When it is Friggin’ HARD

It started last week with one email where a presbytery leader acknowledged, “Things have just gotten HARD,” emphasizing the word hard with capital letters.

GMC
May she rest in peace!

 

The email came the same morning I woke from a strange dream. Some of you may remember that my car was stolen from the presbytery parking lot last October. Last week I had a dream that another car, similar to the one from before, had gotten stolen, again from the presbytery parking lot. What was interesting about the dream was not the shocking violation, but how I responded to it. In the dream, as I told the staff about the event, I shared it as if it was just another routine matter to attend to. It was “another day at the office” kind of response. What was troubling about the dream was not the loss of the car, but my emotional detachment from the loss.

Dreams can be telling and this one had a message for me. I was showing signs of emotionally shutting down as way to cope with the onslaught of crisis and change. Apparently, attachment to our reality was too painful and the dream told me that I was starting to detach.

I would have just shared this with my therapist except for the fact that ever since then I keep seeing signs that what I am experiencing is more universal. It’s not just me.

bend pandemicThe day after the “HARD” email and the dream of detachment staff forwarded me an email that the Rev. Morgan Schmidt at Bend, First wrote on their Pandemic Partners Facebook page. In her post, she cited that her community had clearly reached the stage of disillusionment that is normal when facing crises. She named what everyone was feeling, writing:

We are tired.

We were ready for this to be over months ago, but our numbers are just getting worse, and we are frustrated that our leaders aren’t responding in cohesive, thoughtful, common-sense ways.

We are lonely. And even when we have social interactions, we find ourselves more awkward than ever.

We are angry. Just all-the-time-low-grade-simmering-angry. Heaven help the next person who looks at us the wrong way.

We are at a loss – about finances. About school this fall. About the deep ruptures and polarizations that are fracturing our society.

HARD, detachment, and disillusionment.

But it didn’t end there.

ContemplationThe very next day I opened a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that reported that 11% of Americans had serious thoughts of suicide in June. That is double what it was last year at this time. Even more troubling was the fact that symptoms of depression had quadrupled and anxiety symptoms had tripled in that same period.

Clearly a pattern was developing. The original “HARD” email was showing its face in a dozen little ways.

But it didn’t stop there.

Shameless PromoThe Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber shared her most recent prayer with us in her blog where she confessed to God, “It’s my turn to be depressed-as-hell, my turn to be afraid…my turn to be angry.” Then she prayed that God would give her the gift of being a non-anxious presence.

HARD, detachment, disillusionment, suicidal ideation, and depressed-as-hell.

These were the words that kept showing up in my dreams and in my email this past week.

I thought, “It’s time to be honest with ourselves.” Almost on cue, I received two more messages that confirmed what I was feeling. I opened an email from a colleague that included a link to a TED talk about the mental health benefits of telling our stories and being vulnerable to each other. The presenter, writer Laurel Braitman, was making the case for the healing power of sharing our stories.

ryan althaus
The Rev. Ryan Althaus of Sweaty Sheep

If that wasn’t enough to convince me that the way through this time was to become more honest, more vulnerable and more open to the HARDness, detachment, disillusionment and depressed-as-hell mood of this time a Presbyterian News Service article closed the deal. The article highlighted the story of the Rev. Ryan Althaus, the founder and director of Sweaty Sheep, a ministry built around recreation in Santa Cruz, CA. Ryan shared his own struggles with mental illness, his admission to a psychiatric hospital and his reminder that surviving HARD stuff is not best done by detaching or erecting psychological fortresses, but by being honest and vulnerable about how friggin’ hard it can be sometimes.

If the 11% suicide statistic is true that means about 1,475 of our members in Cascades Presbytery are having a really hard time and may be suffering in silence. That means that for every nine people you know at least one of them is struggling mightily and has thought about suicide in recent weeks. And if 11% of us have thought about suicide then most of the rest of us are having a really HARD time, starting to detach, feeling disillusioned, and may be depressed-as-hell.

Today is just a reminder…that we aren’t going to get through this time by saying, “I’m fine,” when actually we are dying inside and crying out for divine relief.

Today is just a reminder…that there is a lot of silent suffering around us and it is important to be sensitive to and aware of the pain that is there, but unspoken.

Today is just a reminder…that if you are feeling hopeless, there’s a good chance your friends and your neighbors are also feeling hopeless. Take the risk to share how friggin’ hard it is and give your friend a chance to lean on you just as you lean on her.

