Text of Message:
Summer is nearly over! I know autumn doesn’t really begin for a few more weeks, but when September comes, it feels like summer is over. Students are returning to school—online or in-person, both bring their stresses. The days are getting shorter—that’s what makes me sad. I’m now setting out on my morning run in the dark again. Even if we haven’t felt the cooling of the air yet, we know it’s just around the corner!
And yet because of the pandemic, most of us haven’t been able to do the things that we count on doing in the summertime that bring us joy and provide a needed break and distraction from the ongoing routines of the rest of the year.
My District Superintendents indicate that many clergy haven’t taken a vacation this summer. Why? I would imagine it’s because they don’t want to “waste” their precious vacation days staying at home! We’re an adventurous lot and we want to go places and see people and do things that we don’t get to go to or see or do most of the year. We want to break up the liturgical year with some days of rest and relaxation, fun and adventure.
Can I just suggest that when this whole thing is over and people can travel more that one of the best things you can do for your clergy is to give them some extra days of vacation? And to make sure they take a break now if they haven’t already? Otherwise, it might be a long winter of discontent!
Recently I was reading about the concern that the pandemic potentially may cause an epidemic of depression and anxiety. Certainly, we have all known our anxious moments. And for those who are seriously clinically depressed—and all of this has triggered it in new or more ways—it’s really important that you seek professional help. For clergy, we have the Employee Assistance Program with our health insurance and it’s there if you need it.
But what I was reading suggested that what most of us are experiencing isn’t depression but boredom. I was surprised by that. How can I be bored? I’m working hard every day. I was supposed to retire September 1 and then become the Ecumenical Officer for the denomination, but now I’m both the resident bishop of NIC until the end of the year PLUS the Ecumenical Officer. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying how can I be bored if I am so busy? Plus all the other things that need doing as we stay home most of the time.
The pandemic is the perfect recipe for boredom: we’re confined to our homes most of the time. If we live alone, we don’t see very many people if at all, including children and grandchildren, parents and friends—many we haven’t seen for months. Eating out is seriously restricted as a diversion from our own cooking. I know some of you enjoy the summer for outdoor concerts, fairs, and other annual events, most of which have been canceled for this year.
Maybe boredom doesn’t have anything to do with busy-ness. Maybe it has everything to do with reduced mental interaction that normally comes through casual and unexpected human encounters. Or the social stimulation if only at the kitchen table in our offices—where we don’t go yet. Or an adventure into favorite or new places in the world. Or just a break from it all. And now we’ve missed many of those opportunities as the end of summer comes! I wonder if the lack of professional (and soon school) sports for the last six months also has caused boredom; it’s a commonly enjoyed diversion or escape for a few hours that has brought joy to many people and something that has been counted on from week to week.
But I wonder if we’re reluctant to give ourselves permission to enjoy the simple things we do have in life when there are so many disasters, pain, and suffering going on around us. I remember when I got my first haircut during the pandemic. It was days after George Floyd was killed. I was so happy to get a haircut! And I was relishing my haircut when I read on social media some killjoy saying, “How can all you people be so excited about your haircut when there are people dying in the streets!” Of course, I care about people dying in the streets. Momentarily I felt shamed for my joy but I believe that I actually have more capacity for compassion—and even action—if I allow myself moments and opportunities of simple joy in the midst of this otherwise difficult time. It’s the failure or lack of that which breaks up and helps us escape the reality of these days that brings inertia and even crankiness.
One of my DSs, who will go nameless except his initials are Brian Gilbert, guiltily or apologetically told me in one of my check-in calls that he was reading “Horatio Hornblower” by CS Forrester, a series of adventure stories from the high seas that he read in his childhood. It’s sheer escapism! Why feel at all guilty? (Actually, I don’t think he did. He just thought I’d think he should read something more serious!) Such enjoyable (for him anyway) escapism, that in this case hearkens back to his childhood, was exactly the anti-boredom prescription he needed! You could tell just by the way he talked about it!
What are the true pure pleasures of life? I also read that boredom wasn’t even a word until the mid-19th century. Before that, people expected to have some tedium in their lives, not expecting constant stimulation. It was really with the rise of the consumer culture in the 20th century that made boredom a thing—a thing to avoid at all costs! And as a result, we may miss what centuries of people knew: there are some true, pure pleasures in life that break up the tedium, the wear of busy-ness, the boredom.
This is a time when we need to reconnect with them: enjoy them, savor them, and learn to value them, so that when we have all the diversions, adventures, and stimulation available to us again we don’t forget what brings us joy, deep joy if only for moments. A locally grown tomato. A beautiful sunrise or sunset (depending upon what kind of bird you are—early bird or night owl). An unexpected phone call from an old friend who was bored and wanted a good laugh. Or a few stolen minutes to quilt, like my friend who made this quilt for me.
Because I think reconnecting with simple pleasures that bring us joy—love, gifts of creation, engaging stories (fiction and non-fiction), and more—make us more joyous, generous, loving people with each other and with God.
There’s one more week of summer by my count.
“Count your many blessings; name them one by one.”
It’s an old hymn and I don’t know what inspired it, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a booming economy, a perfectly healthy body, a family without stress, a business going gangbusters, or a roaring 20s-type lifestyle in any way. I’d guess it was a time in history or in someone’s life where people were struggling. Maybe they were bored with the monotony that even busy-ness can bring.
Make this last week of summer count!
~Bishop Sally Dyck