Hoping for Normal
This blog is also available as a podcast
I was a workaholic before the pandemic.
I used to think being a workaholic meant someone who worked 80 hour weeks or never took days off. I took days off. I was there for my family. I went to soccer games and took vacations – how could I be a workaholic? I’ve known plenty of alcoholics who thought they weren’t alcoholics because they didn’t get drunk every night, or because they held onto their jobs or never got arrested.
Addiction, to be sure, has something to do with quantity. But it has more to do with the power something has over your life, how it begins to shape your decisions and define your life. One of my family members who’s in recovery would say to me, “alcohol is not my problem: It’s a symptom of my problem.” He was saying it wasn’t some alchemy in the distillation process that had his number: rather, it was why he drank, what he was trying to accomplish, where he was hoping it would take him.
Church work is exceedingly odd. Most of our clergy and staff work on Sundays. Because we try to connect with people who work normal hours, we have all sorts of meetings, classes, services, and programs during lunches and evenings. We work holidays. I love when people casually ask me where I’ll be spending Christmas, then look at me and say, “oh, right: work.” We are available for emergencies, both real and imagined.
Work was certainly not my problem. I loved my job before the pandemic: doing what I loved in a way I loved and in a community I love. How wonderful is that? And I believed in the work. Work was not my problem, but also it was all I thought about. When you work in ministry it’s hard to know how to clock out. And when you love your job it’s hard to know how to let it be.
A lot of us are workaholics. Yes, because we work a lot of hours, but also because we let the work define us, because we let it define our worth. We hope our work will prove that we belong here, that we’re any good, that we matter. We end up not knowing how to act on our days off, not knowing what to talk about if we’re not talking about the job.
I said I was workaholic before the pandemic. To be clear I am still a workaholic. The pandemic didn’t change that at all. In some ways for me the problem was exacerbated. Like so many other across all kinds of vocations and disciplines – I had to completely change every way that I do my job. My hours increased even as my capacity decreased. And because I was working from home I lost any sense of separation I had created between the two. Again, I know I’m just one of millions of people who have experienced this. I am not unique in it.
So I’m likely not unique in saying that, while the pandemic didn’t change my status as a workaholic, it did make the realization unavoidable. I could not longer pretend that my relationship to the job was healthy. I could no longer pretend that I had figured out anything resembling balance.
The pandemic helped me realize I am a workaholic.
The pandemic also helped me realize I don’t want to be a workaholic anymore.
And I have the benefit of actually loving the work and getting paid a livable wage for it. This pandemic has forced me to see how many of my siblings do not have that privilege. And it is a privilege. I am not cynical enough to believe the only thing keeping people from finding meaningful work is the right attitude. I am not in the least bit persuaded that the current so-called labor shortage is a result of laziness or complacency. People yearn to matter. We long to be considered valuable, and to participate in something meaningful in our world.
Perhaps the sadness and yearning I hear articulated the most by others in my life and in my job is how badly we wish things could get back to normal. But what are we really asking for? I wonder. I think I know some piece of this: I think, in the case of the church, people can’t wait until we can safely take off our masks, hug one another, sing loudly and just be together in ways that have made sense to us for most of our lives. I will not criticize that or disagree with it. I want that too. But I don’t think we’re actually saying we want normal. We’re scratching at the surface of something deeper.
In the church we call this season Advent. It is a time of preparation for Christmas. Jesus’ birth. We acknowledge our desire for the deliverance that is found in the coming of Jesus. Are we really just hoping Jesus will come back and restore normality? Is that our goal? Do we think salvation looks like getting back to the way things were?
I’m going to go out on a limb here. The things I listed above – the connectedness, the physical closeness, the singing and hand-holding and hugging and gathering in shared love and respect – I don’t think these things were ever normal. These were and are the transcendent things. We don’t miss normal. We miss the things that help us transcend beyond the normal and see the true presence of divine Love active in our midst. Do you know what’s normal? A meeting that could’ve been an email; judging or being judged by someone you barely know; caring about your status and reputation; worrying about your next paycheck; fretting about your weight. And none of these things have left us during the pandemic. Not one of them.
Do you know what is abnormal? Looking someone in the eye and telling them you love them. Shaking someone’s hand and telling them you wish them peace. Singing a song about grace and hope with sheer abandon even when you’re off key and surrounded by others. Sharing a meal and a prayer and a life with someone you would never have met if you hadn’t showed up to the same building at the same time for reasons you could never have expected. Feeling accepted for who you are. Belonging and knowing it. That’s not normal. That’s transcendent.
Are you hoping for normal? Or are you hoping for something more?
Tags: Rector's Blog