To say it’s been a hard season is laughable. Hard doesn’t even begin to describe it. Even as the promises of Christmas, a new year and a vaccine enter our frame of reference, many of us are dealing with losses that are impossible to bear. We may feel as though we have been torn limb from limb. In families these losses can cause tumult and friction.
This has certainly been true in my family. While we are living more closely than ever and have spent more time together, peace and harmony haven’t been easy to find. From tiny offenses like the never-ending dishwashing cycle to deep fractures like who am I to follow when the adults in my community are not on the same page.
Two practices are centering me in Christ and helping me to stay connected in this season. I am realizing that for years (like decades) I have unduly prized harmony. As long as my life was without conflict, I felt pretty “on top of things.” As you might imagine it takes truck load of energy to keep peace and harmony. During the pandemic it’s not even possible. I have come to end of my rope.
My spouse is a health care worker and my children (like most children) have experienced a loss of what most matters to them. Emotions are high, frustration through the roof, and lament is on our lips. Peace and harmony left the building with Elvis.
I am learning that Dallas Willard was right, “God’s address is at the end of our rope.”
Out of desperation really, I turned to the practice of praying the Psalms. Morning, afternoon, evening and just before I go to bed, I am praying these ancient words. Having little of my own words, they make space for the strong emotions and the reality of our world turned upside down.
I continue to come back to Psalm 31, the words resonate deeply in my soul.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
and my bones waste away.
The Psalms bring me back from my distraction and distancing into the reality of God’s unfailing love and goodness in the midst of the struggle not apart from it. The psalms are helping me to center in Christ, to sink deep my roots in the Trinitarian Community of Love who longed me into existence.
My second practice has been play. With such deep and difficult emotions always present play might seem counter intuitive. (You and I, dear adult, struggle with this. This is child’s wisdom, and we need it.) Play reminds us in times of deep struggle that hope is still alive. As play requires freedom from certainty, something we don’t have much of right now anyway. Play reminds us that there is no waste in God’s kingdom. God will use everything for our good and God’s glory.
Play also keeps us connected. In families the most important thing isn’t peace, and it isn’t harmony (much to my surprise) the most important thing is connection. In the midst of frustration and fear and fight, we need to stay connected. Connection gives families resiliency.
We make time and space to listen to the hard emotions and lean in rather than lean away. Leaning away can look like shutting down honest sharing, it can look like distracting and distancing through media. It can look like forcing a peace when there is no peace.
If you find yourself is this space, dear friend, you are not alone. One of the gifts of the Psalms is the recorded experience of God’s continual presence. Even when we don’t feel it, even when we are angry, even when all seems uncertain, God is near. Take some time this week to pray Psalm 139. Let it be the place you funnel your feelings.
As a stubborn act of hope, try playing a bit. If you live with children, ask them to help you. If you don’t live with children, think back to something that you enjoyed when you were very young and do that. Play can look like taking a walk outside, dancing in your kitchen, making something with your hands, or learning new jokes.
Staying centered and connected is not easy, but it has been worth my paltry effort. May praying the Psalms and the practice of play meet us where we are and open us to hope eternal.
“Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.” — Psalm 31:24