“I don’t know if I can do this until I’m 65.” Those are the words I heard recently from a pastor. It would be a good joke if my friend was 64 years old, but he’s in the mid-fifties. But let’s not be too quick to judge this situation. My friend is a successful pastor in a supportive church. He is not bitter or cynical; he is tired and exhausted. Ironically, from all appearances he is the pastor everyone wants to be. I don’t think he has some secret life or ongoing sin problem. He is not looking at the “want ads,” but examining his life and ministry brings about an honest assessment of exhaustion. Have you been there? In times like this, advice usually runs in three equally unhelpful streams.
Wait…before I go any further, maybe a personal introduction may be in order. Let me anticipate your discerning question, “Who is this guy and why is he writing on our pooped pastor web site?”
What qualifies me for this blog is that Steve Brown owes me big – I’m a story teller and Steve steals my stories and tells them to others. So from the bowels of guilt my friend and colleague at the seminary asked me to share my thoughts with you. Truthfully, I am humbled by this idea. To have an audience with you is truly a privilege. I am a licensed psychologist and have worked on church staff as a counselor and family pastor (in a previous life I was a youth pastor, I think, but that is blurry). At the seminary my greatest privilege is to teach future pastors, specifically issues related to counseling. I have a wife, two sons and a dog named Pavlov (you caught that didn’t you?). I submit these ideas to you for your encouragement; I pray that God will give you renewed hope and strength.
Now let’s return to my tired friend and the three streams of unhelpful advice. The first stream is the “whining creek.” The listener will often say things such as, “You poor guy, nobody understands you, and you have such a hard job.” This stream has a positive short-term effect, yet one that could become a justification for self absorption. There is some truth to the fact that people do not understand the pastor’s role and job, but accepting a victim’s cloak can lead to a growing sense of entitlement. This type of empathic stream is helpful is some ways, but it often misses God’s bigger purpose in the situation.
The next stream is the “suck it up” stream (it takes a big straw!). Often the advice goes something like, “You have a calling, now get to work and quit complaining.” This is the type of thinking that birthed the line, “Eat your brussel sprouts because there are children in the third world who are starving.” Just sucking it up and burying your emotions can foster legalism and burnout. Denying the symptom prevents one from trying to determine where the loneliness originates.
The third stream is the “fix it” stream. Day timers, Blackberries, seminars, the latest books and gadgets all indicate that you have chosen to manage the tiredness instead of wrestle through it to see where it leads. You have probably tried all of these options, and you know the latest lingo, but at the end of the day you still find yourself exhausted, misunderstood, and lonely.
What is the answer? What do we do with our exhausted souls? The obvious answer is rest. When Jesus was appealing to the exhausted and burdened, he promised rest, explaining that true rest is obtained by learning from the Gentle One. We often do not consider the unlikely route to rest: listening to the exhaustion. Being tired is not the problem; it is the symptom of a weary heart.
What does the beat of a tired heart say? It could be an invitation by God to explore. He seems to be more interested in our growth and loving dependence on him than our comfort. Don’t get me wrong, exhaustion is an invitation to rest, but it is also an invitation to reflect. One might be tired because he/she is working outside of one’s giftedness. The tiredness may be a result of living life by the demands of others, or your own unreasonable goals. Perfectionists are always tired.
Weariness could be the result of constantly scrutinizing ourselves against the perceived perfection of others. It could also be the natural result of ministering in a fallen world and doing it alone. Whatever it is, don’t repent of being tired. Don’t try to justify, manage, or deny it. Listen to it. The promise is that we will find rest. Don’t strain against this new yoke; we are learning He is gentle and humble in spirit.
Eugene Peterson once said that the job of pastoral ministry is “not to solve people’s problems or make them happy, but to help them to see the grace that is operating in their lives.” When you are tired, you cannot see the grace, so my prayer for my friends in pastoral ministry is to stop trying to ignore the tiredness, stop living as if you can figure things out and solve all your problems. Allow the tiredness to become a tool used by the Gentle One to move you toward honest reflection so you can see the grace and find true rest.
In the next few blog entries I will consider some of the possible meanings to our tiredness. I am humbled and delighted that you took a few minutes to read my thoughts – thanks. May our good God meet you, teach you and reveal Himself to you in your tiredness.