On this week of Thanksgiving, I want to count my blessings. I want to publicly document all of my abundance. Normally, giving thanks comes easily for me, and this year is no different. I can always find much to be thankful for. It’s just that this year, my gratitude comes mixed with sorrow, more like a broken hallelujah. Often we separate and juxtapose joy and sorrow, but together they are powerful. (If you don’t believe it, go watch Inside Out!) The Psalmist writes songs mixed with lament and gratitude, and thus his praises are not just beautiful, but authentic. So, before I begin my thanksgiving, I want to reflect on the difficult changes that have occurred this year.
My husband and I made the choice to transition our children to public school this school year. In fact, we announced this change to our children approximately two weeks before the pandemic began last March. At the time, two of our children were in private school and two were being homeschooled. Then, almost without warning, Covid-19 rapidly changed the end of their school years. My children were sent home from their school and homeschool co-op abruptly, unable to truly say goodbye to their friends.
Being practically homebound last spring felt like a gift at first. Usually, I found myself driving all over the county, keeping up with work, school, church, piano, and karate schedules. Now, I was given permission to work from home, watch church from home, and stop all of the extracurricular activities. The quiet felt like a much-needed break. However, as the months dragged on, I found that I was losing energy. My extroverted self was missing relationship. It turns out, my kids were feeling this lack of connection as well.
As school began this fall, my children transitioned beautifully into public school. Still, it was hard for them to form new relationships while wearing a mask, sitting six feet apart, and only going to school two days per week. They grieved their old friends, their old life. All of the children and youth activities at our church were placed on hold, and they missed their old social outlets. I had planned to be an active parent at their new school, volunteering and forming new relationships of my own. The pandemic changed this plan as well. Instead, I met most of their new teachers virtually.
I also found, as the pandemic wore on, that parenting became much more difficult. Navigating puberty, school transitions, brotherly competition, loneliness, and boredom has made parenting extraordinarily challenging. All of the feelings of grief, it seemed, were being turned into anger, and our house felt (and still feels) like it will implode with the power of it.
My counseling work changed as well. Practically overnight, my counseling practice of 13 years went from in-person counseling to virtual counseling. Although on the positive side, I was able to work from home much of the time and wear jeans and tennis shoes to counseling sessions, I quickly learned that counseling via videoconference is exhausting work. At the end of the day, I left feeling depleted: emotionally, mentally, and physically. Like many other helping jobs which have transitioned from in-person to virtual, I found that an element of the relationship goes missing through a computer screen. It takes more work to be understood, to be felt, and to create safety.
Through the pandemic, I have learned a lot about myself. A couple of years ago, I discovered the Enneagram, and it has been so valuable to me in this season. It has helped to give language and understanding to the way I am experiencing the pandemic. As an Enneagram 2, I am wired to see the world through emotion. It can be a super power to understand the feelings and needs of others and be able to help and provide understanding. It certainly is helpful as a counselor. However, the flip side is that I expect to receive love and appreciation back for my efforts. Well, this year, there has been little good feedback and positive interpersonal interaction with which to refill my cup.
Whereas normally my job is rewarding through person to person connection, now the connection feels tenuous through screens and phonelines. Whereas normally I can get together with friends on a regular basis, this year I’ve had to work harder and be more creative to make that happen. Although as a parent I know that my children give little positive feedback, this year, their negative feedback towards each other and myself has felt almost demoralizing. Even my podcast, which I spend hours and hours working on for the purpose of encouraging others has had less listenership since the pandemic began. In other words, it feels like all of the places that I am usually most “helpful,” are places that this year I have received little reward for the effort.
Thanks to the Enneagram’s insight, knowing my own underlying proclivities, and getting to the end of my own rope, the Lord is leading me through some really good soul work in this season. He is rooting out pride and digging up humility. He is unveiling sins that I can normally dress up or quickly move past. He is teaching me to “pare down,” and cling to what is good. I am learning how to be more intentional in my relationships, even my relationship with Jesus.
This brings me, finally, to my thanksgiving. In a year where many lost their lives, I am thankful for my health and my family. In a year where racial dynamics have risen to the surface of our country, I am thankful for my adopted son, and how his presence in my life is teaching me to see racial differences and injustices I would have previously overlooked. I am thankful that through a major life transition, the Lord has sustained my family. I am thankful that though many are without jobs, my husband and I have good, meaningful work. I am thankful that though some days of parenting are exhausting, the Lord has given me four beautiful boys which, in faith, I believe will grow into Godly men. I am thankful that I have learned to be more intentional about relationships, no longer taking them for granted. I am thankful that the Lord is honing my skills and creativity. I am thankful that I am growing a true appreciation for peace: relationally, mentally, and spiritually. I certainly have much to be thankful for.
Thank you for coming to my Thanksgiving TED talk.
Pause: Inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Find a comfortable position, and read Psalm 103, taking note of the Psalmist’s gratitude.
Renew: Music can help us reflect and move words and thoughts from our brains to our hearts. I love Ellie Holcomb’s music, which often reflects Scripture. In this song, she sings through the first few verses of Psalm 103. Listen to her song: Don’t Forget His Love and reflect on the Lord’s goodness.
Next: What about you? Do you have much to lament this season? What are you thankful for? Think, pray, or journal through your experience over the past year and how you’ve seen the Lord’s provision in your life.
May we be people who learn to lament, and still lift our eyes and hands to praise the Father for all of His good gifts.
Pause, Renew, Next!