When I sat down to write this, I followed a simple ritual that I have used since high school for all writing assignments, especially those I am doing late at night before they are due. Step One. I prayed. An exasperated and quick, not exactly eloquent prayer. Since age 14 or so the prayers have always been more or less, “God, I don’t want to sound stupid.” Professors and parishioners for decades have mixed reviews on the answer to that prayer. Step Two. I put a song on repeat. The opening scene of Jurassic Park is excellent for introductions. The final credits of Pirates of the Caribbean is excellent for quickly typing conclusions on a deadline. Tonight I chose, It is Well by Kristene DiMarco, a praise song we have often sung at the cathedral at our six o’clock contemporary service.
I need to be honest. I don’t believe that song at the moment. At the moment. Present tense. I have believed it. I believe it will be true again. But it isn’t well with me. I’m not okay. Maybe you’re not okay. We will be okay. People with a greater talent for intrinsic optimism than I have know how to make that future assurance their present calm. I applaud them. This is for those of you are not okay. This is for those for whom it is not well. I am a creature of habits and routines. More precisely, I’m a chaotic embodiment of adult ADHD who falls apart without structures and reminders. I have a door mat that says, Keys, Wallet, Cellphone as I leave my apartment. It’s not cutesy décor. I need it. I have reminder notes and labels throughout my home and office. My phone buzzes to tell me to eat, to go to bed. I sit down on Monday morning to schedule every minute of my week. It is not just quirky, though, sure, I’m quirky. It’s how I survive.
A paradox about me: I am a high school drop out and I have three Ivy League degrees. How are those both true? Simple. When I lack structure–or have structure imposed by others–I fail. When I can create structures that work
for me, I succeed. Watching others struggle and thrive as a university chaplain I have learned that this principle is hardly unique to me, although I may be a pretty extreme manifestation of it.
As in the case for nearly all of you, my structure is gone, and I do not know how long it is gone for, and I do not know if I can reasonably expect it to come back to a form I recognise. I am trying to be a good dad, and do both my jobs well, and be a good friend and family member and keep it all going. Other people have it worse. I know that. Yet, as my grandfather wisely said, “It is what it is.” We each are doing exactly as well or poorly as we are doing. Comparison is not necessarily helpful.
This is a crisis for countless vulnerable people with whom I work. As a pastor, I counsel young people for whom being “at home” is not in fact safe, young people with a range of challenges such as addiction and recovery, eating disorders, PTSD, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or even just particularly strong extraversion for whom the rug of stability is gone right now. And reliable coping techniques are gone with it.
My role in many of their lives is to be a supplement to mental health professionals; in our different roles, we help young people create routines, practices, community that help them manage. I still am busy all day each week day with appointments, for which I am grateful. But appointments with me were also about hugs, and candy, and stuffed animals to hold, and sometimes, above all, about making someone get out of bed and get dressed and go to the church offices. (Sometimes me.)
I am not okay. A lot of our young people are not okay.
This may be too honest. There is a rumour in Christian circles (but it’s not Biblical) that the role of Christians generally and clergy in particular is relentless positivity. People of faith should not be sad. Definitely not leaders. In seventeen years in ministry, always, admittedly, with a focus on the young, I have learned that “professionalism”, if by that word we mean projecting more perfect versions of ourselves that are above reproach, is worthless in building trust and relationship with kids, teens, and students. I question its usefulness with older folks, too. Honesty always wins.
On Wednesday morning in morning prayer, we read St. Paul’s words, “For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity” (2 Corinthians 2:17 NRSVA). That is to say we are not professionals selling something. We don’t have to sell one another or the world on a Christianity that pretends we are more okay than we are. Confidence in Christ is not wilful denial of present experience. We speak with sincerity. If we must choose between selling something or sincerity, Paul’s preference is clear.
The apostles whined and fought and doubted. The Bible makes little effort to make them look good or professional. How on earth could they have been? They had no idea what they were doing. They initially didn’t even know what was going on at all. Feels relatable. And thus the Biblical authors told the truth. Paul himself was, for lack of a more precise exegetical term, quite the complainer.
And as for Jesus? He fled crowds when overwhelmed. He took naps when tired. He prayed for God’s plan to be different. He screamed to heaven feeling abandoned. He wept. When Jesus behaves in this ways that are so contrary to what our culture — including, too often, religious culture — teaches us would be the “perfect” way to act, we have a faith choice to make: A) I guess Jesus was not perfect. B) Our notions of perfection are damnable nonsense, and I repent of them.
I choose B.
So we are sincere. Some of us are not okay. We do not know what will happen nor how long it will last. My computer desk overlooks a hospital parking lot. My family, like so many others in Québec, has hung a poster, mine aimed to the emergency room, that says, “Ça va bien aller.” It’s going to be okay. I love that French and English use this grammatical construction we call the near future. Instead of using the formal future tense, we have an in-between option with the verb to go. It is going to be okay. I picture the okay as en route. It is on the move. The okay is coming.
As a dad, as a pastor, as a Christian, I want to be okay. I want to be an example of confident faith. At the moment, all I have is the faith of “I’m not going to pretend I’m walking ahead of you, but I am walking with you.” We are all together in being apart. It is okay for you not be okay, but nonetheless, it will be okay. Ça va bien aller.
— Jean-Daniel O’Donncada