The winter blues
I’m writing this in the middle of Aotearoa New Zealand’s winter, July 2022. It’s the third July in a row where our lives have been affected by the global pandemic that is COVID-19. While we’ve uncomfortably journeyed through seasons of restrictions and mandates, we were told that this winter would be especially hard, given the evolving nature of COVID-19 variants and the rise of a more serious strain of flu,as we haven’t really had the flu in the community for a few years.
True to predictions, COVID-19 case numbers are on the rise, the flu is actually asbad as predicted, inflation is as high as it’s been in a generation, and the cost-of-living has increased to be very … costly.
If you follow current events and all the major news sites, there’s not a whole lot of good news to cheer us up.
Church is not normal
As a local church pastor, it’s also not a particularly positive time to be leading. The sociological effects of the above means that most churches are still in aninbetween space where attendance levels are 30-40% down from where they were pre-COVID, and while online attendance continues to help mitigate that, community life is not what anywhere close to what we would call ‘normal.’
After 2½ years of COVID and all the debates around how governments (and churches) around the world have handled the pandemic, people are generally weary about the volatility of debating the topics at hand, not only in the public sphere, but in the lounges of our family gatherings. People are more divided than they have been in quite some time.
This may all give you a headache. It does for many people.
I certainly experienced a headache, and more than that, I noticed my physical equilibrium was off-centre. Little niggles, things I hadn’t experienced before. So off to my general practitioner went I, expecting the normal response of everything being fine, I probably just needed a holiday.
After a brief physical examination, everything was as expected. Fine.
However, my doctor spent more time than normal running through a mental health questionnaire; I’m not sure I’ve had that before, certainly not to that degree. I was honest, answering mid-range to most questions, or so I thought.
The diagnosis: ‘Well Mr Harris, according to my diagnosis, you’re experiencing a mild level of depression.’
I didn’t see that coming.
Dealing with depression
I mention this because I know I’m not the only one, but I do know that I was not prepared to hear that diagnosis. It was adefinitive swallow-my-pride moment, and one that I had to wrestle with physically, mentally and spiritually.
I also had work to do. Talking to people, working out strategies to manage what is going on, and accepting that I’m not invincible to the pressures of life and the challenges of leadership.
It’s a new normal for me, and one that is a work-in-progress in a new season of the journey of life.It may be temporary, or it may be something to manage in the future; whichever it is, acceptance has helped the future begin.
The value of Scripture
You may be experiencing a similar diagnosis, or you may be experiencing your own challenges. Whatever you’re experiencing, God knows all about it. He knows the pressures, the insecurities, the fears, the doubts. He knows our thoughts and He also knows what we need to get through.
Two weeks after my diagnosis I found myself teaching about spiritualrhythms and practicesthat help us want to hurry up to slow down. The key Scripture was from the Gospel of Matthew,chapter 11, verses 28-30. Many of you will know it, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage in perhaps the best paraphrase contained in his book, The Message. He puts Jesus’ words this way, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Both the Scripture and the paraphrased scripture are useful for allowing God to begin a restorative process within us when life may be overwhelming. If there’s a season where this may the case, there’s a likelihood that season could be now.
Placing our lives in the hands of Jesus and accepting the rest that only He can provide is a spiritual practice that comes in handy when we need the kind of rest Jesus offers.
Accepting the work of Jesus in our lives at the same time as accepting the reality of winter seasons in our lives combine to allow seasons to pass, in His time.
May we be patient and open in welcoming new seasons that present new opportunities to welcome the unforced rhythms of grace. In that place, we’ll recover our life.
Who wants normal when there’s new insights to gain when life is abnormal.
Grant Harris is the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, a church that was planted 65-years ago and comprises people of all generations seeking to reach a community that consists of people of all generations. The tagline of Windsor Park is ‘doing life and faith, together.’ Grant can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.