitat with sustained grief for an undetermined period of time. Jesus has remained with us and invites us to remain with him. He is our companion in this collective grief and well acquainted with this garden of grief. Stay awake to Jesus’ presence. “Stay awake” reminds me to stay attentive to our lament and emotions. “Stay awake” reminds me to not grow numb. “Stay awake” reminds us as leaders that abnormal reactions to an abnormal present crisis are perfectly normal.
As a chaplain I am being invited into stories of grief. It is a strange and holy privilege to be invited into a sacred yet painful story in the lives of those around me. As a leader, I find simple comfort knowing that when words fail me, my presence in someone else’s garden of grief can be a small comfort. So I recite: “I am deeply grieved with you. I am going to remain here. I am going to stay with you. What is helpful to you at this time? I don’t have to say a word, but I can stay and remain with you. You are not alone.” I have said one or ten different variations of this lament.
My encouragement to you is to lament: alone and with others. May you be attentive to the lament that is latent under your soul. May Christ meet you there so that Christ can meet others there through your presence.
Take heart. Have courage. We are in this together. You are not alone.
Something to Think About:
When was the last time you cried? Have you been holding back tears of grief that need permission to be released?
What daily spiritual practices can you do today to help you name and release fears, anxieties, and worries?
Something to Do:
Self-care is a necessity to not only survive, but thrive in this season. Listen to your body and soul. Eat. Sleep. Drink water. Take daily walks to breathe fresh air. Limit social media and news to 1-2 credible sources and to 1-2 times a day. Do not isolate emotionally or spiritually (yes, do keep social distancing as a social responsibility!). Call or text friends. Lament. Cry. Let the lament pass through your body and do its work in you.
Oh God, you who are the healer of our bodies and healer of the nations, we cry out to you! Can you hear us? Your children all over the world are suffering. Darkness and destruction threaten to consume our bodies, souls and communities. Hear our cries for mercy, oh healer. Save us, rescue us, restore us. We pray for our homes, our workplaces, our communities. We pray for the old, the young, the weak, the strong, the high-risk, those in the frontlines tending to the sick, for government leaders of all nations, for healthcare workers and grocery store workers, for miraculous provision of all that is scarce and critical. God, we need you. We take shelter in the shadow of your wings. Hold unto us even as we barely are hanging on to you. Grant us healing and restoration for our global family. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Last Supper (Matthew 26:17-30)