It all started a few weeks ago when I was leading my team through a critical time. Like most charities and organisations, my colleagues and I at Church of England - Birmingham, had been responding to the COVID-19 crisis. All of us were trying to take in the constant waves of new information, whilst seeking to keep those in our care safe and ensure ministry could continue.
Then lockdown happened.
We now knew we were in for the long haul and I started negotiations to furlough my team. It was an intense time and my focus was on those I line manage and making sure they were informed, consulted and cared for. I hadn’t really thought about what furlough (going on paid leave) would mean for me, aside from giving me some extra time for my master’s essays.
Yet, when I realised I was being furloughed indefinitely, I crashed. I cried for two hours straight. And I’m not talking baby tears, I’m talking about full blown sobbing.
I spoke to a friend (still crying) and said, ‘I know it’s stupid, but I rescued all the pot plants from the office and now will I ever get to give them back?’
She replied, ‘This is grief’.
All that lovely free time and space I thought I’d have to make a promotion plan for my podcast, write my essays, read loads of books etc. was gone. It had been sucked up into an emotional mess in my brain. My energy levels were low. Sometimes I could manage the washing up or a short walk, read a little bit of a book, but it was punctuated by zero motivation about the things I care most about, plus numbness and sadness. For some furlough is a gift; a break from a job they may not love. But for many of us in ministry and other vocational lines of work, furlough can feel like taking away of purpose and a living out of God’s calling.
The past week I’ve felt like I’ve been bouncing from ‘I’m not a crazy enough to think I can function normally in this crazy situation, but I should be a *tad* more productive’, to ‘nothing matters’, and ‘I miss my colleagues, my routine, my normality’.
Luckily, my university has extended all deadlines by 6 weeks, which I’m incredibly grateful for. I wouldn’t have met the criteria for an extension, yet I need one, I am exhausted.
Revd. Jacqui Lewis (@RevJacquiLewis) posted this today on Twitter:
‘Grief cannot be neatly contained. Trauma shatters and destabilizes our routines. So, if you are weary, distracted, unproductive, unfocused: that’s completely normal. Be gentle with yourself. This is more than any of us should have to hold.’
It was the kindness and wisdom I needed to hear.
I honestly still don’t know how to do ‘this’. I’m taking it a day at a time. I have a small goal for each week and I now write down the things I’ve achieved in a day, even if they weren’t noteworthy tasks before.
The thing that has helped me get into a better place is prayer and writing. I realised I was holding my breath, waiting for this all to be over. Yet, I need to breathe. Breathe in the fresh air, life and God’s goodness. Leaning into spiritual practices that help me process what’s happening, help ease my heart and move forward.
This morning I opened my bible and engaged in the ancient practice of Lectio Divina with the passage from Matthew 5 on ‘worry’. What spoke to me was the line, ‘but more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well.’ So, my purpose for now is prayer, rest, kindness and service. Being attentive to the Holy One.
I don’t know what the future holds. No one does right now. God is my constancy, my rock and the one to whom I will cling to. If there’s one thing I would love to end on, is that whatever you feel – it’s ok. Seek God, these times will pass.
Written by Lizzie Gawen. Lizzie is studying missional leadership at ForMission College and is Mission Apprentice Scheme Coordinator for Church of England – Birmingham.