Daniel Whitehead interviewing Sarah Kift on Zoom

Mental Health, Faith & COVID-19 With Sarah Kift

Sarah KiftPodcast, Podcast COVID

Episode Description:

Sarah Kift, Mental Health First Aid-trained coach and podcast host, shares candidly about the challenges and joys of parenting two young children during the COVID-19 pandemic. She talks about how living in this strange and difficult season has helped her reassess her desire for perfection and success, enabled her to connect with her church community on a deeper level, and allowed her to feel her feelings instead of ignoring them.

Running time: 45:10

Release date: August 14, 2020

Update on The Sanctuary Podcast:

During these extraordinary times, while we can’t be with each other physically, we can reach out through screens and over phones, and we can share our stories with each other. Join Sanctuary’s CEO, Daniel Whitehead, as he interviews pastors, front line workers, ministry leaders, and friends about their experience of the pandemic and where they are making meaning and finding hope in the ups and downs of this season.

Unfortunately, no video recording is available.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Mental Health First Aid

Anxiety Disorder

OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

John Swinton on The Sanctuary Podcast

The Sanctuary Course

Crisis Resources:

For your quick reference, here are nationwide emergency numbers and crisis lines:

  • Canada: 911, Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566
  • British Columbia: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
  • United States: 911, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • United Kingdom: 999/112, Samaritans: 116 123
  • New Zealand: 111, 1737, Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800-543-354
  • Australia: 000, Lifeline: 13 11 14 

Daniel Whitehead: Well, welcome to The Sanctuary Podcast. My name is Daniel Whitehead. I am the CEO of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, and during COVID-19 I am also the host of our podcast. And we’re doing things a bit differently during COVID-19, we are talking to friends of ours from around the world, people who speak, can speak to mental health and faith in the midst of COVID-19 from a range of vocations and backgrounds, and today we’re joined by a very good friend of ours—someone who has been connected to Sanctuary since before I’ve been working for Sanctuary; someone who is a Mental Health First Aid-trained coach; someone who has delivered workshops on behalf of Sanctuary; and someone who is actually the regular host of The Sanctuary Podcast! So the tables have been turned—Sarah Kift, it’s great to have you with us.

Sarah Kift: Oh, it’s so good to be here, and I actually don’t mind being on the other side of the table for a change.

Daniel Whitehead: Absolutely, on the other side of another table. What a peculiar world this is where we are having to speak to each other through cameras all throughout the day. And that actually fits with your—one of your vocational hats. Sarah, tell us a bit about your vocation?

Sarah Kift: Yes, it kind of came to me in a strange, not haphazard but maybe divinely appointed—I’m not sure, those two things can overlap; the wild goose chase—I have a weird—a particular set of skills that includes frontline work in the homelessness sector around mental health and addictions. I have lived experience of mental health challenges, as well as being an advocate for family and friends. And then I have my mental health certification as an instructor, but I also know a little bit about tech, and so I have a bit of a journalistic thread there. And I’m a podcast host: I do webinars as part of my regular job, and I do editing and recording. Somehow it all came together and I was able to start doing a podcast for Sanctuary. And I really love—I really love, Daniel, that basically what happened a few weeks into COVID was Daniel and I—we had a conversation right? And I said, “Here’s what you do, go do it. Here’s the software, here’s the mics you need, here’s what I think you should do with The Sanctuary Podcast right now.” And it’s been amazing to see it. I’ve been really enjoying the episodes and appreciating the people that you know and the way that you are hosting. So from one host to another I think you’re doing a fabulous job.

Daniel Whitehead: Wow high praise indeed, I can retire.

Sarah Kift: Yeah.

Daniel Whitehead: Very good, thank you Sarah. Well, no it’s great to, great to have you with us, it’s always good to talk to you anyway. And I’m actually looking forward to talking to you because, just before I hit record I said, “I don’t know what we’re going to talk about. Let’s find out.” So Sarah, let me ask you what I’m asking everyone at the moment: What has this time been like for you? I mean, you’re a wife and a mother aside from your vocational hats. I’m guessing you’ve got two small children in your house?

Sarah Kift: Yes.

