Grief Fatigue

Grief Fatigue July 26, 2016

10-tenselonelyLast week I had the opportunity to meet with a group of millennial social justice leaders who were meeting across the street at Union Theological Seminary. I probably shouldn’t have read their bios before I headed over to their closing dinner, where I’d been asked to “share something hopeful,” because their list of accomplishments and obvious enthusiasm for healing the world was a bit intimidating to me. Especially these days. Because I can clearly see, as can anyone with eyes open, that this world we’re living in is a place full of hurt; there is so much healing and love and fixing that are called for.

And secretly lately I’ve been wondering if the little we can all contribute really doesn’t make much difference at all?

As I looked out over the crowd of leaders gathered in that room, I could see their bright-eyed enthusiasm and I remembered that feeling. It’s the feeling that (a very long time ago) made me look out over considerable challenges in the path ahead of me and think to myself: “There is no challenge that is insurmountable! If you try hard enough, you can overcome anything! Following your call and vocation will make sure that you contribute something, however small, to making the world a better place.”

But I’ve noticed something in my congregation and among my colleagues lately. And I noticed it this week when I was looking in the mirror. It’s that secret-yet-shared question about whether what we do makes any difference at all. I think, along with a lot of others, I have grief fatigue.

Like so many of you, I’ve been feeling the brokenness of the world weighing heavier and heavier. In fact, there has not been a week all this summer that has not been marked by a news cycle reporting violence and death. An unending litany of names and places rotates through my head constantly: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Charleston, San Bernardino, Philando Castille, Orlando, Dallas, Nice, now Fort Myers, and on and on and on and on.

Not only is the ever-growing list of names louder and louder, I’ve noticed lately a kind of panicked internal response when I realize, sometimes all of the sudden, that names and places and circumstances are starting to run together. Was it a police shooting in Baton Rouge, or was that a black man killed by gunfire, or was it a school shooting? And was he shot or choked to death? Or did she kill herself? No, really? And was it a gun purchased legally or a broken taillight or a mass shooting?

A friend said off hand to me the other day, “I just realized I’ve seen more people killed this year on Facebook than I ever thought I would in all my life.” That is true.

I don’t know if grief fatigue is an official thing, but here’s what it feels like: you do the work you do because you believe that your efforts contribute to the healing of the world in some way. You rise above the frustrating banalities of your job, day in and day out; you bear stress and a heavy workload with determination; you invest in the lives of those around you, even sometimes (often) at the expense of your personal life. And you do all of this because you still believe that whatever you can contribute can, in fact, help change the world for the better.

But how many comforting words can you manufacture? How many vigils can you plan, or candles can you light, or outraged essays on gun violence can you write before you start to secretly wonder if that fire you had in your belly — the one about using what little influence you have to heal the world — was wrong?

I thought to myself as I crossed the street: this sort of musing, while honest, is probably not the “something hopeful” the conference organizers were hoping I might convey in my remarks. And I was feeling the need to come up with something hopeful that night, not just for them — for me, too. So, some words for all of us who can’t give in to grief fatigue, who need something hopeful today:

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

— “Prayer of Oscar Romero,” by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Mich.

The prayer of Oscar Romero reminds us that while we cannot do everything, we can do something and do it well. From Oct 6-7, The Riverside Church, along with a growing list of partners, will host God and Guns: Millennial Faith Leaders Address Gun Violence. This is our something to say that losing 30,000 lives a year to gun violence in unacceptable. Join us in October and learn how to do something in your area of influence as well.


Follow Pastor Amy on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – @PastorAmyTRC

Originally posted on Baptist News Global.

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