Overwhelmed by Life

September 3, 2021 by Beth A. Richardson

I hate change. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’m uncomfortable with change, with transitions. Perhaps it’s a personality thing—I’m a “J” (Judging) on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. That means that while I’m really good at taking care of details, I have a hard time dealing with new things. I like things to stay the same—from the way I do tasks, to, even sometimes, the location of the milk in the refrigerator.

But change is a part of life. In fact, there is no life without change. From the time that we are born, transitions begin to unfold. We grow in bodies, minds, and spirits. We are faced every day with new experiences, people, and opportunities.

Eighteen months ago, the whole world was thrown into chaos by the arrival of the Coronavirus. Since that time, we have been overwhelmed by forces outside of our control. We’re all facing transitions at what seems to be exponentially expanding rates. 

In recent weeks, two members of my small church community died. And there have been deaths and serious illnesses in the families of a half-dozen close friends. “Life is happening,” one of my friends said. I thought, “But it seems like it’s more life than I can handle all at once.” 

I don’t know about you, but these days, I am regularly, completely, overwhelmed by life.

Stuck in the In-Between

Several weeks ago my friend Dave died. I had been traveling with him for the last eighteen years, having promised him that I would go with him to the end of his life. He lived for thirty-four years with HIV, having been diagnosed just as the first drug treatments were available. The same drugs that kept him alive all these years ravaged his fragile body, and a year and a half ago, he started kidney dialysis. He found himself with little time for anything but doctor’s appointments and dialysis. After many conversations with God, he made the courageous decision to stop the dialysis. Two days after his last treatment, he entered hospice. Three weeks later, he breathed his last breath and went home to the heart of the God who created him.

It will be a while until we can hold the service for Dave. I realized just the other day that I am stuck in this “in-between time”—having walked with Dave to the end of his life, but not having gotten to the completion of this very human transition. I am sad and anxious and overwhelmed. And I am having a new sense of empathy for all those who, during these months of COVID-19, have also been unable to gather to mourn the passing of a loved one. 

Our life’s transitions are marked by the rituals that we have developed as humans and as people of faith. When we are not able to finish the work of grief, we are unsettled. We are stuck in an in-between place, having lost our beloved ones, but unable to complete the process of letting go.

During Dave’s final week of life, and since then, I have found myself praying something like one of the final prayers in the service for death and resurrection. Here is the prayer from The United Methodist Book of Worship: 

O God, all that you have given us is yours.
As first you gave Dave to us,
now we give Dave back to you. …
Into your hands, O merciful Savior,
we commend your servant Dave. …
Receive Dave into the arms of your mercy,
into the blessed rest of everlasting peace,
and into the glorious company of the saints of light. Amen.

This prayer has given me comfort in this time of grieving, this difficult waiting for when we can gather together to celebrate Dave’s life and the ways he touched us.

The Practice of Ritual

What if, during this time of great upheaval, we found ways to ease our paths through transitions? In this article, Roger Owens reminds us that in times of transition, one of the best things we can do is to keep in touch with what is going on in the present moment. For me, one of the primary practices is ritual, calling on the Holy One to be present in each moment of each day. Here are some ideas:

1. Ask God’s blessing on meals. Light a candle or say a prayer each time you sit down to eat. “God, bless this food and all those who were a part of bringing it to this table.”

2. Watch for signs of hope in the world and celebrate them. A sunset, a chat with a friend, watching the change of seasons. “Thank you, God, for your presence in the world and in me.” 

3. Turn worries into prayers. When you find yourself worrying about a person or situation, stop and turn that concern over to the Holy One. “God, I’m worrying about [fill in the blank]. I give it now to you.”

4. Pray the news. Offer each news story to God. “Holy One, be present in this situation. In your mercy, hear our prayers.”

5. Invite the Holy One into each transition. 

  • The first day of school. “Walk with [name], Loving God, into new classrooms and new relationships. Let them know your presence as this school year begins.”
  • A birthday. “Walk with [name], Loving God, into a new year of life. Let them know your presence in each new day.”
  • The beginning of cancer treatments. “Walk with [name], Loving God, into the unknown of these treatments. Send healing, wholeness, and courage and let them know your presence in these difficult moments.”
  • The coming of a new baby. “Walk with [name], Loving God, as this new life comes into the world. Send your loving presence every day of their life.”
  • The death of a loved one. “Walk with us, Loving God, in the death of [name]. Hold our wounded spirits and let us know that you sit beside us as we weep.”

No matter what transitions we are facing, we can remember that God is here with us. May you feel God’s presence, comfort, and guidance in the midst of your transitions. And always remember: You are beloved. And you are not alone.

Beth A. Richardson serves as the director of prayer and worship life and Dean of The Upper Room Chapel. Her latest release from Upper Room Books is Walking in the Wilderness: Seeking God During Lent.

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