I wrote a sermon about getting through tough times this Sunday, but I didn’t know exactly how tough they were about to be. It was just about twelve hours after I preached that sermon, when firestorms started raging north of us. The smoke woke many of us up in the middle of that night. Our hearts ache for loved ones in danger’s way, or for people whose tragic stories we simply hear on the news, the radio, in images shared online. Our throats and sinuses ache from smoke inhalation, even all the way down here, and we know how much worse it must be up there. And our coping muscles, those thoughts and prayers and mental work we must do, ache from the effort of rehearsing our own fears, memories, and griefs that are touched by this fire.
Here we are – getting through tough times, or trying. Our friends who work on fire crews or drive ambulances are heading north, and we’re here, checking the news too often, and re-packing our own emergency supply kits, and texting and calling our friends, and sucking on cough drops all day.
I offer the following quotation (probably fauxtation – no actual attribution can be found) of St. Francis de Sales: “Every one of us needs a half hour of prayer a day… except when we are busy. Then, an hour is essential.”
Not to take it too literally – the thirty minutes are arbitrary of course – but this quotation is so important to remind us we need to stay open to sources of support and consolation, especially when it’s hard to self-support and self-console. I’ll offer some variations on it. Every one of us needs a friend to talk to every once in a while. When the world is full of scary news, we need to talk twice as much. Every one of us needs time in silence on a regular basis. When the news is too hard to listen to, we need silence twice as badly. Open yourself to God’s presence which will not leave us in this tragedy – for God was the first one on the scene, mourning. Whether you do this work of connecting and opening through prayer, conversation, journaling, or silence, don’t neglect it today.
Take time to notice your own self, even as you turn your attention to others in need. Are you breathing deeply? Sleeping as well as you can? Talk about how you feel… take turns with a friend, expressing yourself and listening to them. Eat something healthy, maybe something with a vegetable in it. Feed yourself the way you’d feed a beloved friend who’s stressed and grieving. Make your bed (it makes a difference) and do it with love. One foot in front of the other. Or leave the bed unmade as a protest on the unfairness of it all, and pray for those whose beds were destroyed along with everything else this week. It doesn’t matter much what you choose to do, but at the same time it makes all the difference in the world. So whatever you do in these difficult times, do it with love. Take good and gentle care of yourself and the people (or creatures) entrusted to your care. And don’t close yourself off from the sources of strength.
PS: on a personal note, I’ll be out of the office a lot in the next two weeks. Michael and I are headed to Hawaii on Friday for a long-overdue honeymoon; and soon after I return, I’ll be attending a conference. I’ll be back on email on Oct. 22nd, and back in the office on the 29th.