I’ve been way too busy lately. The start of school is always hectic, as is the beginning of fall programming at church, and I am knee-deep in both. This transition from summer to the school year and the coming fall feels more “normal” that it has in years. In-person events are back, and somehow, there seem to be more of them than ever before. Perhaps we are making up for lost time. My calendar has been out of control the last few weeks. Maybe that’s true for you, too.
One morning this week, as I faced yet another day of back-to-back meetings and events, I scribbled this prayer in my journal. Just the mere act of taking that brief moment to connect with God helped immensely. It changed my day. If you’re too busy, perhaps this prayer will help you, too.
God, I am tired. Worn out from being over-scheduled. Too busy, with no room for my soul to breathe, or to listen to my body. I hate it when I have weeks like this. I feel disconnected from you and others, a slave to my schedule and to-do list, and yet, I consented to this.
I don’t have an answer to that.
But I know you are telling me to breathe, to listen, to be…even if just for a brief moment of reconnection with my body and with you. Calm my mind. Quiet my anxious heart and enable me to be still. Help me to breathe deeply – your breath in my lungs – reminding me that I am yours. May your breath renew me.
For I already know that I need to make changes, that my schedule cannot continue to be this full. Guide me and show me your wisdom, your way, for me to live fully into who you have called me to be. Amen.
I am sharing a blessing today that I wrote in my journal during a retreat last July, while sitting in front of Hope Monument at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio. I will let this image be for you what you need it to be, and I will leave you with this blessing that blessed me that day, word for word as it came to me. May it bless you, as well.
May you remember that it is the way of things that new life comes springing up from the emptiness where something once was.
For there cannot be new life without death, loss, grief, sorrow… there must be an ending for there to be a beginning. A period at the end of a sentence, a space, a breath, before a new sentence, paragraph, or page.
And in that space, that breath, where it feels like there is nothing, there is always God, Spirit, grace. Because God is in all, through all.
Even when we forget to look for God in the ending or acknowledge God in the beginning, God dwells in it all.
Weeks or months or years from the day when an end became a beginning, we may look back and give thanks with a tender heart for the new life that was birthed from death, for the gifts that came, even as we grieve and remember. And may God be in it all.
Lately, there are days when I feel like I don’t know how to write anymore. It’s as if I have forgotten how to formulate coherent thoughts into words and sentences, weaving them together into something that is cohesive and meaningful. It’s not that I haven’t been writing recently. I have. But I haven’t finished anything (with the exception of sermons) in a few months. When I sit down to write, I’m finding it hard to get started, and when I do begin to make progress, I usually need to stop (because: kids, work, other responsibilities, etc). Additionally, the world seems to be moving so quickly that when I pause and return a day or two later, everything I have written seems irrelevant. So, I start again, and don’t finish again, and the cycle repeats. And sometimes I wonder what I even have to say amidst the war in Ukraine, horrific mass shootings occurring with regularity, discriminatory laws against LGBTQ+ persons, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the border crisis, the breakup of the United Methodist Church, systemic racism, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and so much more…
If I’m honest, I couldn’t type that last sentence without crying. It is A LOT, and that list is only a snippet, a tiny percentage, of the pain and injustice, the growing polarization and division, the complete and utter heartbreak that is occurring in our country and in the world. Words elude me to even begin to describe this.
The way I am feeling lately feels similar to something I experienced during my Clinical Pastoral Education internship. While serving as a hospital chaplain during the CPE process is always intense, my situation was unique because one of the long-time chaplains at the hospital where I served was dying of cancer. I was assigned his units to cover, which meant that I spent my days on in the ICU, the oncology unit, and the cardiac unit. Additionally, I spent time caring for staff who were grieving the impending loss of their own caregiver and support person. I was twenty-five years old, fresh from seminary, and it was A LOT. And when it was all beginning to feel like too much, a thirty-two-year-old patient in the ICU was determined to have lost all brain function.
