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Exhausted and angry? That'll work.

A school district superintendent is teaching 8th grade Social Studies because the regular teacher has COVID-19 and there’s a shortage of healthy substitutes. California has made it extremely difficult for districts to go back to online education.

To protect the health of the congregation a pastor and her council decided to return to requiring masks during their worship service. Attendance dropped from 85 to 15 in one Sunday. The pastor filed her paperwork to retire early.

The normal ratio of traveling nurses to resident nurses at the local hospital is 10 to 90. Currently its running 80 to 20 not only because the nurses that live in town are sick, but because so many have quit.

People are done.

Tangled up with their exhaustion are a bunch of other emotions like frustration, resentment, grief, loneliness, helplessness, and pain. Pretty hopeless, right? Not according to Dr. Brené Brown’s latest research. Turns out that each of the emotions on that gloomy list can feed a secondary emotion: anger. How is anger a good thing? Well, according to Brown “anger is an action emotion” (B. Brown, 220, 2022). Granted, sometimes its destructive action, but it doesn’t have to be; anger can also be a catalyst for things like courage, love, and justice.

How? That’s the tricky part. Anger often comes when our vision of what should be happening is in direct contrast to what is actually happening in the moment. That difference is where the problem starts. But, of course, there are two sides to every problem.

Appreciative inquiry understands the two sides this way: there’s the problem and there’s the passion underneath it. A problem is only a problem because something about it threatens something we are passionate about, something we treasure. Dwelling on the problem side of the situation leads to feelings of frustration which can cycle down into resentment and helplessness. But if we flip the problem over and focus on the passion -- the energy of the anger can work toward that vision of how things should be. This work isn’t easy or smooth, there will be obstacles, roadblocks and even solid walls of resistance. Continuing to move forward with courage and curiosity, rather than falling back into frustration and resentment takes support from others and personal skills in reflection and resetting.

A friend of mine is working with legislators to draft legislation in Oregon to help teachers and principals get a break. She has long been frustrated with the impact the pandemic is having on students, teachers, and school administrators. She spent more than a couple of months resentful and angry. Now she has a plan. With the support of a few friends who are also educators, she has figured out a way that retired teachers, especially experts in trauma or special needs can help. They will invest a day or two to take students through activities designed to help them deal with the impact of the pandemic on their lives. While the kids are engaged, the teachers will be given a day off with pay to focus on their mental health. This day is to be placed on the front or back of a weekend, preferably a 3-day weekend, with the result that teachers and principals have 4 days to reset in whatever way works for them. There are lots of obstacles in the education code to this plan – but her group is working to overcome them. It’s not everything that teachers, administrators, or students need, but it’s a start.

My friend is working from her core values – which are about loving kids and working for what is best for them. The pandemic has helped many of us realize what we truly value. Remember the early days of the pandemic when in-person worship was discovered to be unsafe? Most congregations realized that they put such a high value on worshipping God together, that they couldn’t fathom stopping. They were willing to overcome technical obstacles, learn new skills and settle into a whole new way of doing things. The obstacles of the COVID-restrictions were overcome with commitment to a core value expressed through curiosity and creativity.

Here's my advice. Take a nap. Every single one of us need a mental health break. When you wake up, center yourself on God’s vision. Epiphany is the season of revelation. Spend some time reflecting on the situation around your exhaustion, dig into your frustration and resentment, tap into your anger, and then channel it into creative curiosity. God has a vision of what can help us all through this; your exhaustion just might be your key to being part of it.

Helpful Resources:

Here’s are a few resources I developed at the beginning of the pandemic to help identify the values our congregation members were demonstrating. I hope they are helpful to you now.

Let's talk about scheduling a workshop to help you and your folks move from exhaustion through anger to creative curiosity and action!

1 Comment

This is so timely! Thanks for the reminder that God uses everything, even Pandemics!

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