2017 has been a rough year for many people around me. I understand. It is hard to be optimistic about the world around us, and, at times, our own participation in it.
We all deal with different forms of stress. The tensions we feel may come from troubled relationships, employment demands, health issues, financial difficulties, and the general state of the world. Under stress, most of us function at a reduced level. We may find ourselves going through the motions of our vocation without being fully in the game. We show up as required, but our hearts are not engaged. We perform our duties but with the nagging sense that something is missing.
I gave attention to the relationship between stress and resiliency of international workers a few years ago. I have a respect for those people who answer the Spirit’s prompting to work in the borderland areas of our world. The communities of the poor face immense issues. Let me name a few; lack of food security, contaminated water, unstable employment, ethnic violence, gender prejudices,the prevalence of disease, inadequate housing, the education of children, and the oppression of the rich. At some point, community development workers may become discouraged and despondent. They may show up for work but retreat to their homes when the day is over. They prefer reports to relationships. Drug dependency, alcohol addiction, and family problems may add further elements of stress.
A chronic illness brought my international career to an end in 2011. I now live in Canada and have many opportunities to observe similar patterns of stress in our country. Pastors, social workers, and community agents seek to participate in individual and social transformation. At the same time, they must deal with their own stuff along with workloads that may seem insurmountable. The best of us go through dry patches. Some of us are worn out and emotionally empty. We wonder if we can ever regain what we lost.
Jesus taught his followers to pray and not lose heart (Luke 18.1). I have been wondering what that means for me and my colleagues called to vocations of service and witness. Please allow me to give a few thoughts that I am trying to apply to my own life:
First, prayer means something more than simply SOS calls that ask God to bless your to-do list for the day. Prayer involves locating yourself in the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The intimacy with God allows us to share our emotions, our emptiness, and our confusion. God never looks at the clock on the wall and rushes his child away to work. Ruth Padilla DeBorst recently invited us to engage in lament with the Lord. She reminded us that we can lay before God the brokenness of the world and the wounds of our hearts. We can express a profound sense of grief and ask the Spirit to transform our broken hearts. We can ask God for new eyes through which to see his presence and work in the world around us.
Second, we can confess that we have lost heart. We know it. People around us probably sense it. God certainly holds us in sight and understands that we need renewal. The Spirit specializes in heart work. But finding heart again takes time and some deliberate decisions about priorities. One small suggestion that I have is to spend time with positive people. Last Sunday night, Regine and I had dinner with friends in Christian ministry. Each of us had personal struggles that were weighing us down in one way or another. The time together, with good food and laughter, made our hearts light. Each of us shared about a moment in which we experienced grace in the past month. We felt God’s presence through the testimonies that we heard.
Pray. Do not lose heart. I want to carry these words of Jesus into the last two months of 2017.