Across NT-NL’s territory, the signs of fall, other than the average high temperature, are evident. Schools are re-opening in various fashions in many places, the Dallas Cowboys are practicing again, and churches are contemplating fall programming and worship options. This is typically an exciting time of the year filled with new opportunities and ideas. Yet I am hearing from many of our leaders, and in conversations with leaders in other fields, that they are not excited or energized but instead feel stuck, exhausted emotionally and physically, and overwhelmed. And with this also often comes a sense of guilt and anxiety that because of how they feel, they are not measuring up.
These feelings are all understandable given the amount of change, adaptation, and learning that we have collectively had to go through, combined with deep division in our nation. Add twin hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and our “surge capacity” has been largely used up. In addition, this pandemic is not like typical disasters. As has been noted before, when a typical disaster occurs, there are stages in the response cycle. But this pandemic, due to its nature, continues to impact, and its total damage has yet to be seen, and it is full of what has been described as “ambiguous loss.” These are losses that have no clear resolution, and as such, require creativity to manage. The article linked in this post addresses some ways you can be creative in that, but I am going to focus on just one of them: “both-and” thinking.
As Lutherans, we are familiar with the idea of “both-and” thinking. We are saint AND sinner. We embrace the law AND gospel. Jesus Christ is human AND divine. These are seemingly incongruous things to hold in tension, but we do so because they are a way of understanding the incongruity of our existence. We sin, and yet we are set free by the gospel. We know the law is good and we are to follow it, but we are not legalistic in our understanding of salvation and rely on God’s grace.
Living into the “both-and” nature of this time acknowledges reality but also encourages us to look forward, trusting that there will be a resolution to this current crisis. We can have our honest moments of being stuck, mourning our losses, but also recognize the creativity and celebrate new things that are happening in this time (for an example, check out the Abiding Grace, Southlake choir’s online performance from last Sunday and the many other ways musicians are finding ways to make music safely together).
“Both-and” thinking can help us navigate this time of ambiguous loss. To understand the difficulty of our situation and yet be able to look forward to what is to come. We can take seriously the losses experienced by our communities and minister to those in grief while also asking good questions about our future and that of our community. We can be wise about stewarding resources and protecting our neighbors by not having in-person programming but also respond to natural disasters that come in this time with open arms of welcome as Briarwood is doing for those who might have to evacuate from the hurricanes in the gulf.
This pandemic will come to an end, but we will not, as I have said, ever go back to “normal.” Too many lives have been lost, disrupted, and forever changed. But we can continue to learn through this time, take moments to evaluate the future of our congregations and ministries, and resource one another for this new work. Crises can bring clarity and prioritization. By living into the “both-and,” there is a way forward for us as we continue to trust the promise that our future is secure in God.