Life has been really rough lately! From personal hardships to bad and triggering news coming out almost every day, far too many people I know are struggling just to cope. How are we supposed to support each other and our loved ones through these challenging times when we can barely keep ourselves moving forward though the toxic sludge? And yet, how we treat ourselves and each other matters more than we realize! Like the well-known Lao-Tzu quote says, “If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations. If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities. If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors. If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home. If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart.” We know that we must practice self-care and love ourselves so that we can go out and love our neighbors so that we can gather together to care for those in need, but it’s easy to forget in the daily struggle. Like they say on airplanes, you must put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others put their’s on. Not only do we need the strength we get from self-care to then help those around us, but others are watching and learning from us. We are setting an example for how to treat ourselves and each other.
I often promote the idea that we are our children’s primary educators. Believe me, as the mother of two daughters (ages 22 and 16), I know that this can be an overwhelming message to remember and fully own. 22 years ago, when my first daughter was born in the middle of a lunar eclipse and I was in the euphoric glory of new motherhood, I never dreamed how scary, confusing, and challenging parenting in the real world would become. When I was newly pregnant on 9/11/01, I worried how could I possibly trust bringing another child into this country. I became even less sure of my ability to be a good parent when I understood that my daughters are paying attention (even when they look like they aren’t) to my every word and action as they are learning about how to “be” in the world. Parenting isn’t easy!
It’s always interesting when I’m at a parent orientation for the Our Whole Lives program and I declare that “parents are kids’ primary sexuality educators” knowing how little most of our kids actually want to “talk” to us about this stuff. And so the best thing parents can do as the primary educators is sign them up for comprehensive sexuality programs at different developmental stages throughout their growing years. Noting the stories dominating our current news, it is becoming even more relevant and vital that our kids understand the basics. What is consent? What do it mean to respect yourself and others? What does it mean to honor your true self and support others in honoring their true selves? How do you communicate openly and honestly through confusing situations? While Our Whole Lives offers these important relational skills, we build upon these lessons at home and in our daily lives. Taking time to reflect on and talk about current events through our Unitarian Universalist lenses can be transformative in making sense of what is happening and figuring out how to respond. Even if our kids don’t what to chat with us, witnessing us talking to trusted friends teaches them what they could be doing. Even if they don’t copy us, a seed has been planted about healthy ways of living during challenging times. They are paying attention to “how” we are responding. Are we practicing respecting ourselves and others? Are we practicing honoring our true selves and supporting others in honoring their true selves? Are we communicating openly and honestly, especially during confusing times? More than what we say, we teach them most by how we live. And more than the wild cast of characters in the news and what they sometimes say to us in frustration, we do matter most.
The daily barrage of shocking news stories makes me sometimes want to stay home and protect my daughters from this horrible mess. I unfortunately don’t have the big answers for you, but I do have an idea of where to find them. Here, in our beloved and safe community. We need to surround ourselves at times like these with people who care and people who are safe to talk about the hard stuff with. As I tell our Coming-of-Age youth, the best thing about being a Unitarian Universalist is that we don’t tell you what to believe. But at the same time, the challenging thing about being U.U. is that we don’t give you answers and this can be initially tough when you need comfort. While my Christian family members feel comfort believing a deceased loved one is going to “Heaven to be with Jesus”, I’m just feeling overwhelmingly distraught at the loss. When Christian friends find comfort knowing that their God is taking care of them through medical hardships, I’m left wondering “why me” and having to find doctors I can put all of my trust into. And yet, when bad times have happened in my life, I soon found myself surrounded by many (yes, MANY) Unitarian Universalist friends. They couldn’t give me answers, but they gave me comfort as they “held my hand” as we wondered aloud about whatever questions came up. They helped me through my hard days leading me to realize that my “heaven” is here on earth where “my god is a spirit of love that connects all living beings”. With their love and support, I found the strength to love and support my daughters and later, to support others who needed me.
As Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” The most important step we can take on these bad days is to surround ourselves and our loved ones with people who share our values. People who join us in accepting and giving help. People who inspire us enough to trust getting out of bed in the morning. People who remind us to hug our loved ones a little closer that evening. People who keep the spirit of love and light alive. People you can find here at First Parish!