My study leave group has been meeting for 10 years now. We initially came together simply because ministry is hard. While we didn’t know exactly what we needed, we knew we needed support. This group has been a lifeline for me and a huge source of encouragement.
We meet for four days each year and practice a particular version of a discernment process together. Each of us brings something we are working through – either personal or professional – and we lay out the details of it to the group, bringing the issue as well as all relevant information. We ask each person questions about their issue, after which the person sits in silence while the rest of the group discusses. We each give the person specific feedback and ideas, and then we pray. Sometimes a person will show up thinking they need to talk about one topic, but the group discernment reveals it is about a completely different (and usually more difficult) topic.
When we aren’t in discernment, we go out for dinner, we laugh a lot and we play games.
This time has become sacred for us. We’ve celebrated weddings and installations, and we have carried each other through grief and loss. These people have seen me weep — as well as seen me laugh so hard I’ve spat my drink out my nose!
We keep in touch with each other in a daily chat thread, at which I’m sure historians sometime in the distant future will marvel.
Who are your people? Who are the ones who would inconvenience themselves to care for you, who know which situations or anniversaries will bring out your grief, and who will have your back? Who are the ones to whom you belong?
Hopefully, you have more than one group and cohort of people to support and uphold you. My other people include some clergy women, friends from college, family members, a few soccer moms and various other people I’ve picked up along my journey through this life.
I first gained admission in these groups based on certain shared characteristics: our kids played soccer together, or we all attended the same university. Maintaining these ties takes effort. Staying connected doesn’t magically happen.
I keep thinking of this quote from Gwendolyn Brooks in her poem, “Paul Robeson:”
“We are each other’s harvest.”
To be each other’s harvest requires us to also help each other in the planting, the cultivating, the weeding and the nurturing.
In the COVID-19 aftermath, I think we’re out of practice in doing the work of belonging. We feel isolated but don’t remember how to be connected. Maybe it started before COVID. Maybe busy schedules and political entrenchment play a part, too.
We may remember the “good old days” when church was one of our main places of belonging, but perhaps we have forgotten how much time we invested to bring that about. When I was a kid, church was Sunday school and Sunday worship, plus youth group, youth choir, retreats, mission trips, Bible studies, roller skating nights and day trips to lake cabins in the summer. I can barely imagine families having that amount of time available now.
I also don’t think the “good old days” were always that great. I’m aware there is nothing we can do to return to previous times.
Still, I pray we can be more intentional about doing the work of belonging: tilling the soil of welcome, cultivating tender shoots of friendship, weeding fields of loneliness and helping each other harvest meaning, connection and belonging.
What can each of us do to care for each other and care for ourselves?
We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business.