As I approached the ICU to be present with his family, I heard wailing before I even reached the doors of the unit. And when I walked through the doors, I stopped in my tracks. Through the glass walls, I could see the patient’s loved ones gathered (far more than were allowed in the ICU; the room was packed) wailing and weeping and lamenting. I wanted to run the other way. It was too much. But this was my work, what I had been called to that day. When I entered the room, it suddenly became silent. Then, someone asked me to pray. I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t have words. I bowed my head and remained silent as I tried to find the words and instead tears came…for the family, for their pain and grief, for the impossibility of doing anything to fix or help this situation. And I cried with them and for them and eventually prayed something (I have no idea what, because the words did not come from me but from the Holy Spirit) and somehow, whatever I prayed was comforting, helpful, meaningful to those in the room. After I prayed, the mood in the room was different. Individuals began to talk and share, and I listened. But I didn’t say much, and I didn’t need to. I learned that my words were not what was needed; it was my presence that mattered, my willingness to be with them in their worst moments, to cry and lament alongside them.
I guess what I am saying is that I don’t know what to say right now. But I am here. I am crying, even if you can’t see it. I am lamenting, even if you don’t hear it. I am praying, even if you don’t know it.
While some might think this is a cop-out, what I know about myself is that I have a tendency toward productivity and busy-ness, sometimes at the expense of what God is calling me to. I could put in the time to write a carefully thought-out and polished theological statement (and perhaps that will come, in time) but if I did that today, it would be at the expense of what I really need to do: cry, pray, lament.
So, here I am finishing something I began to write only this morning…800+ words about how I can’t find words. It’s probably not well-written. Perhaps it’s just babbling. But it is finished. And it is my offering for today…as I cry, pray, and lament for the world, for women and girls, for those without the privileges I have, for those hemmed in on all sides and lacking options, for those who simply want to live.
*If you want to read more about lament as a spiritual practice, you can do so here.
Last week was my daughter’s last day of Kindergarten. To conclude the school year, each child was recognized for their unique contributions to the class and then they celebrated outside with sidewalk chalk and bubbles. It was a lot of fun!
I should clarify that this occurred within our home, because our daughter attended Kindergarten virtually this entire school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She and 19 of her friends logged on every day with their teacher, all from their own homes. They have never seen one another in person or played together, but they are friends. They are a community that encourages one another. I am amazed that friendships have been formed and such supportive community has developed among 5-and-6-year-olds, solely online. I had high hopes, but not high expectations, for virtual Kindergarten back in August. Virtual Kindergarten far exceeded my expectations. My daughter has learned and grown this year, but so have I. It has been a joy and a privilege to be a fly on the wall in her Kindergarten class.
While Robert Fulghum has already written a classic on how our learnings in kindergarten apply to the rest of our lives, I want to expand that concept in relation to virtual Kindergarten. The list below encompasses lessons from virtual Kindergarten that are important reminders for adults, here and now, in the 21st century.
We all need to know how to use the mute button. If 5 and 6-year-old children in Kindergarten can learn to mute/unmute themselves and wait their turn to speak, adults should be able to do the same. Yes, on Zoom, but also, on social media and during in-person conversations. In many arenas these days, it feels as if the mute button is broken. If adults simply employed the mute button appropriately, our social and political discourse, as well as our relationships, would all improve. We would all benefit from more listening and less talking.
Brain breaks, play, and moving our bodies is essential to being able to think and do our work well. Have you ever sat in Zoom (or in-person) meetings for hours on end, without taking a break? It’s miserable. Our daughter’s school was intentional about designing a schedule for kindergarten that incorporates plenty of screen-free time and brain breaks throughout the day. Even while on Zoom, her teacher plans activities that involve standing up and using their bodies. I’ve learned that taking regular breaks away from screens – to go outside, to move my body, to play – transforms my ability to work. It increases my productivity, even if my total work time decreases. Give it a try!
Paying attention to and naming our feelings is an essential life skill. Every day in Kindergarten, they talk about feelings. They read books and learn songs about feelings. They practice techniques for calming their bodies. They take turns naming their feelings. They identify the feelings of characters in books. Why all this effort toward identifying feelings? Probably because emotional intelligence is essential. We can probably all name an adult who would benefit from increased awareness of their own feelings and emotions. The last year has been a roller coaster of emotions due to the pandemic, the election, natural disasters, plus the specific events in our personal and family lives. Naming our feelings provides perspective and can help us move through difficult moments in a healthier way, for both children and adults. Virtual kindergarten has reminded me that being able to name my feelings in is vital to my own functioning and self-management and has a positive effect on relationships as well.
