Through the years I have come to some general conclusions about people, ministry and leaders. One of them is that most people, in general (and leaders in particular) try to do too much, work too many hours and are traveling too fast.
A few years ago the Seattle Times carried an article by Shirleen Holt in which was the following:
“Nearly ten million Americans worked more than sixty hours a week last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics found. We’ve outpaced the famously productive Japanese in hours worked. We’re the only developed nation without mandatory vacation time. And, according to Expedia.com’s annual vacation poll, one in three of us will take no vacation this year.”
The insight of author Fred Smith comes to mind. “Busyness is the new spirituality.”
At times, I greet a fellow leader with, “Good to see you! How ya’ doing?” The response use to be , “Dave, I’m really busy!” Now, when I ask the same question, the response is, “Dave, I’m really tired!” When I probe a little, it’s clear that this is not the common sort of tiredness which can be handled with a decent night’s sleep, but a deep, deep sense of exhaustion--emotional and spiritual as well as physical.
Leaders are falling out of the race and shipwrecking themselves for a number of reasons and one of them is sheer exhaustion, which leads to frustration, anger, confusion, potential burnout and, eventually, “throwing in the towel.”
What causes this sort of epidemic of bone-deep tiredness? Here are a few things that come to mind:
1. THE UNWILLINGNESS TO SAY NO.
Leaders are often servants at heart. They feel called to help people and to try to meet their needs, which are endless and inexhaustible. We have limited capacity, time and gifts and we need to learn to set boundaries, recognize our limits and create margin in our lives. We cannot, and should not, be at the beck and call of every person with a need. Even Jesus, at times, left people who were in need and disappeared to be by himself (See Luke 5:15,16).
2. THE UNWILLINGNESS TO SLOW DOWN.
Too many leaders move at an insane pace and work too many hours. They love to work and, in many cases, get their sense of self-worth through their work. In John Grisham’s novel, The Broker, one of the characters says, “I’ve been there (Washington D.C.). I’ve never seen so many people racing around, going nowhere. I don’t understand the desire for such a hectic life. Everything has to be so fast—work, food, sex.” That’s us in the good old U.S. of A. …going at breakneck speed and not always sure why. One of the results is that we are slowly, but surely, becoming addicted to speed and busyness and, sometimes, we’re not even capable of slowing down.
3. THE UNWILLNGNESS TO THINK STRATEGICALLY.
Frankly, I meet very few leaders who are strategic in how they allocate their time and energy. Most are reactive rather than proactive. We are all composed of a few themes and need to stick with our unique contribution.
4. THE UNWILLINGNESS TO SIMPLIFY.
Recently, I’ve been meditating on I Timothy 2:1,2 in The Message, “…pray…especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation.” “…living simply, in humble contemplation.” Now that’s a novel thought for 21st century living. Isn’t that the essence of Walden Pond? It would seem that most leaders see little value in Henry David Thoreau’s timeless suggestions.
I believe the solution to the epidemic of tiredness is not all that complicated:
1. Learn to say no
2. Intentionally slow down
3. Think strategically when you make decisions as to what you will or will not do
4. Simplify your life by de-cluttering your busy schedule
Charles Swindoll had this observation about our supreme example, Jesus.
“Somehow Jesus mastered the art of maintaining a clear perspective while accomplishing every single one of His objectives (John 17:4). A major reason for His being able to say He finished all the Father had in mind for Him is that He simplified His life.
“He followed His own agenda instead of everyone else’s. He also set predetermined limits. He chose twelve (not twelve hundred) whom He trained to carry on in His absence. He stayed with his set of priorities without apology, which means He must have said no a score of times every month. He balanced work and rest, accomplishment and refreshment, never feeling the need to ask permission for spending time in quietness and solitude. He refused to get sidetracked by tempting opportunities that drained energy and time. He was a servant of His Father, not a slave of the people. Even though misunderstood, maligned, misquoted, and opposed by numerous enemies and even a few friends, He stayed at it. His simplicity kept Him balanced.”
What do you need to start doing, stop doing or do differently before you have your first heart attack or stroke?