by Kay Klinkenborg
Disappointed, angry, frustrated, discouraged, maybe even despair. Here we are again with COVID cases rising. We set our hopes and dreams on a different outcome and projected what our future for 2021 would hold. But maybe, just maybe that is what creates our pain, of not accepting ‘reality’ as it is. We had no guarantees, no promises, some stated hopes from the professional scientists. But we are in uncharted waters headed to a new land in which we haven’t lived before. And we’re most certainly grieving that it hasn’t played out as we hoped.
Where does faith and hope fit in this current ‘reality’? Right smack dab in the middle of it! For if we allow ourselves to be projecting out front of ourselves as to what will be, we set up unrealistic expectations. Faith is dealing with realistic realities, so we must practice realistic expectations for the months, possibly years ahead.
Our world prides itself that there are advanced countries with vast resources. But a fact of nature, Coronavirus, COVID has brought us to our knees. As has the ‘Red Alert of Climate Change’ announced this week by the UN report of climatic changes and predictions for the future. But that is not the only pandemic happening in our world. Disastrous weather events, fires, massive floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, famine, wars, racism, Afghanistan crisis, the rise of nationalism and white extremist groups in America and abroad. Are we overwhelmed, YES and if we aren’t, we are numb or disconnected from reality.
So, what are the realistic expectations on which we need to focus? I offer no panacea of actions, but I do offer life lessons that have brought me through tough times and documented by numerous others in memoirs and professional literature.
First: we are not alone. Numerous scripture reminders of this truth comfort us. Isaiah 43: 5 states: “Fear not for I am with you…” “FEAR NOT” is in the Bible 365 times. Isn’t it intriguing to think that thousands of years ago people were leaning on those same words just as we need them today? And there is the profound gift of the Presence of the Divine in each of us, so we are here for each other.
Second: we don’t have to have all the answers. Living with ‘unknowing’ is hard and stressful. But it is also a learned art in our spiritual journey. Life doesn’t come with guarantees. And if we are learning that for the first time…we must own our naivete. We each come learning how to cope in new ways; how to be friends and present for each other. We come learning that ‘ambiguity’, not knowing can be a personal place of growth in our faith journey. In the book, The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering A Life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty, Dr Estelle Frankel reminds us that “spiritual evolution doesn’t take place through inquiry…but meditating with complex questions.” Sit with our questions…don’t be afraid of questions.
Third: we can do this one hard thing! Travel this journey, live with the unknown outcomes. Take one day at a time. Believe in ourselves and the strength of God that underpins the core of who we are and lives within us. We have all done hard things before we didn’t think we could do or find our way through. But we did. We are resilient! We can remain resilient. And tapping into our ingenuity and creativity and sharing that with one another is a miracle gift in time of struggle. We can be a balm to others; we can allow others to be balm to us.
Fourth: we need to ask for what we need. People can’t read our minds. If we need a phone call or a visit with a safe vaccinated person and share a cup of tea, we need to speak up. It is not a time to be shy. Yes, some of us with underlying medical conditions must limit the size of groups in which we can participate; but we can still practice safe health measures. And don’t forget our technology…phones and internet for some.
Fifth: claim and practice our creativity that each of us can embody. Erich Fromm, in Man for Himself states: “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” We have an opportunity to engage with the ‘extraordinary in the ordinary’ of our daily lives. From the dishes we wash, the smell of clean laundry, the food we prepare. Very mundane tasks we think; but Celtic spirituality teaches us these are the moments where the sacred insights and ‘ahh’ can pop open and bring delightful surprise. Creativity is like art…it is merely anything you do or produce or participate in that expresses who you are. You don’t have to be a formal artist, it isn’t with paint, brush, or graphic pencils…but it can be. One such experience was in a women’s group I led in Missouri; we had a share-our creativity-day. Women brought home canned goods from their gardens; a term paper written for a college class; a pie they baked for a sick friend. Crochet, knitting, quilt pieces, favorite recipes copied off to share. A letter of encouragement to their children. And the list went on. Creativity expressing who they were and how they saw themselves in the moment.
“In Jewish Kabbalah tradition, creativity is also linked with the divine realm. All forms of creative expression is linked with divine nothingness, ayin. According to Kabbalah, all wisdom, understanding, and knowledge flow from ayin. Oft quoted is Job: 28:12: ‘Wisdom emerges from nothingness [ayin}.’ “ Estelle Frankel, The Wisdom of Not Knowing; p 124.
What we fear about being stymied, bored, and restricted once again is we are about ‘nothing’; not able to do what we hoped for…again what are the realistic expectations?
Sixth: take a serious look at the skills you brought forth at other times of struggles. Lean back into what worked before. Maybe it was prayer, quiet time alone, talk with a trusted friend, reading spiritual literature or the Bible. Take a virtual walk with your computer in this time of heat waves…look up beautiful scenes and use your imagination to be in that place absorbing that beauty. Grab a favorite book or picture album off your shelf. It can change a gloomy day into one of joy. We all underestimate the skills we have used to survive in hard times. I found that consistently with my clients and spiritual directees. When I helped them begin to list ‘how did you do that?” they are astounded at the skills they brought forth to make things work. We function so unconsciously many times, we don’t claim all that has taken place that reveals quite a remarkable coping individual.
Seventh: it is not an abnormal reaction to these times to need to seek out professional help; even for a few sessions to talk with someone neutral. We are our own worst enemies in judging our coping skills as lacking. Seek out a Spiritual Companion/Director or Counselor. Don ‘t expect that any of us needs to go this alone. It is a highly tense unexpected set of world circumstances; none of us has the map. But we can journey together, and support can make all the difference.
Eighth: don’t be afraid of reality. Look this square in the face. This won’t change tomorrow or the next day. We must have realistic expectations…the hoped for, dreamed about end to this is not visible. We must live in reality to be healthy and take adequate care of our bodies, minds, and souls. Living out into the future is wasted energy; now I am not saying we don’t make plans…but let us learn to make plans to will require us to be fluid and flexible in these times. Learning to ‘be in the moment like never before’ can become a mantra, a sustenance, a relief.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, ordained minister and public inspirational speaker wrote on her monthly e-letter a week ago:
“Because actual reality is also the only place where actual joy is to be found. If joy is delayed until a preferred future comes about, we set ourselves up for despair. But if there is hope in THIS day. Joy in THIS reality. This life. This body. This heart, then certainly we can prevail.
We can. We will. We are.
Be gentle with yourselves right now.” Nadia Bolz-Weber
I have no doubt we can continue on this hard journey, find our way, find joy where we least expect it, and experience a deeper faith and understanding of the Divine within us and others. We can do this one hard thing: look reality in the face, practice our faith, and be honest about our struggles on this unexpected tumultuous journey.
© Kay F. Klinkenborg, MA August 2021
Retired RN, LMFT, Clinical Member AAMFT
(Assoc. for Marriage & Family Therapists)
Member Church of the Palm, Sun City, AZ