Shepherd’s Care: The Downward Spiral (3)

If we do not acknowledge and deal with stress, we move downward to the second level, fatigue.

Instead of feeling energized and sufficient, we feel drained and depleted.  The trouble is, by the time we pay attention to the fact that we are “tired,” our ego has built up an image of strength it does not easily give up.  Many come to the point and enter into a secrecy and duplicity—admitting something to themselves they are not willing to admit to others.

In spiritual formation, this is a very dangerous place to live.  Our souls are in jeopardy when they are compartmentalized (e.g. between personal realities and public images).

But secrecy says, “never let them see you sweat,” so we try to convince ourselves and others that the sweat is really a “holy glow.”  Others may continue to praise us for our “dedication” and “hard work.”  But inside our minds are thinking, “I cannot handle this,” and our hearts are breaking.  The original adrenaline rush has ended (for it cannot be sustained indefinitely), and our bodies are actually telling us the truth—but we have been seduced into believing a lie by our own body chemicals!

If we have a spirituality of perfectionism, we may think we’re “not being faithful to our calling” and that can cause us to try even harder—which only makes things worse.  It’s like struggling in quick sand—we sink sooner.

A false spirituality wraps fatigue in the mantle of guilt, as we tell ourselves, “I shouldn’t be feeling like this.”  But the fact is, this is exactly how we should feel when we are exceeding the speed limit of life.  Henri Nouwen has spoken of “the fatal exchange”—when we trade in authenticity for an image.

Pay attention to being chronically “tired.”  Watch carefully when a good night’s sleep doesn’t restore you.  Notice when a vacation doesn’t refresh you.  You’ve gone beyond normal limits and are in the realm of fatigue.

As we trace this downward spiral, let’s remember that we can stop the madness at any level.  But the price for doing so becomes harder to pay.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books.
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One Response to Shepherd’s Care: The Downward Spiral (3)

  1. Hillary Johnson says:

    So, how do tired pastors in the UMC system of appointment stop the madness? There are toxic congregations.

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