Daniel Whitehead: All the time at the moment, so I think—

Sarah Kift: All the time.

Daniel Whitehead: What’s happening? Talk to us.

Sarah Kift: Okay well, I have an almost six-year-old and a two-year-old, and we kind of checked out very early on in the whole pandemic scheme of things. I knew in my gut right the last day I picked up my daughter from spring break—or before spring break—that she wasn’t going to go back just based on some of the things I’d been hearing. And so I was starting to mentally prepare. So yes my husband is a librarian, he’s a digital librarian so he also works from home. So what you see behind me used to be our board game room slash my office, and it has now become the place where no children shall be. So this is the safe zone, this is the quiet room, because I now do up to four webinars a week live for work, and so we weren’t sure how that was going to go because our kids are not quiet; they are spirited, they are intense passionate little beings. And normally my husband would take them out of the house while I was doing webinars, but that’s not really been an option right now for lots of reasons. So we figured out that—we broke all our rules.

Basically what’s been happening is I lowered my expectations and lowered my standards, I grew up in a house that had no TV, and there’s a TV in the kids room now. We bought another Chromecast so that when I’m recording or broadcasting, they’re in there watching TV and sometimes they’ll watch four to six hours of TV with my husband so that I can do my recordings. And that to me—I would have been like allergic to that before; I would have been offended and upset, and it would have been really hard for me, but now there’s so many little workarounds like that especially when you have young kids in the house. You’ve just got to make it work. Very early on, my husband and I sat down, and I think this was a really good thing, and we just made a big piece of paper, we’re like, “Okay what does everybody need? Okay we need food, we need the house to be somewhat clean, not, you know, someone’s coming over clean but “can we survive here” clean. What do you need for work, what do I need for work, what do the kids need and how can we make it all.” And we looked at this huge piece of paper and went, “Oh crap, this is going to be difficult,” but we’re in three months. I think this is day sixty-seven or something, and it’s hard to believe that is even the case, and we’ve come, we’ve figured it out—not in the way that everything is peaceful, and that everything runs perfectly, but we’ve managed to at least name everything that we need, and try in a day to get most of it sorted out.

Daniel Whitehead: It’s very interesting talking about your—I mean essentially cutting yourself some slack and adjusting your expectations of what is achievable and what is, yeah, what is achievable in this time. You’re saying you would have had a hard time at the thought of letting your children watch TV for six hours before. tell me about the process of that not—of you not having a hard time with that. Was that a quick thing, was that a slow, painful thing? Yeah, because that’s a—I mean I get it, we relate to that as well you have to, we just have to adapt our own expectations of what is acceptable in this world. But tell me about that: was that painful, difficult or just necessary?

Sarah Kift: I think it was very painful but I didn’t process it until later. Sso what happened in the beginning was—I was about to swear, an “oh crap” moment—where Jonathan, my husband, got a computer from work, and we were home with the kids, and I had two webinars to do the next day, and we were like, “All right, how do we get this done? What are we going to do? We have to do it right now, it has to happen.” And for me that was actually really difficult because I have an anxiety disorder, and part of that is black-and-white thinking, so it’s very all or nothing for me. I tend to go from like, “The kids are going to eat all organic and there’ll be no TV and they’ll wear linen” and, you know, just like, really extreme—I set really extreme goals for myself. And then when I don’t make those goals, I find it really difficult. I kind of go the other way and feel really a lot of guilt and shame and frustration. And what the pandemic has been doing for me is giving me space to fall apart, and be okay with it, and to let go. So, it has been very difficult, but because I am at home all the time, that’s the other thing I think that is both a challenge and a blessing, is that we have time to reflect.