Today is just reminder…that the more we hide behind protective facades the more unbearable the pain is and the more we feel alone in the world.

Today is just a reminder…that Jesus didn’t hide from pain, but carried his cross all the way to resurrection and new life.

It’s a tough way to get there. In fact, it might even be HARD at times.

You are not alone.

We will do this together.

Don’t suffer in silence.

Let us help you. Let us help each other.

We need each other. We can’t do this alone.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

14 thoughts on “When it is Friggin’ HARD

  1. Brian, What a perfect time to receive this blog! Yesterday I broke down crying from all that’s going on, struggling with how to bring myself under control. I drove around for two hours trying to process how to handle my feelings. I spoke with a friend who really had no answers. It was another tough day. I ran into a Christian friend at the P.O. And we prayed together. She seemed to have it so together. I wondered why my faith wasn’t stronger. Tonight I read my bible and watched the Democratic National Convention and feel a little more uplifted. Thank you for your words tonight. God bless. Carol Hickey

    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Oh, Carol…I so get it. Believe me, you are not alone. Your tears are a sign that you are alive and feeling and in touch with the pain of this time. All I ask is that you don’t keep it to yourself. Many of us are suffering and we need each other right now. Holding you in prayer and in my heart. Brian

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  2. Well said, Brian…and I might add that congregations benefit from pastors who are honest about their own emotional states. They can model the mutual storytelling and support that will get us through these strange and difficult times.

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    1. Nancy, YES! My one line about “I would have just shared this with my therapist…” was a result of realizing that I needed to model this for the presbytery. I am working hard to stay in the game, but my dream told me that there are times when I just can’t feel everything I am feeling. Tough time and I don’t mind letting you all know that! Bless you.

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  3. Oh my, this is sooooo right on, Bryan! While I haven’t experienced the suicide step, all the others fit me as they do so many others. On top of all of the obvious issues we have to deal with, we were evacuated from our home due to wildfire. It only lasted a day and a half and all is well and safe here, but the stress that the fire added seemed to do me in. My normal way out of “moods” is to hug more people but can’t do that. I opened up to my sister in Ghana who is coming to the end of 10 years there ministering to a whole flock of folks. But get this, she has two fractured vertebrae, extensive arthritis and is over 80 but can’t come home for medical care until the adoption is complete for Christopher, her foster child–it’s been in the works for 2 years already! But she listened, understood, and now I feel renewed! The bottom line: we must each find someone to share with no matter how unlikely the person may seem to be. Onward now to a productive, quarantined day! ♥

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    1. Marcia,
      Thank you for your reply. I have had a number of responses confirming that what I was feeling and seeing in my emails is a much more universal experience. We need to make sure no one suffers in silence and that we keep finding ways to lean on each other!

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  4. Here’s another music response, a tune that was a staple of campers and staff alike at the bereavement “Courageous Kids Camp.” This version is from our neighbors to the north…just right for hard times!

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  5. Roy and I are going through a difficult time besides the covid-it is we all have. He is experiencing dementia plus last well he was diagnosed with stage esophageal cancer. I can’t even cry I am so hiding behind it all. Can’t talk with anyone yet and really don’t want to. Your words make me see I am hiding. I pray a lot and sometimes realize God is in charge. Other times I wonder about the future. Like we all do. Thanks for listening.

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    1. Meredith, you have been heard. There is a time to keep your feelings to yourself as a way to honor them and a time to share them in order to keep from being overwhelmed by them. Just listen to yourself and you will know when to hold them and when to share them.
      Peace to you and Roy…Brian

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  6. Thank you, Brian, I have just moved back to CA to be near family as I took a nasty fall couple of months ago and didn’t feel like I want to be alone. The move was my decision, but not my desire. I feel very isolated, no church people to gather with, no social anything, feeling attacked by those who say they care about me. It is so HARD, I felt isolated in Oregon, but so much more now. Thank you for your words. I have been stuffing my feelings for weeks, things that would have brought me to tears before, I now meet with indifference. I keep thinking if this ( any situation) had happened a long time ago, it would have melted me into a pool of tears, but now, keep seeing myself stuff more down. It is helpful to hear I’m not alone, but that too, isn’t always comforting. I want to be positive and I can usually fake it pretty well, but it is it HARDer is now!

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  7. Hi Kathy,
    I do hope you keep reaching out to people. Believe me, you are not the only one. The isolation is affecting most of us, I believe. Just sharing your experience alleviates some of the pain.

    Peace…Brian

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