On “This Is Us,” Randall, and the Church’s Response to Anxiety Among Clergy

I love the show “This Is Us.”

It is a beautifully written drama about family, aging, navigating life, and processing the burdens and struggles we all feel. It tells the story through the Pearson family’s entire life, especially Randall, Kate, and Kevin.

I resonate with Randall, portrayed by Sterling K. Brown, perhaps the most of the three siblings. Throughout the show’s six seasons, Randall has felt that he had to be the one to carry the family forward, especially after their father, Jack, tragically passed away. He has lived with a sense of obligation to his family. It is a love-based obligation expressed through the perceived need for Randall to be the family’s fixer or defender. He has pushed forward in his career, even sacrificing his own goals and family happiness at times, to meet expectations. He has sought to find out who he was through his own life story as an adopted member of the family.

At times, situations have required Randall to be the family’s calm and deliberative presence. Randall, as well, has had to deal with more issues than one person could bear.

It is not hard to see that Randall is someone who wears a lot of hats. Sometimes he can wear those hats with care and compassion. There are times, as well, when he cannot wear all the hats he has put on himself and those others have put on him. When Randall cannot live up to perceived expectations, his anxiety (a recurring theme throughout the series) comes out. It is always there. A person’s anxiety never truly goes away, but there are moments when it is more expressed than at other times.

That is, perhaps, where I resonate with Randall the most.

I am a pastor, a husband, and a father of two kids with developmental needs. One child is autistic, has issues with elopement, and is non-verbal. There have been times when those in trust in West Virginia have abused him. Our youngest has a speech delay. I have felt pressure, both real and perceived, to be the guardian of my extended family. I feel the weight of my calling, the pandemic, and leadership in divided times. I wrestle with wanting to excel and honor my calling while balancing the needs of my home and life.

I feel all of this on a normal day. Like Randall, there are times and moments when the weight of it all leads to bouts of overwhelming anxiety.

What I have appreciated the most about “This Is Us” is the show does not hide the struggles of anxiety nor wishes them away. It shows how someone can make a positive contribution to society while, at times, struggling with the weight of expectations. It shows, as well, how there is often no magic cure than being true to yourself, finding ways to process the anxiety, and recognizing that it will come in seasons.

There is something for the church to learn in that. While the pandemic has made the church more aware of mental health concerns, it still struggles to fully appreciate and love people who deal daily with mental health needs. This is especially the case in how the church views pastors with mental health struggles.

We want perfect pastors. The pastor who preaches an amazing sermon each Sunday, visits every person, is at every community event and grows the church year after year. We want pastors who do it all. We have an unrealistic and unbiblical notion of the pastoral calling.

Pastors are people, too.

We struggle with life. We have challenging family dynamics. We get angry. We get sad. We get impatient. And, yes, we sometimes have doubts.

Congregations and society can increase the already heavy burden pastors face in their lives and ministry when it maintains the false idea that pastors must be perfect. We struggle to care for pastors and their mental health. As a result, more and more pastors are dealing with mental health issues and burnout.

Perhaps that is why I appreciate the way the show and Sterling K. Brown have portrayed Randall. He is someone who struggles with anxiety and has pressures upon his shoulders but has a community around him encouraging him, loving him, and holding him up to find balance. The community is there for Randall, even if there are struggles along the way.

What if the church did the same today for our clergy?

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