By Robert J. Morgan
Somewhere, someone is sitting down, glancing at this page and reading these words in a state of utter exhaustion. Perhaps you’re a pastor or you work on a church staff. Perhaps a deacon, trustee or children’s worker. Perhaps a parent, a caregiver or a community volunteer.
To that person, I’d like to share a word of personal testimony.
Five Hard Years
As I write this, I’m recovering from a prolonged period of habitual fatigue that began five years ago when several events converged in my life. My wife’s multiple sclerosis worsened, requiring all kinds of adjustments in our schedule and lifestyle. My daughter’s waywardness took a sharp left turn, causing us days and nights of anxiety.
We opened a new wing of our church, leading to accelerated growth and heavier demands. My writing ministry took off full force, doubling my workload and presenting me with new sets of deadlines every month. During this time, I passed the half-century mark and tried to ignore the silent grumblings of an aging body.
In the middle of it all, my dear mother passed away. The responsibility for her mountain home and acreage fell on my shoulders, and my sister and I opened it as a bed and breakfast.
Being a workaholic, I pressed right on, working seven days a week and putting in 10 to 15 hour days. It all caught up to me when three book deadlines came due the same day! To make matters worse, we were launching a major campaign at church while coping with the resignations of two staff members.
Thoreau in France
Realizing I was spent, I took some time off—a week in the mountains followed by time with a friend bumming around France. I took two books with me—the Bible and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Perhaps on another occasion, I’ll tell how the Bible spoke to me. For now, I want to quote Thoreau a little. See if any of this applies to you….
- Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East—to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them—who were above such trifling.
- Worst of all (is) when you are a slave-driver of yourself.
- He has no time to be anything but a machine.
- A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.
- Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred…. Keep your accounts on your thumbnail.
- Simplify, simplify.
As I read those words, I thought about the way my dad used to clean out the springs behind our house in the hills. Those springs supplied our water. When they were well-tended, our water was pure and plentiful. But after he passed away, the springs were neglected and our water supply gradually became muddy and meager.
The Bible says, “All my springs are in thee” (Psalm 87:7). If we’re going to have living water flowing from our inmost being, we’ve got to tend the springs. So I made some…well, not resolutions as much as realignments. Here’s how I recorded it in my journal:
Seeing that: (1) I’ve faced five years of difficult problems and demanding responsibilities; and (2) that my reserves are drained and my gauges are low; and that (3) I want my remaining years to be more productive for the Lord than all previous ones…
Therefore, I want to make some midlife realignments:
1. To reclaim my mornings for study. It’s necessary to recover much more time during my weekday mornings (Monday-Friday) for pure study—to the ministry of the Word and of prayer. This means keeping a “closed door,” allowing few distractions (especially phone and e-mail), and being available to just an open Bible and notepad, as it were.
2. To leave my office door open in the afternoons, signaling my availability to the needs of others.
3. To allocate time each day for exercise.
4. To take an extra weeknight (Monday, Tuesday or Thursday) to be at home with my wife, Katrina.
5. To take Saturdays off (more or less).
6. And to reduce all other work as necessary to meet these realignments.
Change Now for Tomorrow
This has meant changes in numerous areas. At church, we’ve adjusted my role so as to turn over the day-by-day administration to someone else. I now devote my time to teaching and preaching, to vision casting, to mentoring a handful of college guys, and to making critical pastoral and evangelistic prospects. And I do little else.
In the writing side of my ministry, I’m determined to be more cautious taking on assignments. In my personal life, I’m doing less—but enjoying it more.
Remember Paul’s advice to the church leaders of Ephesus? He said, “Take heed, therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). We must take care of ourselves or we’ll be in no condition to take care of our flocks.
Perhaps you need to make some realignments, too. I’m sure they’ll be different from mine, but I wanted to share my testimony to prompt you to consider taking a little
time away—maybe in a tent by the lake or at a nearby state park or resort.
If nothing else, go sit Elijah-like under the nearest juniper tree. Take your Bible and a good book. Rest. Think. Ponder. Pray. Make some realignments if you need to. Cut out some things. Say “No” to something. Too many of us in the ministry are collapsing from exhaustion. We’re burning out faster than replacements are arriving. We need the wisdom of God to regulate our lives at a sane and sanctified pace.
We need to tend the springs…
to take heed to ourselves…
and to simplify, simplify!