United Church of Christ

Calming Presence in Uncertain Times

Witness for JusticeLike others across the U.S. who have been struggling to make sense of the Covid-19 pandemic, I admit that I have been challenged in trying to provide best leadership practices to my staff from which they might draw strength and support.

As a business executive, I am called to lead and inspire and manage people. As a spiritual leader, I am to tend to the emotional, spiritual, and practical needs of staff who are now working from their homes. Also, I need to care for myself and my family. Within the early days of this global outbreak, my heart and head realized my task would not be easy to fulfil. In fact, it would be a heavy lift. Nevertheless, it was – it is – what is needed, perhaps required, for such a time as this.

With the passing of each day, the nation’s collective psychic energies become more uncertain, more confusing. People’s lives have been upended by stay-at-home policies, temporarily closed businesses, and “essential worker” designations, all in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. The mandate “to slow the curve” allowed for some white-collar workers to work from home, while for other workers – many in the service industry – incomes were temporarily halted or permanently lost. The economy decelerated. Devastatingly, people from coast to coast have contracted Covid-19, and tragically some of them have died, leaving households grieving and unsure of how to make sense of the pandemonium. Many feel hopeless, as suffering seems unavoidable and answers from our national leadership has been, dare I say, erratic.

As our shared pain continued discharging into the atmosphere, I found myself feeling uncomfortable and restless. Despite spiritual rituals and disciplines of prayer, meditation, and journaling I felt I needed to do something differently – for myself and for the work of leading a now-remote staff.

I spoke with my spouse, a trauma therapist, about how I might employ easy-to-learn self-soothing techniques, which would benefit my team and lower anxiety. After a brief conversation, what he shared was not a new learning. He lovingly looked at me and invited me to close my eyes. “Take three very deep breaths,” he said. I did. He reminded me that it would be helpful to have everyone slow down their nervous systems and to feel what was going on in their bodies. In a word, what we needed was to gain an awareness of the present moment.

I smiled as I began to connect to the ground and settle inside of my body, feeling my heart, and not simply spinning out in my head a variety of to-do lists. Applying techniques like these, which I have utilized for decades, allowed me to return to a state of mindfulness. This was something I knew I would share with my teams.

My leadership goal is not to equip the staff to fix the world’s problem, but to remind them that we needed only to address an immediate need for which we had responsibility. On tomorrow, we would tackle that day’s challenge. Thus, day by day, we would make a way through this situation. It was my promise as a leader and friend.

Additional resources to learn self-soothing techniques to calm anxiety: 1) Grounding Techniques & Self Soothing for Emotional Regulation, by Dr. Rachel Eddins; 2) UCC Community Care Space with guided meditation videos.

To speak with a trained counselor; A) Crisis Text Line (text CONNECT to 741741); B) UCC Mental Health Network. #WereAllInThisTogether

Bentley deBardelaben-Phillips is Executive Associate and Team Leader of the Education for Faithful Action Plus (EFA+) Team in Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ.

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