On Getting Our Energy Back: Reflections for Mental Health Month

“Many of us seem low on energy,” began my church’s newsletter article. “The past several years have taken a toll,” the article said. I paused.

The stresses and strains of recent years may go without saying, but I feel glad whenever someone does say how strange and exhausting life can still feel. I saw a recent article on the Mayo Clinic Health System site noting “a major increase in the number of adults in the U.S. who report symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia . . . compared with surveys before the pandemic.” What can I say? I resonated. Life isn’t “back to normal,” and that’s impacting our mental, emotional, and physical health. How can it not be impacting our spiritual health, as well? 

Leadership at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis – my church – took a look at that earlier this spring, publicizing a program called “Energy for Renewal.” It gave participants space reflect on difficult times using the lenses of grief and spiritual growth. “Political stress, Covid, change in jobs and workplaces, death of friends and family,” said the newsletter article advertising this program, “these changes have left us reeling and wondering.” The article invited participants to come together “to explore the losses we have suffered in these changes and support each other in our journey . . . to explore what God might be calling us to in our future.”[1]

I gave the program a try. About thirty participants did. We met in a hybrid format – in-person and online – with leaders presenting and participants discussing in breakout groups. 

I have to say that the online breakout groups surprised me. I hadn’t met most of my online breakout group before, yet our conversations went deep immediately. We spoke of people and things we’d lost and how we still felt those losses. We spoke of questions we still had and ways we were coping. I hadn’t expected such intimacy or intensity, but there we were: strangers engaging and connecting.

“The small group time explodes,” said one of the leaders, Dan Moseley, when I asked him about it later. “It always does with this topic. What we do in the teaching part of this simply sends people all over in their hearts and minds. Most people are already feeling emotions deeply with almost every piece that we’re talking about.”[2]

In the early days of the pandemic, Moseley facilitated groups focusing on anxiety and grief. Interest in such groups, though, had waned. That didn’t surprise Moseley, who also works with individuals and organizations that are navigating change and conflict. “We attend to grief immediately,” he says. “We’re aware of it and we get the energy to go through that time of grief, but the culture doesn’t invite us back into thinking about the longer-term impacts of that, so we don’t pay attention.” 

Only recently, with programs like the one at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis, has Moseley resumed facilitating such groups, looking now at the longer-term impacts of the pandemic through the lens of grief. He sees the grieving process as intimately related to spiritual growth, which itself is a longer-term process. “The process of grieving involves pain,” he writes in his book Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change, “that opens the way for a new spirit to emerge . . . [and] parallels what many religions call a spiritual pilgrimage.”[3]

I like the idea of pilgrimage. It evokes long stretches of time in strange, unknown territories – an apt description of life since 2020. Participating in the program and reading Moseley’s book, I did make my way into some new perspectives.

I’d known, for instance, that I’d lost things during the pandemic. I hadn’t thought about the losses that had followed, though, as we lost the ways we adapted to the pandemic. As our society began emerging from lockdown, some of us lost the flexibility we’d enjoyed in working from home. Some of us lost the ease of not needing to make decisions about where to go for the holidays – families weren’t even gathering. We lived with the pandemic for so long that we began to develop new habits, only to lose those, as well – loss upon loss. We talked about this during the program. We talked about ways we hadn’t returned to pre-pandemic “normal.”

Our world continues to change, after all. Space to admit to our continuing uncertainties, to identify layers of loss, to tell our stories, to feel no pressure to develop answers or move beyond anything – it’s space that grieving requires, and it’s space that’s hard to come by in our society.

“This has revealed a lot about exhaustion and the long-term impact of trauma,” says Moseley of the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles he’s observed. “It requires a longer, more committed process to attend to those kinds of losses we experienced. They took a much deeper draw from our pool of energy than we may have noticed before, so being able to look at our reactions now to what’s going on, based on those losses, will be part of grieving well.” 

