Room at this Quiet Table for the Weary

It’s been a noisy year. I’ve never had to think so hard about everything and still never feel like I could come to much conclusion or rest. The kids’ online schedules and endless chatter saturate me with mommy words. Don’t get me wrong, every shift at work reminds me to be thankful for life at home with healthy kids, but there’s also a reason why something deep in me sighs every time I hear “Mama! Mama! Mama!” I have been their primary person for the past nine months straight.

My microbiology, public health and nursing training make me think too hard about everything I touch, whose air I have breathed, who has breathed my air, and all the possible implications. I want to be gracious, and I also want to scream at people who deny the severity of COVID.

Social unrest and political tensions make me feel the importance of reading, listening, thinking with greater intention about hard realities in the world, but it also feels nothing I want to say or ask can be interpreted without some potential misunderstanding, so the conversations just swirl loudly in my head. If I try to turn it off for awhile, I feel like I’m choosing ignorance or entitlement. I’m not trying to be ignorant or deny the fact I’m privileged. It just feels near impossible to have any reasonable conversation that doesn’t just result in anger, and sometimes even the most justified in anger amongst us need a break from angry feelings.

I am inundated with emails at work about today’s updated practice in how we’re trying to keep our patients and ourselves safe. “PLEASE READ THIS IMPORTANT UPDATED INFORMATION!!” In two days, I won’t remember if this is today’s very important update, or yesterday’s, or last week’s. I’ve tried so hard to impress each very important bit in my memory but I’m out of room. I’m also scared of making a mistake by not keeping up with all the very important information.

I am trying very hard to keep up with friends. Who was it that had a family member in the hospital from COVID? There were a few now. What’s the status? Who could use a meal? I could use a meal. We are all overwhelmed by meal planning.

I have it pretty good at home with decently happy kids but I also keep thinking, I should find more ways to get them outside, figure out a way to make Thanksgiving and Christmas special, figure out creative ways for them to reconnect with their friends. I am constantly overwhelmed by their needs but also feel guilty I don’t just feel more grateful and content with what we do have.

I’ve realized sadly that I sometimes stop listening to people a couple sentences in. It’s not a conscious much less intentional thing. When it happens, I only realize after the fact that my brain just short-circuited again. It was still trying to process all the other ongoing internal conversations.

Faith feels complicated. Challenged and refined. If I say I trust Him, I also hear people argue back at me that I am disregarding them and not empathizing deeply enough with their present sufferings. I’m not trying to disregard anyone, and I’m suffering too. I’m just saying I still find real reasons to trust Him, and I’m working through my real questions as well. Please don’t @ me. There’s enough grace at the table for all of us, with our various degrees of suffering and our complicated questions. Jesus knows suffering.

I came to an overnight sola retreat for a bit of respite. I didn’t realize how quiet true quiet can actually be. I didn’t realize how profoundly unfamiliar it is, and how multi-layered the sources of noise are. I sat on a cushioned chair in front of an outdoor fountain hoping to start unpacking some of my burdens, only to realize I feel like a terribly tangled web of Christmas lights (or MRI tubing, for my nursing people who get that analogy) – you know, the kind that makes you just want to throw it all away and start anew. I realize quickly that I’m in knots. If I pull on one strand, it tugs on others, almost makes it worse. Untangling this will be agonizingly slow and tedious, and there are some knots you realize you’re just going to have to live with.

I don’t write this for pity, and I hope people won’t stop sharing with me their hard things after reading this. I want to connect, I want to listen, I don’t mean to tune out. I still want to help anyone I can. I suppose I’m writing this as part of my own untangling, and because I suspect there are others who feel this way as well, and I want you to know you’re not alone. There’s room at this quiet table for the weary.