Tired. Weary. Drained. Even exhausted. These are the words, feelings, and realities that I’ve been hearing from pastors and leaders over and over in recent weeks and months. And let me tell you, it makes perfect sense. Just think about it:
• An “unprecedented” (don’t you get tired of hearing and using that word? But it’s just simply true.) season of a pandemic with no clear end in sight, exacerbated by polarization, conflicting sources of information, and no clear roadmap for how to navigate a time like this. We’re all just trying to figure this out as we go along, and anyone who claims they have it all down is not in touch with reality.
• The ongoing frustration of longing to be with people- not through a camera or screen, but an embodied presence with one another and Jesus among us.
• The racial injustices and pain that have been brought to the surface once more, in visceral and real ways. We want to “fix” and “do something”, but often we’re not sure exactly what the best way forward should look like, and how best to lead others.
• Add to that the “normal” stresses and concerns of life and ministry- walking with others through crisis, pain, and hardship. Planning for the next season of ministry, except we don’t know what the next season of ministry will even look like.
• And to make it even harder, political polarization that threatens to (and sometimes does) tear apart families, churches, and communities.
Of course we are tired and worn! Every single person you know (including the one you see in the mirror) is experiencing some form of trauma in this season. For many- especially those in leadership- that burden is compounded by our desire to help others who are hurting. It’s a recipe for burnout and soul fatigue, unlike almost anything I’ve seen in my life.
So what do we do?
• Take a really long vacation- like 6 months or so on a beach somewhere? Probably not an option.
• Just keep willing ourselves onward, head down and determined, until we “get past this” somehow? Not a great plan, if you want to lead yourself or others well.
• Quit? Sounds attractive some days, but I’m guessing that’s not your soul’s deep desire.
Instead, I want to invite us to return to this familiar passage that contains a life-giving, soul-filling prescription for times just like the one we are all currently navigating. For those who have been through SoulCare, you’ll hopefully find these thoughts a familiar reminder.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
First- Do some reflection
The author’s instructions invite us to start by asking ourselves a question: What in my life- in this season- is or has potential to trip me up or slow me down? “Throw off anything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Perhaps there’s a recurring sin, destructive behavior or a negative thought pattern happening. Even if it’s not about to take you out altogether, it is definitely adding to your burden and multiplying your weariness. To discover what “extra baggage” you’re carrying, you’ll want to engage in some reflection with Jesus. Remember the examen from SoulCare? The goal is not to beat yourself up or head out on a guilt trip. Rather, in the context of Jesus’ grace and infinite love, let Him show you what to repent of, release, or abandon.
Try sitting with Jesus with this question:
Jesus, what do you want to show me about myself (my life, thoughts, and patterns), in full awareness of your love and grace, that You want me to turn from, lay down, or let go?
Next- Turn your attention towards Jesus. Be with Him.
There are 2 key phrases in this text that tell us where to focus our mind and heart. The first is “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. The original language has the idea of looking away from one object to focus on another. In other words, rather than letting our minds dwell or ruminate on difficulties, challenges, or uncertainties, we are told to make a conscious choice about what we think about. We are learning more and more about the human brain, and a remarkable truth that’s emerging is that what we choose to repeatedly think about actually “wires our brain” in specific directions. By choosing to consciously turn our attention to Jesus: in quiet contemplation, in prayer, in holding a word or prayerful image of Jesus in our minds, we are shaping our minds in profoundly life-giving ways.
The second phrase is similar: “Consider Him”. This Greek word is used only once in Scripture, and it carries the idea of both thinking carefully as well as repetitively. In other words, think about Jesus over and over and over. Return your attention and mind to Him. This includes reflection on Jesus’ suffering, because this reminds us that we have a God who also suffers with us and for us, and that Jesus is never far off in our pain. Again, you may remember our time in SoulCare of companioning Jesus in His suffering (during the Lenten and Easter season). As we do so, we discover that the One we seek to companion is already and always companioning us.
So you might want to try this as well:
Sit with Jesus in quietness. Perhaps imagine a scene or moment of Jesus’ pain or suffering (His fasting and temptation in the wilderness, His prayer in Gethsemane, His trials and humiliation, the Cross). As you are “with” Jesus in these moments and places, what does Jesus want to say to you? What might He be saying about your current life situation?
In all of this, please hear these words as invitations, not something else you need to do or accomplish. Jesus, through the author of Hebrews, offers us so much more than “hang in there” and “you can do it!” sentiments and slogans. In His eternal and loving wisdom, God extends to us a lifeline for our souls. Yes, this season is hard and it is long. We feel it with you and we are here to pray with you, to listen, to enter in alongside. Please know that now, more than ever. But thanks be to God, even in a season of social distancing and relational disconnectedness, we are not– and never will be—left alone.