You are here

What to do when you don't know what to do

Bishop Carlye Hughes

Bishop Hughes describes being asked, "Bishop, what are you going to do about the war" and thinking, "As if they would listen to me, one lone person sitting in Newark, New Jersey" - which led to what one person can do in situations where there is no easy fix. (Time: 5:13.)

Video Transcript

This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark, and it is the week before Thanksgiving. And I imagine your household is a little bit like mine – you're either making plans to travel, or to have people travel to you, and trying to determine, has everything been taken care of for next week's celebration. And, I imagine you're also a little bit like my household, trying to catch up with all business, get all emails answered, et cetera, before we know that it'll be quieter next weekend, it's harder to get ahold of people.

In the midst of answering all my emails, there was a message from one of, the parishioner at one of our parishes, that had questions about something happening with their schedule, and ended the message with, "Bishop, what are you going to do about the war?" And my first reaction was to say, "I'm going to tell them to just stop." And as if they would listen to me, one lone person sitting in Newark, New Jersey. But I think all of us feel a little bit of that, this sense that there's something we're supposed to do, but also feeling like we're one lone person sitting in northern New Jersey, what can we possibly do? I am not a head of state, nor am I a diplomat, nor will I be at any negotiating table physically. But what can I do? And that is something that is worth thinking about.

I had a conversation this week with two therapists in our diocese. One is Holly Speenburgh, who works with children and deals with trauma and younger folks, and she's a member at church of the Messiah in Chester. And the other is Carrie Cabush, who is a priest in our diocese, and serves at Calvary Church in Summit. And I was talking with them, recognizing that I've had a number of children, teenagers, and their parents say that they really could use some help thinking about how to talk about war and terrorism, how to talk about these scary things, and then how to react to them. I think even that person that sent me that question was really asking, how do we do this as faithful people. I'm working on something that will go out to families, but it struck me that it was such a simple thing, that it's something to go ahead and share with everybody right now.

First, we pray. That is our first step as people who are following the one who loves us, so incredibly much. The first thing we do is pray because it connects us to God, and it gives us a place to tell the absolute truth, to say exactly how we're responding, how inconsequential we feel, how worried we are, how afraid we are, how angry we are – whatever the truth is, we can say that to God in prayer. And then prayer also changes us. It gives us a chance to listen to God, or to allow God to minister to us. And sometimes in prayer, a thought or an idea will come to us, if not right in the prayer, sometime afterwards.

So we go to prayer first. And prayer informs what our actions will be next. And the action that we think is really helpful right now is being open to conversation. To allow space for people to talk about where they are, especially if those people are younger than us, if they are children or teenagers or young adults, to allow a space to say, how is this affecting you? What do you think about it? What do you think God might be thinking about it or leading you to. But to allow that space that is nonjudgmental, and not us trying to fix it, but allow an open space for people to talk. And in those two things, praying and allowing for that space to have open conversation, what will start to reveal itself is what we are to do. And what we are to do comes after those other things.

Our tendency is to want to do something right away. And I understand it. We hear horrible news and we want to fix it. And we want to be part of fixing it right away. But we are looking at complex situations all over the globe, including our own country. And they are not things that there can be a quick one answer fix, that any one of us can do. But all of us can pray. All of us can hold space for open conversation, we can allow that. That's a way we can act immediately coming out of prayer. And in those two things, God will reveal for us what we are to do.

I am grateful for our faith. I'm grateful for God's presence in all of this. And I trust that in exactly where we are headed to and time of gathering and celebration, that there will be many opportunities for us to be with people we know and love, and pray, have room for open conversation, and decide together what we shall do.

Add new comment

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). The Communications Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark reserves the right not to publish comments that are posted anonymously or that we deem do not foster respectful dialogue.