It’s all tiring and a bit chaotic, really.
As much as I look forward to getting out and about again, even engaging in some much-anticipated travels, I also feel like I need time to recover from the past few months – or is it years?
What I (we) thought would be over, is not yet over.
Whether it’s COVID-19, presidential politics and elections, vaccinations and mask-wearing, Zoom meetings, delayed vacations and trips, job searches, racial profiling and discrimination, missed family events, gun violence, online schooling or online worship activities – it’s not over yet.
As I interact with other clergy, I hear the same thing. They are tired from being emotionally on edge in ways that only intensified during 2020.
The technological deep dive that faith communities and their leaders experienced due to COVID-19 restrictions has now shifted to the uncharted waters of “hybrid” worship.
Many are excited about exploring out beyond the dragons on the map of traditional expectations, but it comes at a time when clergy are exhausted from months of adjusting worn-out sails just to get to this point.
Reservoirs are running low. Clergy are experiencing back pain or hip pain or emotional pain.
One minister is glad we are finally having serious conversations about race, social justice, Black Lives Matter, white supremacy, Asian hate crimes. And yet, as an African American, she’s tired of engaging in all the conversations.
“I feel like I’m on the front lines every day, and I’m tired,” she says.
A spiritual director expressed bewilderment about having “lost our anger.” I quickly identified, acknowledging the anger that has fueled the passion for justice, mine as well as others.
I also acknowledged that lingering too long in that anger, without a chance for renewal, leaves us all exhausted.
It was only later I realized I had misheard her. What she had actually bemoaned was having lost our anchor.
That brought me up short. I became curious, choosing not to judge myself on what that was all about. Had anger become my anchor?
We seem to be living in a society that uses anger as a way to shape our values, visions and actions.
Does that mean we are becoming unmoored by our anger, too tired to stay the course without it, and so drifting away from what really anchors and nourishes our values and passions?
In a recent New York Times article that seems to have gone viral, Adam Grant introduced us to the idea of “languishing” as a way to describe what many are experiencing these days, including clergy.
Not depressed, but not full of vim and vigor either, we feel overwhelmed by a lingering sense of stagnation, emptiness and uneasiness.
However, in an opinion response written by psychologist Susan Balan, she suggests that maybe people are instead experiencing necessary “fallow space.”
When land lies fallow, it is a beautiful agricultural image that describes a long pause. It is a time when the land replenishes itself, even when seemingly producing nothing except weeds.
Balan concludes by saying, “Languishing regrets what is no more; fallowness prepares what will be.”
I am reminded I have to take care of myself and listen to my body because no one else will. That is true for all of us and is definitely true for clergy.
If I am tired, then I may need to “lie fallow.” Even if I dream of my next opportunity to travel, I can still acknowledge my erratic level of energy right now.
My anger may have given me energy amid the moments, but it has also drained me of a reservoir of energy over time.
If we are to engage our passion and creativity in ways that provide transformation for the long haul, we need to reconnect and care for our own well-being just as passionately.
John O’Donohue, in his poem, A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted, points to the times when “the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic” and “weariness invades” so that we are “forced to enter empty time.”
He invites us to be “excessively gentle” with ourselves until we finally return to ourselves. He does not speak of fallow time, but it is the same premise.
As we turn to pay attention to mental health this month, and the ways in which clergy and laity alike are affected by its kaleidoscope of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, memories and chemical reactions, I hope we also pay attention to what may be lying fallow within us.
It may feel like languishing or bitter anger or exhaustion, even if we are apparently getting things done.
Can we instead allow the empty time to restore us? Can we allow ourselves to listen to our bodies, minds and spirits?
Even as we yearn for what is yet to be, may we lean into the things that nourish and “anchor” us, allowing us to be moored for a time in life-giving waters.
Then, once we have returned to ourselves, we can again fill our sails with passion, health, creativity and set out with our communities into the seas that await us.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Mental Health Awareness Month (May). The previous articles in the series are:
Don’t Stigmatize Others Seeking Mental Health Services | Autumn Lockett
5 Tips Toward Good Mental Health During Pandemic | Michael Chancellor
9 Ways to Overcome Pandemic’s Shadowy Grip | Gillian Drader
Limited Access, Funding Plague Mental Health Care | Monty Self
An ordained minister, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, ACPE Psychotherapist, Thompson is owner of Eremos Consulting Group in Colorado. She has provided consulting, coaching and therapy services with clergy and congregations in the Rocky Mountain region for 20 years.