We don’t need an excuse, but today we are encouraged to ask the question, “RU OK”? an initiative from a harm prevention charity that encourages people to check-in, stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives.
Since moving from the UK just over a year ago, as a family, we have spent the majority of that time in lockdown; 10 months of the last 18 restricted geographically and socially. It has undoubtedly taken its toll on us and many, but I sense this has been a time of huge growth as well, personally and corporately. It's easy to talk about this as a really stressful time but stress is manifested in many sorts of ways with a myriad of underlying causes. What are some of the main stresses on adults and young people at the moment and what can we be doing as household units and as school/church family bodies to navigate this period best.
Perhaps the greatest driver of stress, in this current context, is uncertainty and it is an insecurity felt almost universally. Melbourne-based clinical psychologist, Andrew Fuller, interviewed this week, on this very topic, works with many schools and communities in Australia and internationally specialising in the wellbeing of young people and their families. He argues that socially we are undergoing a corporate or communal rites of passage experience. The idea of a “rite of passage” was made popular by the ethnographer Arnold van Gennep but has its origins in the literature of Homer. In cultural anthropology, it is understood as a significant change of status. We are used to the term applied to individual human development, professional growth and maturation or in the context of Christian baptism regeneration.
When referring to physical or psychological development, these rites of passage occur specifically during adolescence, but they can also appear at any stage of life. By their very nature they are unsettling. They are times not only of turmoil and confusion, but also, a great opportunity for evolution.
In the majority of cases, Fuller argues that each has three distinct phases:
- You begin by separating from the way you did life in the past.
- You enter a phase of liminality; an unsettling space where one is between two states;
- and then finally, there's a return or reintegration.
Now, what's distinctive about this moment, is that everyone is experiencing a social rite of passage simultaneously. The impact of that should not be underestimated. We are all at sea. We are all in the midst of the storm. We’re not quite sure where we're headed and we're certainly not quite where we used to be.
Professionally, Fuller has witnessed a change in the people he sees, and the pathologies they present. Three key commonalities are worthy of note:
- He is engaging with people displaying deep anxiety which manifests physically and mentally: rumbly, unsettled tummies; increase sensitivity or pain, and especially exhaustion. People are collapsing – they feel like they can’t give any more.
- They are feeling helpless – that they can’t face the most rudimentary of challenges, let alone the more mundane of tasks.
- And they are feeling hopeless – they have no idea when all these feelings might subside.
We need to recognise and acknowledge that we are all struggling. That's true for our students. That's true for ourselves.
Fuller’s encouragement is that we need to be an antidote to that: and that means “that we need to find ways [as parents, as educators, as spouses, as friends] to be as calm as we possibly can, to be as helpful as we possibly can, and to be as hopeful as we possibly can”.
Belonging is the most powerful, antidote we now have to suicide, to violence, and to ongoing drug abuse. It's a central part of mental wellbeing."
Practically speaking, in my daily interactions with my children, I have sought to be warmer, more open, more approachable (no problem, however small or seemingly silly, is beyond my remit or scope) and, above all, we share things we are grateful for at the beginning and end of each day.
Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians concludes with two key challenges. Firstly, we are to, ’18 give thanks in all circumstances’; for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. That is not give thanks for all circumstances but to be thankful in the midst of each and every day and its trials.
Secondly, we are to encourage each other. The word “encourage” translates from the Greek word “parakaleō” which means to be, literally, “called alongside” someone. It’s a walking with (a doing life with) people. To be shoulder to shoulder. Psalm 1 tells us that the happy or, “blessed” person is one who leans into God’s word and leans on the fellow traveller. I can’t hope to be calm, or warm with my children without recognising the source of that behaviour and posture. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4: 20-24) describes a supernatural new birth that God imparts. That rite of passage we have in Jesus has begun an extraordinary work in us. We were once in the dark, callous, isolated from God and given over to all manner of sin (4:17-19). But we have been renewed in Christ. Now we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and we can live in a close relationship with Him which enables us to walk better with others. .
1. Firstly, you need to create liturgies for it
These rituals we go through each day shape who we are, and they are often acquired through imitation. They are experienced, negative and positive, in the relationships we invite and model. We know that having family rituals, which can be small events that don't cost a lot, don't take up a lot of time, provide a context for belonging to be experienced. It could be regular meals around the table with at least one considered a special family meal – a Sunday lunch – or pizza, popcorn and watch a movie on Friday night - whatever it is for you and your loved ones. But those rituals provide a degree of belonging, a degree of certainty, in uncertain times. A little bit of this can go a long way.
2. You need to be intentional about it
And the other part of belonging is that we're all members of key communities and we need to use those as vehicles to reach others who have become more isolated than is healthy. For me, it starts with church on a Sunday and doesn’t end with the hour’s broadcast to our home. Why? Because the word “service” has a wide lexical range and we can, and should, go to church to be both filled (like a car at a service station) and encouraged and challenged but it is an outward discipline as well. I go to church to serve. By the end of each Sunday morning, I will have reached out via text to seven other guys to see how they’re travelling; I meet at least six in a midweek bible group I lead online; I try to physically meet up with two more each week for an hours’ walk (side by side) to have deeper conversations and by the Saturday I’m barely ready for the two hours of online circuit training and fellowship with Christian and non-Christian alike which is run by guys at my church. And I pray for each leader I walk with, spiritually, every day using a prayer app to direct my time and focus my efforts. I try and text and call one of the 30 principals across Victoria and Tasmania, each and every day. Not to check up on them but to check in. Just to ask… RU OK?
I hope you might be encouraged to do likewise today?