by the Rev. Scott Denman
I recently asked my congregation to give up something for the season of Epiphany. Perhaps it’s something to consider for Lent as well. I suggested that when someone asks them how they were doing, instead of responding “I’m fine”, consider a response that might be more honest. I sometimes respond, “I think I am going to make it”. This response is hopeful, maybe even a little humorous and it doesn’t scare off the person asking about your well-being. It also might present an opportunity for deeper conversation that both of you just might benefit from. You are not alone in those struggles you hide from others.
I really do think I am going to make it, but recently I had to admit how much this time of isolation was impacting me. As someone trying to lead a congregation through a pandemic, I found myself coming face to face with my own tiredness. It happened in the vegetable aisle in Safeway. I dropped my grocery list on the floor and as I bent over to pick it up, discovered I was still wearing my slippers. I had never been so grateful for my mask. This experience surprisingly became a moment of revelation. I had realized that nearly a year of living in accentuated isolation had caught up to me. I was clearly tired.
All this was divine preparation for Sunday’s readings from the book of Isaiah:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:28-31)
If even the young fall exhausted maybe it was ok to admit my own tiredness. Psychologists are discovering how deeply this time of isolation has impacted us. It has made everyone faint, whether we see it or not. They have learned that even those seemingly insignificant encounters with folks in the grocery line or a passerby you might normally greet or even strike up a conversation with, are important to our well-being. They also attribute the rise of conspiracy thinking to this lack of holding each other in check through daily interaction. It made me wonder if my personal conspiracy was to pretend I was fine.
Normal social interactions are like a bubbler in an aquarium, oxygenating the water. If the bubbler is cut off the fish keep swimming but they are slowly being depleted of what they need to thrive. As our social oxygen is depleted we become faint. We are not fine.
The airlines teach us to put our own oxygen mask on first. But what I realized that day in the vegetable aisle was that I needed to see myself on the other side of that equation. I spend most of my life trying to help others get some spiritual oxygen but this time I was the one discovering my need to have someone help me with my mask. It took a walk in my slippers though the vegetable aisle to hear God inviting me to accept some divine help. My strength was renewed by the invitation to be among those who needed oxygen and I was given some hope that I was, indeed, going to make it, but this time I would remember that I will make it with God’s help.
St. John's Episcopal Church, Oakland
1707 Gouldin Road
Oakland, CA 94611
Sunday 7:45 am
Sunday 10:00 am (Livestreaming available)