The pandemic acts as an accelerator for everything.
If you had any anxiety before the pandemic, now you have more. If you were struggling to pay the bills before the pandemic, you are struggling even more now.
It is an accelerant, and we all have been affected. Mental health is no exception.
It wasn’t a pandemic but another apocalyptic event that changed everything for me over a decade ago.
It was the first Sunday in Lent in 2009, and I had worked earnestly on a Lenten sermon series dealing with the Christian response to pain and suffering. I had all my sermons lined up for the whole of Lent.
After preaching what I thought was a great sermon on “Defying Pain,” I received word that afternoon that a young man in our congregation had died by suicide.
He wasn’t just a young man; he was a kid I loved and had baptized only a couple of years before.
I share these sermons and my reflections on them a decade later in a recent book, Faded Flowers: Preaching in the Aftermath of Suicide.
In these sermons and reflections, you can hear the pain and grief in my own life but also in the life of our larger congregation, not to mention the enormous loss of this family.
It was an exhausting exercise in going back to my desk and writing a sermon on how Christians respond to pain and suffering after having suffered such a loss personally and congregationally.
That sort of grief never fully leaves you. It builds a habitation in your life and stays. It becomes part of you and affects the way you understand yourself and the world in which you live.
A couple of years after the tragic event, I began to wonder if those sermons could be helpful to other pastors who would have to wade through those treacherous waters.
This question stuck in my mind with a quote from one of the resources that helped me through that sermon series.
In a paraphrase, the quote basically said that one person’s journey through tragedy becomes a road map for others who would eventually follow. That’s my hope for this book.
Mental health issues are a matter of life and death. Our apocalyptic pandemic has been an accelerant on mental health issues.
Social distancing has made it more difficult for people even to go to a doctor. If it were not for telehealth right now, people living with a mental health diagnosis would not be able to receive services at all.
And we all feel the depth of isolation amid six-foot boundaries. Social distancing is critically important for us to move past the pandemic, but it is devastating, nevertheless.
In this moment, I hope Faded Flowers can be a helpful resource.
When I submitted the book to the publishers, I had no idea we were about to enter into a global pandemic.
In fact, as I worked with the editors to finalize the manuscript, we had to keep daily track of death tolls to keep the preface as accurate as we could.
That process alone was traumatic. Every day brought the devastation of death to thousands of families. Those numbers have only continued to rise, which makes the uncertainty of life all that much more uncertain.
We are in a fragile state, and we need the strength of each other right now. I hope this book is a testimony to a shared grief that helped a congregation survive – dare I say a pastor survive.
If you are reading this and considering hurting yourself, please know this world needs you and you are loved. Please reconsider and move toward life.
If you have lost someone close to you, I hope my/our grief can map out a way forward for you.
Grief is a universal human experience and it knits us together in a sacred community. You are not alone, and grief does not have to be an end.
Maybe in our shared grief we will have shared compassion and re-create a better world through this pandemic.
National director of Together for Hope, CBF’s rural development coalition, and the coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Mississippi. He is the author of Faded Flowers: Preaching in the Aftermath of Suicide and James in Postcolonial Perspective: The Letter as Nativist Discourse (Fortress, 2015). His co-edited volume Bible and Theory: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honor of Stephen D. Moore (Fortress Academic, 2020) will be released this fall.