I think something that I’ve really been working through lately is people are—they talk about presence and being connected to yourself, being present and not numbing out. But the reason that we do that is because it’s painful to be present, it’s actually very painful to connect with yourself when you’re sad, or you’re grieving or you’re angry, or you’re frustrated that your life doesn’t look how you thought it would? If you had told me four months ago that my life would be: the kids eat whatever they want and watch four to six hours of TV three or four days a week and our house is no longer a place of everything being perfectly curated—I mean it never was but that was my ideal—to, oh, the floors a bit sticky I guess we should probably clean it so that we can continue to function here. Or the reason we clean up the living room is not to impress people, it’s so that we can play in it, you know, the reason I make my bed, or change the sheets, or do any of those sort of normal everyday things is so that we can live well in our home because it is all we have right now. And so it’s interesting, I kind of went off on a tangent there but, it has been difficult, there’s definitely been an up-or-down kind of thing for me. And then the other interesting thing is we, my husband and I both started working out from home, and we had these amazing routines, and those worked for like two and a half weeks. And then there was a couple of days where we were just like, “Why are we doing all this?” You know, you kind of read the news and then you think, “Oh this could go on for a really long time,” and you kind of get a bit demoralized and you lose your motivation. So we kind of go through waves like that. There are weeks where we do really well and we’re changing the world, and other weeks I am in my pyjamas all day and I’m also watching TV.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah. And that’s, I mean, good for you, first of all good for you. I think one of the things that’s interesting about coping mechanisms, I guess, let’s call them coping mechanisms that we have because, actually I’m not from one of those homes, by the grace of God, but many people are from homes where they were always told, “Do this, do that, don’t do that, don’t do this,” you know. I know someone who grew up with their parent saying to them, “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want your grandmother seeing you doing.” And that seemed like this kind of comical whimsical piece of advice, but actually became this really oppressive thing of like, just constantly feeling like, like I’m constrained right? I’m not allowed—and anything I do, do that I’m not happy with my grandmother seeing, I’m not allowed to talk about. And so there then becomes these barriers to them actually engaging in an open and honest transparent way with their parents. And I wonder, I mean this wasn’t my intention for this but you’re a parent, I’m a parent, we’re both living with children at home, but you know there is definitely—when I think of how comforting sitting down and watching television can be, how—and I mean it can be educational, it can be redemptively good in all kinds of ways—but sometimes it’s just like a numbing thing right, it’s just like, “I don’t need to think in this moment, I can just sit and veg out and be entertained.” And there’s something good about that, but it is a way that we soothe our pain, and I think if we’re too exacting on ourselves, even outside of a COVID world, where do we go to get that soothing? I mean, I guess I should be more pious and I should just you know, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” and I should just, you know, sit in a room on my own and meditate, and it’s not to say that those things, that I don’t try and do those things, and those things aren’t good but, reality is sometimes I just need to watch like a movie from the 1980s that isn’t even very good but, that’s where I’m—

Sarah Kift: We watched Muppet Treasure Island yesterday, and it was so good. I remember being a teenager and the kids loved it. It is interesting that you talk about “should” and piety, because I think that’s another thing that being in this season has really had me wrestle with. And actually again there’s been a lifting—as there’s been restrictions from the government and from health authorities and from our own sense of what is safe, and what risks we want to take—there’s actually been a really interesting lift of restrictions for me. So part of my anxiety disorder is I find restrictions really dangerous. So I have OCD and it manifests differently than people think of OCD, it’s not touching doorknobs a hundred times—for me it’s more mental stuff. But whenever I start to restrict myself, and the word “should” kind of comes to land on my back and I start to think about the life that I “should” be having, I get into trouble really quickly. Because it becomes a cycle of: I can’t really attain that perfection all the time, and then instead of being okay with good enough, I feel guilt and shame that I haven’t attained that, which then means I drop off completely; it’s the other side of the rollercoaster, you know, you go up really high and then you come down. And the interesting thing about being home all the time is that you actually start to think about life as: what is sustainable, you know? Not what is perfect. And what is human? So the other thing is that a lot of us have had the opportunity—some of us have not—but a lot of us have had the opportunity to step outside of the consumerist productive model, where we’re constantly producing and connecting and being very busy. And that creates our measure of success. Being at home with your kids, and actually sitting down and watching a movie with them, is one of the most incredibly valuable things you can do. I still remember looking over at my dad, I loved watching him laugh when we watched a movie because he was a very driven person, and he worked a lot, and he was not often home. And so those moments are special to me. That’s what I remember: I don’t remember him working, I remember him laughing at a cheesy movie. And so I have this little sign in my kitchen—on my microwave so it’s—I can see it when I’m making coffee or the endless snacks and meals that you have to prepare for your children; they just never seem to be full. And it just says “You have time for this.” And so before, well, often I would think I don’t have time for this, you know. I have a list of things that need to get done in order for me to be a productive person and to feel successful or satisfied, or in control at the end of the day. And in parenting and in my own life, I just look at that now and think, “I have time for this. I have time to spend in my pyjamas all day with my kids. We’re not going anywhere, there’s no birthday parties at the weekend; there’s no school that I have to get them out the door for in the morning.” And so that has really changed. It’s paradoxical because there are days where we do not have time: Jonathan’s trying to make popcorn and shove them in the bedroom and I’m trying to set up and there’s a tech issue and it’s just the whole day, it just goes bananas. But I think it’s really, it’s been important for me to think about how my priorities have actually been upside down. People talk about back to normal; actually I don’t think that it was normal before. My life was actually out of balance before this.

