By Adam Gray
Before the workday was over, I met six new employees with this organization – three of which, after introducing myself and sharing my title, immediately responded by acknowledging their mental wellness struggles to me and wanted to schedule a time together. The biggest surprise in my first year with this organization is that a growing percentage of my conversations are now coming out of people simply knowing my title versus feeling any sense of connection and familiarity with me over time. They simply and desperately need someone to be with and care for them.
On a different workday, I met with a lady that morning who began by sharing her anxiety about the negative perception her boss may have of her lately. After being with her for only 20 minutes, her deeper anxiety quickly came to the surface when she shared about her child recently being sexually abused by a family member. Around midday, I spent another hour with an overwhelmed woman who found out earlier that week that her young adult child was in very serious legal trouble because of a bad decision that was made on social media. The day concluded with spending an hour with a staff member who shared her complex experience and chronic fatigue from being the primary caregiver for the past 20 years for her schizophrenic sister. I have recently transitioned professionally after 25 years in full-time congregational ministry and have begun working as a corporate chaplain. One of my clients is a local community college where I am the Chaplain for their faculty and staff. It did not take long to experience this organization’s version of the mental wellness crisis that now seems to be the air we breathe…
The two days I described above are snapshots of what we all know to be true – everyone feels the effect of the turbulent times we are living in. And there are multiple altitudes of this turbulence that are happening concurrently. Everyone has experienced the low-level personal, particular examples of increased stress, anxiety, depression, grief and trauma. And then we zoom out to a 30,000-foot view, and we also know full well the collective grief and trauma that have accumulated with the convergence of the global factors of COVID, political polarization, cultural upheaval, war, and planetary change. It feels personal and particular as well as cultural, national, and global.
Whether in religious or secular circles, mental wellness and self-care are now front and center topics, and rightfully so. Wellness retreats are now a billion-dollar industry, many of which are advertised as ‘silent retreats’ although they have nothing to do with being with God. Being in nature and being in the silence are a premium for many folks who are reverberating with anxiety and not feeling grounded. Similarly, I was recently working on a certification from Stanford (an obviously secular university) on Employee Wellness and Stress Management. We were being trained on practices of mindfulness, gratitude, and forgiveness, and how these practices can cultivate mental wellness and resilience. It was ironic, as a man of faith, to feel like I was on sacred ground to have this conversation with such a diverse group of people, regardless of any faith perspective. Even our secular culture is acknowledging its personal and collective anxiety and is seeking sanity wherever it can be found, even if it happens to be in the ‘spiritual.’
The words and actions of Jesus might be more of a flash of good news in today’s complex and anxious world than they have ever been. We hear Jesus whisper about things like… rest for our souls. We witness in the gospels the jarring silencing of the storm out on the lake. He dares to say that we can live lives that he describes as whole and full-grown, mature. He moves through the world, kindling peace, while the polarized climate swirls about him. And unless you keep a laser-focus on him and a tight spot right behind him on the road, you would think it’s crazy to think that this kind of life is possible. Jesus came both to show us what God is truly like, as well as to show us what true humanity can be like. And in a world that seems to get God wrong most of the time while losing our sanity as human beings, the words and life of Jesus can save us yet again. Unfortunately, having been a pastor for 25 years, I know that churches can easily add to the frenetic and anxious tendencies rather than foster a community that cuts against the cultural grain.
We need to attend to the spiritual practices of resistance that can free our souls from our cultural addictions, and I believe that
Let’s reclaim our sanity and resist our anxious, complex culture. Thank you, Jesus, for inviting us yet again to sane lives and rest-filled souls.
Adam Gray grew up near Fort Worth, TX and earned his Bachelor’s degree in Bible and Ministry as well as his Master’s from ACU’s Graduate School of Theology. He and his wife Missy partnered for 25 years with churches in Abilene, Houston, and Amarillo, TX. Recently transitioning from church ministry, Adam is the founder of InnerWell and provides soul care and coaching for employees and their families. He is the Chaplain for the faculty and staff of Amarillo College and is also a certified life coach and spiritual director. He and Missy have two young adult children. Adam also happens to love Seinfeld references and confesses to having a love-hate relationship with the Dallas Cowboys. Contact Adam directly at email@example.com