By Rev. Cara Scriven
My family and I have begun to watch Sweet Tooth on Netflix. It’s a story about children who are born as animal hybrids after a virus infects humanity. The show follows Gus, a deer-human hybrid, as he goes on a journey to find his mother. As new characters are introduced, the show uses the same line, “Some stories start at the beginning, [character name’s] story starts here.” I could start my COVID tale by recounting my life pre-pandemic, but the real beginning starts in March of last year.
As communities began to shut down, my church, like many others, closed for in-person worship. In that instant, everything shifted. Like many others, I had to learn how to edit videos, preach to a camera, find ways to keep my congregation together, make decisions about finances and staffing, and keep the church’s vision moving forward, which in my church led to a merger with another congregation. In addition, there were pastoral concerns that needed time and attention.
On top of these work-related issues were family and personal matters. My children were suddenly home from school with little to no work to do, so I became their teacher. There were deaths in our extended family and no real time to grieve them. I also had a personal health crisis which led to necessary surgery. And just when I thought things had begun to settle, old traumas resurfaced.
Juggling pandemic work and my personal life was no easy task and it took a toll on me. Before too long, even my spiritual disciplines no longer provided grounding. I couldn’t sit for centering prayer. Praying the Office in the evening did nothing for me, and I no longer took pleasure in listening to Richard Rohr or Krista Tippet on my regular walks. I felt separated from God. I felt alone. I began to wonder if I had done something wrong that was making me feel this way.
I would like to tell you that I did this one thing, and everything went back to normal, but that would be a lie. It took months of hard work. I had to dig deep into my own personal history, desires, expectations, and trauma. I had to let go of routine expectations I had of myself and create deeper boundaries between my work and my personal life (which is no easy task when your desk is your dining room table).
In time, I learned to take pleasure in simple things like watching television with my children in the evenings, family movie nights, and walks with my husband. In addition, Sundays became my Sabbath, and I challenged myself to do very little work and instead focus on leveling up on the video game I was playing.
Throughout this process, I knew that I was going through a spiritual transition. Something within me was changing. Yet, I was scared I was losing my faith. Until one day, I recalled a time several years ago when a friend had asked me when and how I used my prayer beads. Just thinking about this made me go and find them.
The feel of the beads in my hands grounded me, so I started to carry them in my pocket. I don’t pray every day, but I do touch them regularly. Some days when I am walking or doing the dishes, one of the prayers will come to me and that will be enough.
Over time, I began to let go of the challenges of the pandemic and started to cling to the blessings it has brought me. I am truly grateful that this time has allowed me to accept more of who I am, discover the beauty of a true Sabbath, and an opportunity to realign my life with my priorities.
Yet, as we move towards reopening our communities, I must admit, I am anxious. I once again feel overwhelmed by the amount of work and responsibility pastors must take on to reopen well. I am worried that I will find myself in the desert again as I make the transition from pandemic to post-pandemic life.
As I ponder returning, I am beginning to discern if this spiritual change is the start of something new. “For everything, there is a season,” the author of Ecclesiastes writes, and perhaps the season is changing. I continue to pray that whatever road is ahead, God and I will walk it together, whether I am praying with my beads or sitting silently listening for the Spirit. Perhaps, my story really does begin here.
Rev. Cara Scriven serves as lead pastor of Puyallup United Methodist Church in Puyallup, Washington.