Daniel Whitehead: And that presents an interesting thought. I mean, these are many things that I and my wife have talked about in our own lives and our own experience of being a person in this world at the moment, and there’s almost like a—I don’t know if you can relate to this—but like an inverse anxiety about, this time going back to it, right, so—

Sarah Kift: 100%.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, right, we all had a vaccine now, there’s no stopping us. We can go back to how things were. There’s a fear, like a very genuine, you know, angst-inducing fear that—I’m not ready for that, I’m not ready to go back to how things were. That feels exhausting.

Sarah Kift: I feel the same. I actually—I used to love travel because I love anything that actually takes me outside of the everyday of my life and my responsibilities and allows me time to reflect. And usually that means going to a different space and then coming back. I love the coming back, because whenever I would come back home, I would think, “Oh, I don’t, I’m not required to continue to do things the same way.” There are things about my time away that showed me I actually don’t have to do things this way. It doesn’t—this is not a given, and so I think even in terms of—it’s been interesting doing church online, because when you have young kids it’s very difficult to engage in church. And I know that churches work really hard to engage families, but, you know, there’s always that—just the wildness of children that makes it complicated. So what it meant for us was we—and our church was very welcoming of kids—what it meant was one of us would just know that on a Sunday or whenever we would engage, one of us would not engage, one of us would just be with the kids. And we had to be okay with that. And so it was a splitting of our experience as a couple because we could never share church together. Because in order for one person to sit quietly in the sermon, the other one had to drag the screaming toddler out to the park and you know, whatever. So Zoom’s been great because my partner and I can sit there and be a part of church in a much more intimate way, because we see everybody’s face, and it’s a smaller group, and we can just mute; we can just press the mute button when our kids are, you know, climbing the couch and throwing things, that’s all going on in the background. I’m sure it’s entertaining for the other people that are watching, but it doesn’t mean we actually have to physically leave the space, and so it’s actually brought a greater connectedness for us, in terms of our community, our church community.

Daniel Whitehead: That’s really interesting. I know in the church that I attend, someone made the comment that one of the silver linings of what is undoubtedly a very difficult time for a vast majority of people in the world—it’s worth stating and restating—but one of the silver linings of the way our community meets is that, the participation from voices in the community that previously kind of never really heard them speak because they would turn up, they might help put out the chairs and put them away, then they go and, and that’s slightly different from my experience of growing up in the church in the UK, where I think there’s more of this parish mentality, that you, you know, you try to walk to church, and kind of your neighbours in the congregation are your neighbours, sort of, that culture but here in more of a gathered community, we’re actually hearing voices that we’ve never heard before. We’ve seen people sitting in the congregation but—so suddenly this more sense of the body ministering to each other is just happening because that’s how these Zoom calls  go. And that’s been a real blessing. And I found myself purposefully holding back. I don’t share anything in our church, I mean why would I? I get to speak in front of churches all the time; my voice has been heard for most people like ten lifetimes worth of voices. So now I want to hear from other people who’ve never spoken up before, and that’s been really good for us, really good.

