How do we handle anxiety? Whether we acknowledge it or not, our world is “plagued” with anxiety. We see it in politicians, who smirk at questioners and avoid answering, co-workers who are late to work, fail to meet deadlines, cannot focus in meetings, family members who cry when we speak to them, seek clear answers in an unclear situation, strangers who shout at others on streets and in shops, push others out of the way to get toilet paper. Anxiety is expressed individually and corporately. Our own responses to anxiety may vary from need control to totally losing the plot.
My anxiety comes and goes depending the day, the tasks ahead, what I am missing. Sunday, we should have been celebrating Mothers’ Day with David’s family. I wasn’t anxious, but sad. Today, I have a lot of tasks ahead, and I am more anxious. Some of my anxiety stems from the fact that I am tired of learning about new ways of working, of not really knowing what I am doing anymore. For me, learning has always been an essential characteristic of living and ministry, but today I feel like I have learned enough. I have tried enough new things, seen enough of other people’s homes through Zoom meetings. My curiosity has peeked. I simply do not want to do anything else and my brain isn’t functioning at my ideal capacity.
Malcolm Gladwell writes about people learning skills. He says, though some dispute this, that once one has put 10,000 hours into a skill or a job, one becomes an expert. Well, I have put those hours into ministry. I thought I had a good level of the basic skills need to be a decent minister. Now, I feel deskilled. I don’t know how to use Zoom well enough. I make trivial mistakes I would not normally make—thank goodness my work isn’t life-threatening! I feel an edginess each day as I tackle the tasks before me. Some days I have to leave the house simply to refocus and restart because my thoughts have stopped having a clear order or making sense.
Now, I am sure I will recover. I am resilient. I have changed job, changed culture enough times to know there comes a point at which I will become comfortable again. I also know I am being changed by every day in lockdown. I do not know what the changes will mean for me long term. Maybe I will cope differently with anxiety. Maybe I will be more honest with people. Maybe I will want to work differently. I am changed but don’t know yet how exactly.
One thing I do know—compassion grows from experiences like this. When I can move through my anxiety to think clearly, what I know that I want to be part of a community of compassion—a place of support for those who are anxious and traumatised. Our communities may look different for some time, but I hope, however they are formed, they can all be built around compassion—an ability to love others fiercely, to welcome strangers and make room for all in our gatherings—virtual or in person.
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