Falling apart is human.
The most important thing I learned my senior year of university was that I could fall apart. I was the over-achieving, still remember all the classes I didn’t get an A in in high school, early-to-rise-late-to-bed, whether because I’m an oldest child or as a coping mechanism after my mother’s death. So much of my self-worth was staked on being able and excellent. But that was the year I fell apart. Recovery from my second brain surgery was rough, chronic health conditions were multiplying, the worst depression I’ve experienced came and stayed and stayed. I stopped going to classes, ate too many chips, bought a lot of books (we all have our coping mechanisms), barely slept, and am still amazed that any of my friends kept speaking to me. I fell apart. I was terrified that I wouldn’t graduate, wouldn’t get into seminary, wouldn’t have a future I could enjoy. The terror made the falling worse. It took therapy, time, and friendship to survive. To learn that I could fall apart and still be myself.
There is no grace in the falling.
I’m writing this on Good Friday. There are many opinions my younger self strongly held that seminary and a decade of parish ministry have obliterated. Times I’ve done or said something, and walked back to my office to mentally apologize to the clergy my younger self judged, sometimes harshly, for doing the same exact thing I just did. My opinion on calling today Good isn’t one of them. Today isn’t Good. Today we killed Jesus. Today things didn’t fall apart so much as we tore them down. Judas betrays; Peter and the disciples abandon; Rome kills. Creation rejects our Creator to the point of death.
“Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
This is my first Holy Week in a decade without bulletins and sermons; this Holy Week I am not in a parish, trying to shepherd people through the heart of the Christian year. The grief and stress of another parish facing closing, the erosion of my patience and self control, made leave my smartest and most faithful choice. There are questions I’m tempted to pose here: “What is it to be clergy without a church? What is it to be clergy without a cure?” Those questions look for meaning in the falling. And that may be a story I will tell, but it is not this story. This is the story of falling apart. Of the courage to walk into my doctor’s office, prepared to argue, saying, “My therapist thinks I need medical leave.” But hearing in response, “I’m so glad you’re doing this. Taking leave has saved my career.” And hearing this echoed from person after person after person.
Falling apart is human but, I am learning, we don’t have to let it be terrifying. In being given time and space to fall apart, in the recognition and support of my humanity, it hasn’t been what it was in university. Perhaps, you may think, it is the knowing that I can fall apart. But there have been other falls. Knowing I could fall apart helped, but each came with terror that I was tearing my future apart. This time there is no terror.
This week I pray and worship and marvel at the strangeness and the grace of what I’m not doing.
There is no grace in the falling. Grace is being loved while you fall.