Sarah Kift: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think it also means—again, if we’re talking about reflecting on things that we thought were a given—it also means re-examining our complicity as a church in the ways we engage with power. So there is something about Sunday morning that you have to get there, so there’s transport involved. And you kind of want to show up wearing nice clothes, I mean, that’s sort of a basic human instinct is to—when you’re going to a group of people, you want to kind of give your best face. I’ve seen more messy living rooms and chaotic children and people in sweatpants in my church than I would have ever seen, even if we had a robust home group and drop in, because it kind of goes back to what I was saying about our house. The point behind us keeping our place clean is not so that we can show people we have a clean house, it’s so that we can live here comfortably; so that we have room to play; that we have clean surfaces to eat off of; that we have comfortable, restful places to sleep. It’s a very, very different motivator—I think there’s never been a better time to actually connect with people than right now, because those barriers are removed. And then you add the mental health aspect, so I might know, I might have nice clothing, but being in a setting with a lot of people and trying to—for me a lot of social anxiety happens, and so even though I seem like a very outgoing person, there’s a whole background conversation going on in my head: “Was that okay? Did I say the right thing? Have I talked to this person? Are they upset?” It’s kind of like a radio channel. It’s gotten way less since I started taking medication and I am so happy about that, but, you know, church is stressful for me.

Church was a place where I felt when I would walk into the building, no matter—it was about me, I’m saying, not about the people there because they were very welcoming—no matter how welcoming people are, I feel the need to impress because of my particular mental health challenges. And so the effort, the emotional labour involved in going to church is very difficult. It’s interesting because there’s been a few Sundays where I actually don’t want to be on the Zoom call, like my mood is low enough, I’ve had that crash of, well, I didn’t achieve my perfect standards this week so, you know, I’m down here in the bottom in my pyjamas eating Kraft dinner, and I don’t even want to be on the Zoom call. But again that’s about me, but I do think, again, it’s an opportunity, you know you and I are connecting with each other from our living rooms. There’s people in my church congregation—not my current one but before—that I’d never ever, ever invite over to my house ever, even if it was perfect, because I would be too afraid of not looking like enough. And so I agree with you, I think, there’s opportunities here that, you know, you push aside some of the challenges. And the same goes for me personally: I’ve realised how much time I spend numbing out. And what’s been interesting, what’s been happening in the last three or four weeks, particularly as I started doing counselling again—and I love counselling, everybody should do it, it’s great, if you can access it—but I’ve just been feeling my feelings. And I know that sounds sort of cheesy but it’s really interesting to actually have the space to feel sad, and let it wash over you, and then move through it. It’s very painful. Or there was day the other day with everything that’s going on in the world right now, my partner and I woke up and we were just like we’re just really sad today, like we don’t feel like going to work. And being able to have the space to process that, I think, is a huge gift. Because before I loved being busy, I’m a high-functioning person, I love going out and having a full calendar. So all of those feelings that would come up throughout the day would just get pushed aside, and now, it’s not easy, it’s very painful but I’ve been moving through some big feelings that I’ve had for a long time that haven’t had my attention. Because I’m in my pyjamas, I’m in my home, and even if I’m on a meeting, I can, you know, take my video off, you know. And I can take that moment in the meeting to process something that’s come up—anger, frustration, whatever—and then I can come back and be okay. Which you can’t really do in a meeting.

Daniel Whitehead: No.

Sarah Kift: In person.

Daniel Whitehead: No, and I think that whole thing about, yeah, feeling your feelings and particularly in the time that we’re in at the moment, I mean, Monday was a very dark day for me, which—I, listen I’m not looking for sympathy; it just was. And I was almost surprised by it, I can rationalise it out. And my advice to someone else in my position would be, “Well of course it is. Look what’s happening in the world, look what’s been going on for the last three months. Everything has changed. This is a normal, rational response to what you’re seeing on the news every day, and new things that are being said and done by certain prominent people every day. It’s just crushing.” And sadness and anger, I mean, yeah, that was, that was Monday. That was Monday this week for me. And I’m still sort of processing that but, yeah, like I said it kind of took me by surprise, I thought, “Damn, I thought you just, just move on. But no, and I wonder if in this time of slowing down, it’s just feeding the feelings more. You can’t avoid them; you can’t—there’s less to distract yourself with, which would be busyness and productivity I guess. So hopefully it means I’m becoming a more empathetic, compassionate person. Hopefully.