Perseverance and confidence are the keys to success. Dozens of times every day, I hear a child say “I don’t know how to…” or “I can’t…” and the teacher’s response is always “Try your best! Never give up!” The focus is not on perfection, but on perseverance and believing you can do it. Kindergarten today is what first grade was when I attended elementary school in the early 1990’s. Children are learning and integrating challenging tasks. Guiding our daughter through her assignments has taught me that doing things in small chunks is important, especially when trying something new or challenging. For example: write one sentence a day, and by the end of the week, you have a 5-sentence short story (when it seemed impossible on Monday). That’s what perseverance looks like.
There are multiple routes to an endpoint. Having permission to get the work done in whatever way works best for our child was a game-changer. If writing with your finger on an iPad is hard, write it on paper and then upload a picture of it. Having the ability to decide the best approach for our child’s strengths and learning style greatly reduced our daughter’s resistance to completing assignments. Also, I weas reminded that working more slowly or in a different manner than others is not necessarily an indication of intelligence or ability. If you’re beating your head against the wall trying to get something done in a certain way or timeframe, be creative and find another way to reach the end goal. A different approach might change everything.
Mistakes grow your brain. In Kindergarten, students are learning the basics: how to read and write, the foundations of math. It doesn’t all come naturally. It can be quite laborious to read a book out loud to someone, to write a sentence and sound out each individual word or to translate a math word problem into an equation. When the kids become upset or frustrated about making a mistake, our daughter’s teacher says: “Mistakes grow your brain!” YES. As adults, we would do well to remember this, to acknowledge and learn from our mistakes, so that we continue to grow.
If the plan doesn’t work, make a new one. Flexibility and adaptability are essential to doing anything with children (well, really, anything at all involving humans)! We have all learned in the last 15 months that plans are only figurative. We must be flexible and adaptable at all times. When my daughter’s teacher’s video or screen sharing doesn’t work as planned, she transitions seamlessly to something else, and even turns it into a lesson for the kids on being flexible. It’s never too early to learn these important skills!
Be assertive! One of the things our daughter has had to learn in virtual kindergarten is to be assertive and ask for what she needs. With limited screen space, sometimes the teacher doesn’t see her when she’s asking to go to the bathroom or raising her hand to ask a question. She has had to learn to speak up for herself. I think I was much older before I learned this lesson. It is imperative to recognize what we need, name it, and ask for it (while keeping the mute button in mind). It is also important to do this on behalf of others who are unable to speak up for themselves.
4 on the floor. All 4 legs of the chair, that is. It can be very painful to fall out of your chair onto a hard tile floor. Just like we need to look both ways before crossing the street, stay alert for obstacles when riding our bikes, and refrain from looking at our phones while driving, we need to keep all 4 legs of our chair on the floor. It’s an early lesson with relatively minor consequences that can help us learn the skills we need later in life to keep ourselves and others safe.
If you make a mess, clean it up. Some days, it looks as if a tornado has passed through our dining room, where our daughter attends school. Markers, crayons, tiny pieces of paper, and dirty socks litter the floor. Her desk is covered in papers for various subjects. She gets frustrated that she can’t find anything. We have worked with her on re-setting her space at set times – putting everything where it belongs, whether in a folder, her school box, the recycling, or the hamper. She feels more calm and able to work when her space is clear and organized. What if adults cleaned up after themselves, especially in public spaces? If we all took responsibility for our corner of the world, things might be different.
Wonder. Ask questions. Explore the world. Five and six-year-old children are really good at this. Their curiosity is not easily sidetracked by agendas and to-do lists, as often happens with adults. In fact, when a child is in the midst of imaginative play or investigating something interesting, if asked to clean up, they may throw a fit! One example: our daughter had a science assignment to take pictures of different types of rocks and varying uses for rocks near our house. She made it her personal challenge to figure out how many different types of rocks were on our block and was engaged in it for almost an hour! I was simply along to keep her safe while she wandered and photographed with the iPad. We saw so many things I had never noticed before, on the streets we walk nearly every day. Try following a young child around for a while, letting their curiosity lead you both. See what you discover together, and what you learn about yourself!
While it may seem that Kindergarten is about academic basics, perhaps even more important is the foundation composed of self-responsibility, emotional intelligence, perseverance, self-confidence, flexibility, and learning from mistakes. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone (especially adults), knew these things – deep in their bones – and practiced them in their work and personal lives. Which of these life skills do you need to brush up on or pay particular attention to today?