September 1, 2020 by Rev. Shannon White
How’s it going with you? How is it REALLY going? Maybe you’re loving doing ministry in a new way and thriving on Zoom, taking your congregation to new levels of connectedness. Maybe you’ve doubled or even tripled your Sunday participation through your online presence as you revel in the fact that your sermon is reaching far and wide. Maybe you’re relishing being home with your family 24/7 and finding pockets of downtime together you’ve never had before now.
And maybe you are not feeling any of those things …
These are strange times, indeed. Those of us in congregational life, who are attuned to the heartbeats of our congregations, know what exhaustion and overwhelm feels like.
My sermons have gone back and forth from guiding people through all kinds of grief, to addressing anti-racism work in my mostly white congregation and town. Our country is smack in the middle of deep movement and change on many levels, and while our work is important and essential, it is also exhausting.
So, what are we to do? How are we to lead with authenticity and integrity, while maintaining our own mental health and balance?
In these days, I have found myself clinging to the words of Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear (vs 1-2a), ending with … Be still and know that I am God. (v.10)
But with all the demands of this time, I am finding stillness to be a challenge. I’d rather “do.”
This morning, however, I had a few minutes before my first appointment, and I went outside. We moved our hammock onto the screened porch a few weeks ago, and something called me to go and lay down before beginning my list of calls and appointments.
The atmosphere was quiet. My husband was already on his work calls as a therapist in the other room. My daughter had gone to work for the day. I was responsible for no one in that moment. My exhaustion felt like a blanket on me as I lay there. The longing for my upcoming vacation was still a dream away, knowing I had several days left of work with much to “do.” But in that moment, I allowed myself to sink into stillness, and my heart began to open in gratitude to God.
As I lay there in the quiet, my attention turned to the sounds of a woodpecker. I listened to the rat-a-tat-tat drilling of this creature’s beak against the hard wood. I wondered what she was looking for. It became a sort of deep mantra, repeated every few seconds. A few minutes later, another woodpecker began on a different tree. His pitch was higher. Funny thing was, as I continued to be absorbed into the knocking of the woodpecker, all of a sudden, I was aware of other birds who were communicating back and forth with differing sounds and pitches. I got lost in awe in the moment, and relaxed a bit more into the safety and trust of God’s abiding presence with me and my connectedness to the creatures of the universe … all because of the willingness to be still.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Shannon White is pastor of Wilton Presbyterian Church in Wilton, CT. Over the past three decades, she has served PC(USA) and UCC churches in New York and Connecticut. Her work history also includes 11 years as an Emmy-nominated TV reporter and producer, which has come in quite handy during these days of COVID! She is the author of The Invisible Conversations with Your Aging Parents and How Was School Today? Fine. She’s enjoying life as a newlywed and as mom to her 21-year-old daughter. They are laughing a lot together.