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The love you had at first

TiredI’m tired. More than just the “I got up at 3am to take my son to the airport” tired (which happened this morning). I’m deep-down tired, or as I once heard someone put it, “soul-tired.” ‘Tis the season, a colleague says, and apparently I am not exempt.

Like most jobs, ministry has an ebb and flow, busy seasons and downtimes, stresses and successes. Some are seasonal – imagine what it must be like to be a tax accountant this time of the year! For us associate pastors and other staff members, this can be one of them – coming out of Advent/Christmas, heading toward Holy Week/Easter, and planning for summer (or at least knowing we ought to be planning for summer). There are also times we are simply driven to introspection. A significant event happens in our personal lives, a member of our congregation becomes ill or dies, we feel challenged by a segment of our leadership team, we read a book that moves us, we decide to work on persistent struggles, or any number of other triggers can drive us to a period of malaise. Put a couple of those events is a difficult season, and we can get pretty difficult to be around. During those periods I don’t even like being around me!

Ministry, like many other things, can become something we do because Siri reminds us of today’s to-do list when we pull into the church parking lot, our bulletin board is filled with deadlines, an upcoming meeting is expecting a report, or we fear disappointing someone. We move from one task to the next without much reflection on why. Instead we are looking to check off another box, knock out another newsletter article or Bible study lesson. In those times, people may appear difficult, ministries may become chores, and ordinary tasks may feel like a heavy yoke.

When I sense that feeling coming on I am challenged by Revelation 2:4 which reads in part, “you have let go of the love you had at first” (CEB). Those words express so well what those times feel like. The love of ministry I felt early on has been buried under a mountain of distractions and needs to be recovered.

To find what has been lost, we often retrace our steps, returning to where we remember having what has been misplaced. So I look for ways to remember my call, why I do what I do, what started me on this journey to begin with. These are contained in my joy from the past. For me, this often means hanging out with the youth group. For you it might be sitting down at the piano to write a song, getting down on the floor with the kindergarten Sunday School class, volunteering at the local shelter, spending a day in the seminary library researching a Bible passage, or something similar. Maybe it is going through some old church directories to remember those from previous churches or leafing through your files of encouraging notes (I hope you have one in your file cabinet and another in your email software).

If you’re “soul-tired” return to the love you had at first and of which you have let go. Like looking for misplaced keys, we can return to where we’ve known we had them and recover the love we had at first for the ministries to which we are called. Soon we come again to our work with purpose and joy – less tasks to get done and more people to serve in the name of Jesus.

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