It was, as Jake Tapper described it, “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck.” The Presidential Debate on Tuesday night was a lot of things, but it was not “presidential” in the least. My wife and I are apparently among a small number of Americans not paid to do so who watched the entire thing. Comments made afterward often included the word “exhausting” – it was so hard to watch that it was emotionally exhausting for the viewer.
I have heard that word used a lot in 2020. And, given the extent to which physical exertion has been limited by COVID restrictions, the word is not used to describe a depletion of physical energy, but rather of emotional energy in dealing with the adjustments required during the pandemic.
I have a friend who is afflicted with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a state of ongoing physical exhaustion. Although for him it is episodic rather than continuous, it is frustrating due to an absence of interventions to restore normal energy. For most of us, there are steps we can take when exhausted.
Ministry can be exhausting. Sometimes it is physical fatigue created by long hours, lack of sleep, multiple activities, etc. While ministry seldom involves manual labor, there are sometimes conditions that bring on a state of exhaustion. As anyone who has been a part of Emergency/Disaster relief efforts will attest, rest is critical to rehab from the physical demands of such work.
But emotional and/or spiritual exhaustion may not be so readily discerned and responded to as when one knows he/she is physically tired. The need for intervention may not be as readily apparent.
2020 has been an emotionally and spiritually demanding year for anyone involved in ministry. It is always critical for the minister to remain emotionally and spiritually healthy oneself to minister effectively; as the flight attendant says, “secure your own oxygen mask before you seek to help another.” But COVID has added stress to the minister and his/her family that can sap resources even before acts of ministry are undertaken.
Just as rest is essential to recover strength following extreme physical exertion, steps must be taken to recover emotional or spiritual strength when it has ebbed. Usually, withdrawing temporarily from the most significant stressors helps. This is why Sabbath is so important for clergy; it is a time to reenergize emotionally and spiritually. (By the way, the fact that this “withdrawal” to recreation – read re-creation – activities has been limited during COVID has added to the exhaustion.)
For the next month, news broadcasts and social media posts are likely to be stressors for many of us. So, I recommend withdrawal. For most of us, social interactions can now resume in-person with proper precautions. Visit a friend personally instead of tagging him/her on Facebook.
And take your emotional and spiritual temperature to see if you are approaching exhaustion level.
And for active Salvation Army officers on the front lines – don’t let the added stress of the holiday season rob you of your joy. And make sure to “secure your own oxygen mask” of emotional and spiritual renewal each day.