Sarah Kift: And again ,you know, I think about, even—we’ve talked a lot and we’ve talked a lot with our guests about how to do church in a way that is inclusive of people who are not happy all the time or who have a particular mental health challenge that makes it difficult to engage with the more upbeat parts of our North American Evangelical church context. And I think again there’s an opportunity here to think about it differently. Because, it’s like, we have this weird free—we have this pause. Like when I think about the work that I did for church, the amount of effort that went into a Sunday morning, coordinating more than one service—it’s incredible. It’s a lot of work to put on that gathering every week. It requires a lot of people, a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of coordination, you know, I had a service—order of service precisely timed, you know—10:30am this, 10:45am this, 10:55am this, you know. And everything was scheduled. And the more people you have, the more schedule you need right? The more people you have in a venue at an event, the more structure you require. That’s just a practical aspect. But when you think about some of the reasons that we get together as people of faith: they are to reflect; they are to feel; they are to connect deeply; they are to draw us out of programming and into a spiritual understanding or a different way of looking at the world. And so I think there’s a lot to be said about putting pause on all of the productions we’ve been doing. The inevitable Sunday, you know, as a preacher, okay, I’ve got to preach a new message, you know, we’ve got to have more coffee, there’s a new worship set list, there’s a new PowerPoint needs to be done—all of that is just over. And people are doing that on a smaller scale, you know, there’s churches that are livestreaming their service and stuff, but it’s a very different proposition.

Daniel Whitehead: It’s really interesting—I’m recalling a conversation I heard, it might have been a conference I was at and I have no idea who said this, and I wouldn’t quote them if I did know. But I’m remembering I was listening to—he was definitely North American, so that narrows it down—but I was listening to someone at a conference in the UK who was talking about this eureka moment he and his leadership team had in a church. And the eureka moment was: one day he realised, he said, it’s about Sunday. And that became like the strapline for their work, it was like, I think, I actually think the strapline, and this might give it away because other people might know who this is, but it was something—they really politically incorrect, they said, “It’s about Sunday, stupid,” it’s like, don’t forget the obvious, that it’s about Sunday. That’s a—that’s kind of troubling in the world that we live in today, where, I mean, if the church has become about Sunday, then I think we’re in trouble, particularly in trouble in a world where we can’t meet anymore on a Sunday. But again, you can kind of, I mean—we can go into the history of why we—how we got to there and why people go there—but when we go back to the idea of, you know, as Sanctuary’s work is to help people in the midst of a mental health crisis find the church to be a safe place—I think if the whole church’s attention is on Sunday, or a Sunday experience, there is a ton of implicit pressure on people attending that experience to maintain appearances, right, and to—

Sarah Kift: Or even to get something out of it, right? So if you make Sunday the only way, the only, the marquee event that you connect with God and the people of God. Then if you have a bad day, or if you have a panic attack, or if your kids meltdown in the car, and you just need to go to McDonalds instead for breakfast—which is also letting go of your high standards of organic food only—then you’ve missed that one opportunity to be there with everybody else for this event, and so it does come back to the idea, well, what is our priority, you know, what do we have time for? What is actually important? Is it to have a smooth running service where it’s palatable to the most amount of people and it’s exciting and interesting enough for them to show up on this day that we produce it? Or is it to go back to what do we actually need to have time for?

