Fall is usually the time when we turn to horror media. Halloween decorations of witches, skeletons, zombies, mummies, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster and more start to appear in the yards of houses, horror movies, books, and games all come out, and people embrace the weird and spooky. Large, multiplayer video games like Overwatch and Fortnite roll out themed events.
It’s a time of year a lot of people enjoy and look forward to, and even though out of the three Saving the Game hosts, I am probably the least enthusiastic about horror, I can still understand what makes the season so much fun for everyone who does love it so much. My participation in Halloween festivities is typically pretty muted (my wife and I live on a dead-end street that sees so little foot traffic that we don’t even bother trying to hand out candy most years) but I don’t begrudge others their engagement with the fun elements of fear.
This year, the fear is more genuine and less fun, though. A pandemic that has spared virtually no corner of the globe has killed 1.12 million people as of this writing, and roughly 20% of those have been here in the US. Shutdowns and restrictions from the virus have devastated the economy leaving a lot of people out of work or with otherwise severely-reduced income. Here in the US, we’re also looking at an already-divisive election that is virtually guaranteed to be chaotic, is likely to be at least somewhat violent, and, depending on who you listen to, has at least some chance of causing a full-blown civil war. And that doesn’t even take into account the extensive civil unrest we’ve already experienced over racism and law enforcement violence earlier in the year. Our leadership in Washington is gridlocked over additional aid to help with the hardships caused by the shutdowns and pandemic, a logjam that is unlikely to be cleared before the inauguration in January if it happens at all. October is scarier than usual this year, and unlike the supernatural spooks in stories, the fears hanging over our everyday lives are very grounded.
I sincerely wish this was the point at which I could say “Everything will be fine in the end!” I mean, on some level, it will be; that certainly is still something we Christians believe. But eternal victory is sometimes not very comfortable in the face of temporal hardship. Frederick Buechner says “The worst thing is never the last thing.” But the truth is that in the here and now, I have been struggling pretty badly, because living through the worst thing is still no picnic. And so this post, like Crossing the River, is an exercise in trying to write what I myself most need to hear in the hopes that maybe it’ll be something that others need to hear as well.
Normally, my imagination is one of my most treasured possessions. It has brought me many hours of joy and even a bit of small-time income. It allows me to get a lot out of various creative projects. But right now, what is usually a blessing has taken on shadings of a curse. It is very, very good at catastrophizing. I’m not going to unload everything my mind has cooked up for two reasons: first, it’s pretty dire, and second, I am self-aware enough to realize that at least some of it is irrational.
Trying to keep those thought patterns at bay has been both crushingly difficult and extremely exhausting. I haven’t been sleeping well, I’m sure my blood pressure (which I’m already on meds for) has been through the roof, and I’ve been having a hard time focusing on the more benign forms of creativity that I enjoy, and this is with me being off social media. I don’t even want to contemplate how much worse the situation in my head would be if I wasn’t strictly limiting my Facebook and Twitter time to 1-3 intervals of 5 minutes or less a day – just enough time to respond to direct messages and twitter mentions and then get back out again.
I have been finding some comfort in faith, though less in the emptier platitudes of “everything will be fine” than in the stories and psalms of people going through incredibly difficult times and still trusting God. And I have also been finding certain sermons and conversations to be helpful. A lot of our problems in today’s world are caused by division, so listening to folks like the Holy Post Podcast talking about ways to overcome that and this beautiful, powerful sermon that I just listened to a couple hours ago have been useful. The Lord’s Prayer has helped. Psalm 23 helps.
If you’re also in this place mentally, first: I’m sorry to hear it. It’s a lousy place to be. Second: I’d encourage you to find some friends you can trust and talk to them. There is support to be found out there. If nothing else, the Saving the Game Discord server has a prayer requests channel.
Ultimately, the scary situation is still scary. I don’t think the fear is going anywhere soon, but there’s no going back. Time only flows in one direction. I have to pray for courage where I can find it and comfort where I can get it and trust God with the rest, because I am definitely not in control of the situation.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
-Psalm 23 (KJV)