I know that from firsthand experience, of course. It’s a slow leak, an almost imperceptibly small depletion of energies, of passion, of get-up-and-go. It’s that feeling of always being ‘on’, never fully able to disentangle your heart from the work. And you push yourself that bit further every day, knowing that sometimes sheer stubbornness might have to be enough to keep you moving forward.
I know it because I live it. But I also know it because I see it in so many leaders. Leaders who were called, who heard the need for workers and jumped up with excitement. Leaders who, though they never felt called, could no longer abide the inactivity of others and stood up because no one else did. Leaders of every kind.
And these leaders have paid a heavy price, often. A price which shows in their eyes if you will take a moment to look deeply enough. A price which is heard in the sighs they heave when they think no one is listening. A price which they feel right down to the weariness in their bones.
Dan Allender picks up on this in Leading with a Limp. Have a listen:
trudging through sin, calling forth beauty, and persevering in the midst of the long wait to see the seeds of faith germinate and make their way above ground – all of this puts a ton of stress on our capacity to hope.
Something there resonates with me. Because sometimes it is a trudge through sin. Our sin and the sin of those whom we lead.
And calling forth beauty seems noble but it’s backbreaking, dirty work. It’s work which demands us to call that which is not as though it were. Demands that we see in our people what is currently unseeable and that we keep calling it out of them, dodging their unwillingness to discover their own beauty and our frustration with their lack of change, until we and they one day see it.
Persevering: yes it is that, this leadership thing. Time and more time passes while the seeds germinate, those seeds over which we have laboured long and painfully.
And hope sometimes falters. The endless trail of enemy trouble-making drags us slowly under, mostly low-level stuff though it is. Hope becomes harder work because we are weary. Plagued by one small illness after another, beset by people thinking the worst of us even when we had the best of motives, watching the saints tear themselves apart or fill our inboxes and diaries with needless complaint-making about each other, drowning in unnecessary admin tasks and busyness because others have not done what they should – all of this wears the leader down. Then God seems to retreat for some as their consciousness is filled with the 101 things to be done, the endless small bush fires to be put out and the little foxes in the vineyard.
So it is that praying and believing, dreaming and hoping, these things seem insubstantial, ephemeral even. We start to operate from a different paradigm. A paradigm of unfaith, which begins to give up on fighting for the people we lead or the institution, because we believe that nothing will change, that God is not able.
I ask myself: what can change this? What can restore the leader’s capacity to hope?
Lately, I’ve come to one thing. One thing which I hope will enable me to lead for a lifetime, trudging through sin, calling forth beauty and persevering in the midst of the long wait.
It’s simply this: to be alone with him. To invest a substantial part of my life into prayer and reflection, reading and writing.
When I am unhurried before him, when I can journal those things which are too personal or too unformed for this blog, when I can pour out my heart without care for the intensity of the flood of words – at these times, he meet me and renews my hope. When I can read theology and write about it, when I can read those books which are not ‘how-to’ books but instead which marvel at the being of God and his design for his people – then I am replenished. When I can hide long and quiet at my desk, torrents of words flowing through my pen or across this blog and no disturbances around me – then I find again who he made me to be.
Yet you may not resonate with these exact practices. For you, the call to solitude and silence, the invitation to an empty diary for a day or two, may be accompanied by a need for people. You may not love to read and write and so perhaps your solitude and silence needs to be limited to time for prayer and Scripture before you then spend time with those who fuel your faith, who stir in you the hope of heaven. Perhaps for you there is a need for time with the people who treat you as a person not a leader, people who are strong enough to hear your heart without flinching or thinking less of you yet who can still call you to look upwards again.
Friends, fellow-leaders, don’t let this go on without finding what it is which will enable you to keep fighting.
I don’t say that it will relieve the bone-weariness. I think I’m resigned to that now! But to invest in your own heart, in its capacity for hope… such is vital because it will sustain you in the long road to the fulfilling of his kingdom and, what’s more, it will prove to be the fuel for your output.
And for those of my readers who perhaps feel they know little of the unique strains of leadership, for those who do not often wake up in the night overwhelmed by the pressure of preparing a people for God, of dealing with the management elements involved in building such communities, you who are working hard elsewhere in the kingdom, I would ask this:
Would you share in the burden of leadership by taking a moment to look deep into the eyes of a leader you know? Would you ask them those questions which invite them to name their weariness and pain, which dare them out of the silent loneliness of leadership? And would you pray like their success depends on you? Because, in a way, it probably does. Those leaders may be on the frontline but you are their supply chain and, without your care and prayer, they may be quickly cut off and left to die in the field.
Such would be a work of mercy through you, a provision of God to those weary leaders, a witness of the grace which is more than enough.
Such would be a practice of love.
* Before some of my lovely readers start messaging me or otherwise worrying about me, I feel the need to tell you that this post is not born out of an acute experience of this right now! I write with understanding because I have led a church for five and a half years, much of it in challenging circumstances, and so I know intimately this endless drain on hope. In fact, I have felt the bone-weariness almost as my constant companion for years now. But my own experience is not the trigger for this post. Rather, the combination of reading Allender’s book coupled with recent experiences of looking deeply into the eyes of various leaders whom I know or serve with has made me think about this again. So, I don’t need rescuing!! Of course, I’d like any of your prayers that are going but I also ask you to open your eyes to the leaders around you and to pray for them.