And I take it back to my kids again. I learn this lesson every day and I get frustrated by it every day, but yesterday morning I just wanted to have a coffee and eat my breakfast in peace, but they did not leave me alone and they both were crying. And it was, it was really frustrating. I just wanted five minutes to myself. And then I thought, “No, I need to engage with them right now, like what they need is connection. They don’t need me to have a schedule for the day, they don’t need me to have home school, they don’t need any—they just need me to sit on the couch with them, hold them in my arms, let them cry, and have my full attention.” And I didn’t want to give it to them because I am with them twenty-four seven, but I did. I sat down on the couch, they both came into my arms, they both cried and screamed for a while, and then I said, “What’s happening? What do you need? What do you need?” And they told me what they needed, got them for—I got it for them. It was just some strawberries and yoghurt and then they were happy, and then I had my coffee in peace. So again, it’s about sort of deprogramming what we think is a priority, but the, you know—I love a friend of mine, she’s a psychologist, and she always says, “If it was easy we would have done it already.” So the reason that connecting with people individually, the reason that having a service that is either spread over multiple days or connecting with people in ways that are not a production or a program—we don’t do that more is because it’s difficult, it requires emotional energy, it requires presence, it requires flexibility, and it requires individualized care. And so it’s not efficient, and it asks a lot of us. You and I both know as parents, you know, getting through the day with kids who need you, who just—they need your attention, they don’t want stuff, you know, they want snacks but they also just want your attention.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, it’s really interesting about that—that that way of slowing down, of caring requires work. Like that’s the hard things. It’s like rest, the rhythm of rest, Sabbath, you know, but this regular rhythm of intentional rest, not working so that you’re so tired so that you have to rest, which seems to be a very Western idea. But, this idea that no, no, no—I mean, God didn’t rest on the seventh day because he needed a rest, you know, because he was tired, sorry, I mean, God doesn’t get tired. But it was this principle of: rest is good; you need rest; rest is a place in which things are recalibrated, things are brought back to you. And that isn’t just an abstract, in an abstract spiritual sense, which and it might well be, but it’s also a physiological, biological sense. We actually need to stop, you know, we need to sleep every night so that the rapid eye movement can happen which resets our brain for the next day. And if you don’t get that you die. So there are all of these clues about, about rest and yet, my point is for people who like being busy like me, rest is hard, like intentional hard work, like training for a marathon, you know. It takes work, and I much rather would be busy; I’d take busy over less busy any day of the week, because that’s easy for me, but hard—the hard work is resting.

Sarah Kift: It’s so true, and then not only do you have to deal with the fact that you might actually have a moment where you don’t know what you want to do—have you ever had that, you know, like “Oh finally!” And then you—and then what happens for me is I start to feel a lot of guilt and shame and self-recrimination: “Who am I? I don’t even know what I want to do right now. Oh no, I have no good habits,” you know, like you kind of can go down that road—it reminds me I want to tell this story. So I taught Mental Health First Aid to a very large church a while back. And the very first day that I walked in there—my session was scheduled to start in the afternoon, and I walked into the room that was supposed to be for the course. And this isn’t just like a casual hang-out, it’s like a serious course that requires set-up and you’ve got to be there. And I couldn’t find anybody to tell me what was going on, and the room was full of people having lunch together and planning other meetings. And so I thought, “Okay this is interesting.” And as I worked with that church over the course of the next few weeks, the question that I got most often was—and what I saw happening—was that people were so busy running programs because there was so many programs and meetings and conflicts and plans for Sunday that when I was teaching them about Mental Health First Aid, I mean the basic principles are: pause; know what’s going on for you; and then listen. So, you know, what’s going on for the other person, and then, maybe then, you speak, but mostly you listen and you are a calm and safe presence. That’s what Mental Health First Aid is, but it requires things that actually seem really simple, but are actually really difficult. To pause and actually know how you’re feeling, and what’s going on in your body requires a sense of connectedness that you can’t access when you’re running around from meeting to meeting. And listening to someone else, one of the questions I got from one of the participants was, “There’s just so many people in a day, and sometimes, somebody—I see someone and I know they’re having a crisis, but I don’t want them to say “hi” because I don’t have time to talk to them, and it makes me feel bad.” And so it was really interesting because there was a room full of pastors and church staff, and I just said, “That’s the work. All that other stuff, that’s the—that’s the task list. Why do you do the tasks? So that people can connect.” So, and it’s happened for me in my own life so often, you know, I say to myself, “My job would be so much easier if I didn’t have to talk to people.” Or “my job would be so much easier if there were no people involved.” Because then I could get everything done on my list, and feel accomplished. And I actually just said to them, and I kept hitting on that theme throughout the course: that is the work. That is the most important thing you could do as a staff member of a church is to make sure that you have time, so that when people do come to you, or say “hi,” you can say “Hi, are you okay?” not, “Hi, I’m off to a meeting. See you Sunday.” But it’s heavy lifting.

