By Fr. David Houk
Not only is fatigue a symptom experienced by those who contract COVID-19, but now we are starting to hear of people who are corona-free but experiencing pandemic fatigue. Months of dealing with the virus, restrictions, fear, and uncertainty have taken their toll, as this article by Johns Hopkins describes.
There’s no way to put lipstick on this pig. It is not as easy as “turning that frown upside down,” putting on a happy face, or thinking positively. Months back, I described in one of our weekly eVOICEs how I was a bundle of mixed emotions and contradictions during my isolation. I suspect this is true of all of us. Here are some examples I articulated.
- I’m healthy and well, yet I find myself more irritable than usual.
- I’m grateful for the way parishioners are serving each other and showing up online, but I worry how we will recapture our momentum and grow as a church after the pandemic.
- I’m thankful for technology and how we can connect online, if not in person. But Zoom meetings wear me out!
- I sometimes find myself feeling bored and exhausted at the same time.
- I miss people, and yet I’m annoyed by people, especially when reading political posts on Facebook. And the contradiction here is that it turns out that I myself don’t have the love and empathy that I’m hoping to see in others!
Now, months after I wrote those of those mixed emotions, the pandemic continues. I know more and more people who have contracted COVID-19. I now know several people who have died from the virus. And I talk and pray regularly with parishioners who have family or elderly relatives suffering from the virus, or folks who feel isolated and alone. There seems to be no end to this situation. People are worn out. Things are definitely not okay!
Sometimes spirituality can be a band-aid for our fears and frustrations and disappointments. We cover up our hurts with superficial slogans that conceal our pain and anxiety: “God will never give me more than I can handle.” “I shouldn’t complain; instead I should count my blessings.” “Everything happens for a reason.”
As we head into All Saints Day, my mind is full of the beatitudes, Jesus’s words at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Apparently, the Church considers the beatitudes the hallmarks of a saintly life, which is why they are always appointed on All Saints. Yet it is amazing how raw, real, authentic, complex, and paradoxical the beatitudes are. They are kind of like life itself.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10)
Jesus is declaring here that a blessed life can be had in the midst of messy, complex situations. Perhaps he is saying that the only way to have a blessed life is to embrace the contradictions and paradoxes of life, knowing that God’s grace and love are available when everything is so imperfect! To reframe the beatitudes, then, you could say:
- We are okay when our bank account is low, because our worth is in God’s goodness.
- We are okay when we can’t hold it together. When life hurts, God doesn’t expect us to keep a stiff upper lip.
- We are okay when we don’t know it all, and we certainly don’t need to be the loudest voice in the room.
- We are okay when we are empty. Sometimes it really does feel like we don’t have enough.
- We are okay when we are imperfect. It takes a long time to get over ourselves, but God knows we are trying.
- We are okay settling for life’s terms. We don’t always need to win.
- We are okay when we are misunderstood, judged wrongly, and disliked. Life is not a popularity contest.
In all these ways, the beatitudes tell us that blessing is to be had right where we live, whatever we are feeling. The beatitudes tell us, “It’s okay when it’s not okay.” In the midst of mixed emotions and an imperfect world, it is the perfect love, and grace, and mercy of God that meets us right where we are.