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.