Daniel Whitehead: And it strikes me—

Sarah Kift: And I would prefer not to do it myself on most days.

Daniel Whitehead: It seems like the equivalent of saying, “I’d be a much better parent if I didn’t have kids,” you know. It’s that—just defies the very point of that is what a parent is. You know, Sarah, it’s been so good listening to you talk, and, you know, this is the way it is whenever I talk with you, but letting other people listen to you talk, and listen to, yeah, just that candour and honesty about what it is to be a parent, and what it is to live with a mental health challenge, and to find the bravery and resolve to keep going, I just, you know—I often say some of the bravest people I know live with mental illness or some kind of, you know, mental health challenge, because just the very practice of attending a church or making a phone call or doing shopping requires inordinate bravery. So it’s like bravery all of the time. And there’s something that strikes me as very brave about you in how you approach your life, and how you’ve done it, and I’m very glad to call you a friend.

There’s something I’d like to end with, which is something—I don’t know if John said it on the podcast; John Swinton said it on the podcast when you interviewed him—but it’s something I’ve heard him say before, which is this very simple definition of love. And if I remember it correctly, John—he was quoting someone else but I’m not sure who—John was saying a simple definition of love is to see another person and to say, “I see you as you are, and I’m glad that you’re here.” And hearing you talking about the vocation of pastoral work, and that’s the work, it seems like that’s the work to say that—as a parent that’s the work, it’s not getting them to do you know handwriting or math to a certain level. It’s actually to find the strength to look at our kids and say to them, “I see you as you are, and I’m so glad that you’re here.” And, you know, my kids teach me about what it must be like for God to work with me, because my kids aren’t very good at listening. They need me way more than they probably do, it feels that way anyway, like, “Why do you need my help? You can do this now.” But I guess I get an insight into what it’s like for God to work with me when I’m forever going on about the same things to him, and it’s—I’m just reminded that I think the Lord looks at us and says, “I’m glad that you’re here, and as you are, I’m glad that you’re here.”

Sarah Kift: Yeah, well, you know—and I would add to that and say, you need to say that to yourself especially in this time. That is the work. [It] is to say that radical self-acceptance, where you say, “I’m glad that I’m here, and I’m okay with who I am. It’s good enough.” You know it’s—because when you pause from being busy all the time, it can be painful to realize that there’s great areas of your heart, there’s swathes of my experience is grief around things that have happened this year that I have not processed. And so I don’t blame myself for wanting to stay busy, but I also am really pressing into the idea of just saying, I’m glad I’m here, and I’m not okay.” It’s okay not to be okay; it really is.

Daniel Whitehead: Very good, thank you Sarah.

Sarah Kift: Thank you for having me, it’s been really fun.

Daniel Whitehead: Yeah, me too, and we’re going to end now, and we’re going to end ironically with people hearing your voice telling them about The Sanctuary Course. Isn’t that ironic? So just set that up. Thanks for joining us everyone, see you again and thanks Sarah for joining us.

Sarah Kift: Yeah thanks everyone, bye.

Daniel Whitehead: Bye.

Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries exists to equip the church to be a sanctuary for all people, at all stages of their mental wellness journey, may this podcast encourage you to create safe space for your own story, and the stories of others as well as create change in communities that stigmatize those suffering with mental health challenges. 

The Sanctuary Course is a small group resource designed to help initiate and guide conversations about mental health and faith, it is a starting point, creating a base of shared knowledge from which churches can explore the next steps, perhaps most importantly through the simple act of talking openly about mental health, the course helps churches begin to create safe spaces for people to share their mental health stories, and receive support in community. 

Each theme in the course is explored from a psychological, social and theological perspective, and each session is accompanied by a compelling film focussed on an individual story, a person of faith whose journeyed through mental health challenges. 

This podcast is released under creative commons attribution, non-commercial, no derivatives 4.0 license. Don’t change it or sell it but please share it all you like.