The program at Central Christian was an experiment in paying this kind of attention. I found the palpable energy in gatherings promising. In the face of all that was draining us, those moments together felt like reminders of what nourishes us. Loving presence – God’s and our own with one another – gives us space to be where we are and listen to what’s emerging there. The gatherings felt like they offered that. I was tempted to think of them as “spiritual health moments.” Cousins, perhaps, to the “mental health days” and “mental health moments” we hear about, perhaps “spiritual health moments” help us explore the new and uncertain territory of our days with those who can love us wherever it is that we are.

I’ve found myself reflecting lately on how to create more of those spaces in my life. What about you? Are you finding spaces these days that help you be wherever you are?

[1] “’Energy for Renewal’ Begins,” Central Christian Church eConnections Weekly Update. February 3, 2023. 
[2] Dan Moseley, interviewed by Callie J. Smith, March 10, 2023.
[3] Dan Moseley. Lose, Love, Live: The Spiritual Gifts of Loss and Change (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2010), 27.

The Beauty of Rest: Contemplative Essays* (Clay Patin Press 2023) is available for free on Kindle today (5/3/23 Pacific Time) only.

A Novel for Lent

“We tend to associate this time of year with devotionals or books for study,” I wrote recently in Christian Theological Seminary’s CTS Connections newsletter. It was a piece reflecting on my recent novel, Kat’s Dreams. I continued: “In the case of Kat’s Dreams, though, I chose to set this story during Lent – and I envision it as a Lenten story – because it has to do with repentance. The fact that abuses of power do sometimes happen in our congregations is a structural sin that Christians are still coming to terms with. Much like the characters in this story, I think individuals as well as communities are still learning how to constructively and faithfully ‘turn’ from these experiences . . .

I imagine this novel speaking to anyone who’s had a love-hate relationship with The Church or a church. The main character, Kat, refuses to set foot in any church, and her story gives us glimpses into why. She’s only just beginning to practice trusting again after an experience of betrayal. It doesn’t take a situation like hers to resonate with a healing journey like the one she’s on.”  

Excerpted from my reflections in “CTS Alum Writes Novel for Lentin the March issue of CTS Connections. Click here to read the rest of the article.

The Beauty of Rest: Contemplative Essays (Clay Patin Press, 2023) is available as a free Kindle ebook today (3/8/23 Pacific Time) only.*

The Miracle of Dust (Kat’s Dreams)

Sometimes it’s from the dust and ashes that God brings blessing and even new life.

Author Callie J. Smith discusses Kat’s Dreams, its setting during the season of Lent, and what God does with dust. Also, get your FREE copy of Kat’s Dreams in Kindle format (for a limited time only).

Video Transcript:

“The Miracle of Dust” 

 “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” – it’s an Ash Wednesday refrain, but I still find it curious to think about. Dust is a sign of mortality. We often don’t like to remember our mortality, but there are moments in life that take away our ability to ignore what we often ignore. 

I was working with that idea when I wrote the novel Kat’s Dreams. It’s about some of those impactful moments that show us more than we’ve seen before. The main character Kat has recently met a man named Paul whom she can’t stop thinking about, and that’s an exciting moment of life for her. However, they both have some other impactful moments – moments of mortality, and limitation, and failure – that they need to work through before their relationship can deepen. I think that what emerges for them in the middle of that difficult work is part of the beauty of their story. Kat’s discovering anew the people in her life who are supporting and encouraging her, and Paul even has her suspecting that she sees blessing every which way she looks.

It’s like in the book of Genesis where God promises Jacob: “your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, . . . and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring” (Gen 28:14). God does this amazing thing of turning something like dust into an image of blessing, an image of abundant blessing. But God does amazing things with dust. God forms humanity from the dust of the ground, creating promise, hope, love, and joy, and even now God breathes the breath of life into the dust of our days.

In the approach of Lent this year, I’m hoping to find in the dust a reminder of the miraculous things that God does. What about you? What are you hoping to remember?

(Adapted from Smith’s essay “What God Does with Dust,” originally published in the February 28, 2022, issue of Bearings Online.)

* Kindle Free EBook Promotion available February 15-17, 2023. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases when you use links from this site.