My minister asks me a question, if I happen to see him at coffee hour. Oh God. I mean, back when we had coffee hour, because we were meeting at church in the flesh and all.
The question is, “How are you?”
When life’s OK, or it’s not but you’re emotionally disconnected, it’s possible to flash a grin and say “Oh, pretty good!” Or, “Not too bad!” Or, “I’m doing well, thanks!” And you can then politely say, “How are you doing?” But because it’s not the minister/priest/vicar/rector/pastor’s role to tell you his/her business, they are likely to tell you they’re doing well even if in fact they are struggling with alcoholism, a troubled marriage, an online pornography addiction, an ongoing medical scare, or anything else. It’s not a 50-50 relationship, when it comes to self-disclosure. Clergy can and should talk honestly about their struggles, some of the time, but even those disclosures are made in the context of their pastoral concern for their congregations. The refuge for clergy well-being is, or is supposed to be, that they have someone outside of their congregation they can talk to freely and ask for help. I hope to God they do.
So let’s say you are asked that question by your minister, nowadays on the phone or through a screen. Maybe your thoughts are flooded with your new reality: you are supposed to hold back the tidal wave of furloughs and layoffs, at least the sliver of it that is headed for you. Or your mother with diabetes just lost her job and her health insurance. Or your grandfather with dementia is now on lockdown in his nursing home, which is being ravaged by the disease. Or something else. You’ve had all week to think about it, working from home, or sitting at home not working.
Does it derail you, or nearly, to be asked? You don’t want to cry – to bawl or maybe howl – you don’t want to be a burden, whatever that noxious idea means to you, and it would be too painful anyway to give in to your emotion. And maybe your kid is right there with you and the last thing you want is to scare him. In addition, the clergy already know they can’t fix things in their parishioners’ lives, although they sometimes can recommend a resource or ask if you’ve taken a particular step. They also know that, very likely, you are not going to give them chapter and verse about your circumstances and emotions. What is the purpose of their question, anyway, and how do you answer it?
I think your minister wants to give you the chance to say something real, however you do it. In a worship service, the prayers, hymns, Creed, and confession all set your life in the context of the eternal. In response to your pastor’s question, you get to say something back. You are answering in a setting in which eternity is a reference point. Your Annual Performance Review or your monthly or weekly 1-on-1 doesn’t take eternity into account; your priest does. If your kid’s not there, you can say “I’m so anxious, I’m all wound up. I’m afraid I’m going to lose everything I’ve worked for. I’ve got kids at home. To be honest, I’m afraid of having a heart attack.” If your kid’s beside you, you can say, “Well, I get pretty anxious sometimes. It’s an anxious time.” Anyone with half a brain can fill in what you are not saying because of your great love for your child.
There is an eternal context for our current circumstances, and I’m told everything ultimately comes out all right. If you have questions about that, though, it’s OK to answer a question with a question. Jesus did it all the time.
Here, friend. Have some beauty. These people in Indianapolis know how to sing.
April 22, 2020 COVID-19 Infections and Deaths
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