Faith on Friday: You are not alone

Faith on Friday: You are not alone

“You are not alone here, don’t fear
You are not alone here, no way
There’s plenty more others here, yeah yeah
My friend, oh you are not alone”

“I am utterly spent and crushed;
    I groan because of the tumult of my heart…

My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
    as for the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction,
    and my neighbors stand far off…

But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait;
    it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
For I pray, “Only do not let them rejoice over me,
    those who boast against me when my foot slips.”

Psalm 38: 9; 10-11; 15-16

As your ONA Program Minister, I have the privilege to meet all kinds of people – people from different background and circumstance brought together because they share a single common commitment – they are dedicated to making this world better for LGBTQI people and their families. I am often struck by the vastness of human experience brought into the different UCC churches across this country. I am struck by more similarities than differences. That does not mean there are not differences in how we live out our faith, but that the differences seem small when placed next to the similarities in how we love, how we hope, and how we commit to building a just world.

The past few weeks have widened rifts that were lightly covered in our world – chasms of division that we need to confront now and learn to heal so that we might all move forward. For some of us more than others, the real and enduring pain of these systems of intentional harm inflicted on too many of our friends and neighbors are leading to the edge of despair – to the very edge of hope. Added to that, this time of forced societal distancing, of staying away from each other, leads too many to feel alone and isolated just as they need community the most. Some of us keep this all-hidden deep inside, filling our days with busyness and our lives with events and activities that mask the truth that underneath it all – we feel like we are falling apart.

Therapist Elena Walker notes: “No one gets through this life without challenges, hurts and disappointments. We all experience our share of heartaches, grief, betrayals, fears, worries, and failures. So why is it that when we are struggling or hurting, we tend to sit in a pool of isolation, feeling bad about ourselves, thinking we’re different from everyone else. Thinking that if we’re struggling, there must be something wrong with us?”

This constant pretending that we are alright even when the world is falling apart can cause further isolation. We can pretend so well that we forget that we are not actually alone. God has placed us in community with each other, and we all have lived experiences that allow us to share the big emotions like grief or love, even when the particulars of another person’s emotion are not identical to our own. Even when it feels like community is far apart, we are not alone.

Added to that, nearly every study has shown that LGBTQ people have a harder time dealing with mental health issues and challenges, and some of those difficulties are multiplying because of Covid. Under the LGBT umbrella, subcommunities like “older LGBTQ adults already experience higher rates of social isolation than other groups, and are presumed further isolated during months of prescribed physical distancing, potentially exacerbating underlying mental health issues such as suicidal ideation and substance use.,” according to Craig Andrade. Julia Rafiman adds: “The dynamics of COVID-19 and its economic ramifications are shaped by our existing social context. In many states, that is a context in which LGBTQ people have unequal rights to employment, to housing, and even to healthcare.”

While it can be difficult to find the best methods to support those experiencing the burden of isolation the most, our partners in the UCC’s Mental Health Network share the following suggestions to combat isolation and to increase Suicide Prevention Awareness in your community. More information is available on their webpage.

Lifesaving Measures by the Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe

  1. Increase your knowledgeabout mental illness and suicide prevention. 
  2. Create small groups of active members and friends of your congregation with a designated leader. The leader would be responsible for making sure each small group member is contacted each week.
  3. Consider creating interest groups for building kinship.
  4. Ask your pastorto host a weekly online gathering time for folx to check-in. There’s no specific topic, just a time to talk with each other.
  5. Identify any people who might be particularly vulnerable during the pandemic and make sure they are connected to the community. Make sure to note those who live alone and might be feeling isolated, elders living in care settings who are not able to have in-person visits, those who live with ongoing mental health challenges, and those who are struggling with physical health conditions. There may be circumstances in your community that increase the risk for mental health conditions for a particular population (e.g. farmers, factory workers, those who are furloughed or unemployed due to COVID-19). Be sure to include these people on your list for additional outreach.
  6. Include local resources for mental health care in your church newsletter.
  7. Online support groupscan be started for people experiencing an increase in mental health challenges.
  8. Online support groups can also be started for those experiencing grief or loss.
  9. Explore the possibility of getting connective technology to those who don’t have it.
  10. Name mental health struggles in prayers during worship. It is as important as ever to break the stigma and silence surrounding mental illness.

No matter how far apart it all seems, that we all seem, you are not alone.

Prayer: Beautiful Creator, in Psalm 38 you remind us that you are the world’s Light. No one who follows you stumbles around in the darkness. You provide plenty of light to live in. We know that light is in the ways we come together in the best representations of our shared humanity. Be with us today and help us be with all who feel isolated and alone. Amen.