Because I'm a pastor, people tell me things they don't share on Facebook. That openness comes from the expectation that I will listen without judgment and offer support without trying to fix what's wrong. People also know that due to pastor-congregant confidentiality, I won't tell the world their secrets.
But I don't think I'm betraying confidence by saying that we're all struggling right now. And that's okay. Some of us are hiding our struggles, and some are in denial. And the challenges are different for each person and family. In my small church, we have hospital nurses, nursing home workers, first responders, grocery store employees, teachers, mental health professionals, accountants, farmers, wedding planners, and restaurant workers. We even have someone responsible for keeping oil and gas site operations safe, which comes with the new challenges of implementing COVID-19 safeguards. I have two close friends in banking who are working around the clock to make sense of the Paycheck Protection Program and provide assistance to businesses that need it. I have friends in journalism and public relations. All of these professions are stressful right now in ways I can't imagine.
I also can't imagine how parents are holding it together with their kids at home for a month already, and knowing that the earliest they'll be back in school will be August or September. Here's hoping. I can see and hear the utter exhaustion from parents juggling work responsibilities, online learning, meals and snacks, potty training, and kids begging to hang out with their friends. And they must do all of this without the usual aids of outings to the park or museum, and the temporary relief from grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other extended family.
Meanwhile, those grandparents are literally in tears because they can't hold their grandchildren right now. People living alone are feeling more isolated than ever. Food insecure families are struggling to feed their children. And while we'd rather not think about it, anyone who's living in a home with an abusive parent, partner, or other family member is trapped in a personal hell right now, with no escape. The work of domestic violence agencies is more important than ever right now, and they need our support.
Yesterday afternoon, my spouse and I took a break from work to go for a walk. It is not lost on me how fortunate I am to have a loving spouse, the physical health to take a walk, and the flexibility of home and work life to take a walking break any time I want. Yet, on that walk, I opened up about how, as a pastor, sometimes I feel the weight of having to hold it together and provide hope and encouragement for others when I'm feeling stressed too. I wondered openly if this is partially what parents are feeling right now: having to be strong for their children all day, only to collapse into a teary-eyed mess every night.
Honestly, I have no idea how working parents are managing right now. You are amazing in ways I can't even begin to imagine. And behind all the cute Facebook posts of crafts, baking, and sidewalk chalk crosses on the driveway, even the all-star parents are battling meltdowns, bickering siblings, and bedtime stalling. I know this because I see it and hear it from you. I also know that long after the sidewalk chalk washes away and the kids are back in classrooms, when they've forgotten most of the details about this time, they will remember that you cared. That you held them in your arms and told them it would be okay. That you made the most of a difficult time. That when you did snap at them you apologized afterward. And most of all, they'll remember that you kept them safe.
We are all struggling. And that's okay.
These struggles also aren't going away anytime soon, and that's okay too. And if you came here looking for solutions or coping mechanisms, you missed the part in the first paragraph when I told you that's not my job. My job is to listen and reflect back what I'm hearing. And I don't know who needs to hear this right now, but I see your struggle. I know life is challenging right now. And if other people seem to be managing better than you, that doesn't mean they are. Likewise, if other people are obviously facing greater challenges than you, don't minimize your own stress and anxiety. This isn't a competition, and whatever you're going through, you have permission to acknowledge that struggle and ask God to give you strength for each moment as it comes.
I don't know when this will end, or how we'll all make it through. But we will, because we have each other. And now you know the real secret: We are all struggling. And that's okay.