“Hitting the Wall” by Father Daniel Simons | May 20, 2020

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This past week I noticed that in many of my conversations around the parish, and in the wider community, people were describing a new level of fatigue, or crankiness, or anxiety, or frustration. As I listened, I looked inward and found the same within myself. It reminded me of what endurance sports language calls “hitting the wall,” when the body experiences a sudden loss of energy as blood sugar stores are depleted. In our response to this pandemic, our heroic response is followed by a “crash,” as our souls get in touch and express the fullness of our experience, which includes exhaustion and grief.

Last week the diocese hosted an online workshop that it opened to all clergy and lay leaders, called Leadership in a Time of Anxiety and Pandemic. I invited the vestry and staff to that workshop, and afterward I asked those attending what caught their attention. A number of us mentioned a particular slide offered by the Episcopal Relief and Development office. It was titled “The Emotional Lifecycle of a Disaster,” and it illustrated just the phenomenon I was noticing in conversation: after the phase of heroic community cohesion there is a period of disillusionment, where the deeper responses of grief and disorientation start to surface.

Seeing that graph was a reality check and at the same time brought a sense of relief, simply because it gave some definition to this amorphous unease and malaise we feel. It mapped closely to a helpful article I recently read that unpacked research on people isolated in submarines, space stations or polar bunkers, describing what is called the “third phase,” where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear. (Interestingly, those interviewed said they would go back to that place of adversity — the space station, Antarctica, wherever — because of the learning environment it made possible.)

It’s increasingly clear that we are running more of a marathon than a sprint. Or we might frame it as a pilgrimage. Each step of the journey is a precious teacher, and there is so much to discover in each moment, including this one. As we enter the “third phase” and if you feel you are “hitting the wall,” this is a good moment to check in with yourself and:

  1. Just breathe, and know that this is normal, a necessary stage of recovery and growth;
  2. Where possible, restore your body/soul/spirit “blood sugar” levels — check your diet (including media diet), sleep, time spent practicing gratitude, etc.
  3. Reach out and connect — everything in the cosmos is interdependent and co-evolving, and this one fact must be learned and practiced by us to heal the whole.

Tomorrow evening I’ll be online via Zoom (at this link) to speak with anyone who would like to discuss this current stage of our life more fully. Together we are wiser than any one of us individually, and in leaning in, we discover that the Body of Christ is more than the sum of its parts — God is with us!

Categories: Weekly Reflections