“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Psalm 42:5
Many of those of us who are pastors tend to think that the growth of a church depends solely on us, and in times when we see attendance drop, lack of volunteerism or hear criticism about picky things, it is easy to become discouraged. Discouragement also comes when we are overworked, tired, taking on too much, not delegating enough, or ready for vacation.
That’s when it is important to stop, step back, take a little break, rest, and regroup. Sure, it’s easy for me to say, but doing it? Hmmm – not so much. There are days when I think my sense of humor has totally run away. That’s when I know I need to watch “Funniest Home Videos” or something that will make me laugh. I start to feel overwhelmed, and then I’m setting myself up for making mistakes, forgetting things, or overreacting to something someone says.
During those times when I feel most discouraged, I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Why isn’t the attendance at church increasing? Why haven’t certain people been in church? Was it something I did or said? Have I ignored someone too much? Not given the right amount of care to someone? Missed something along the way? Been a poor listener?
The word “I” is pretty prominent in that last paragraph. The Psalmist reminds me that it’s about God and my trust in God. I plant the seeds, God takes care of the rest. While it’s not always easy to remember that, it certainly helps me to put aside my own worries about ME and focus on what God has called me to do. I’m called to serve God, not myself. I’m called to care for a congregation to the best of my ability, and that’s all God asks of me – just to do my best.
Included in doing my best is taking care of myself so I have the energy to care for my parishes. I think I do it fairly well, and I know I can do better! Maybe writing this today was one more way to turn discouragement over to God. Sweeping all the cobwebs out of the basement and cleaning up down there so I can set up an exercise area is another way of taking care of myself. Of course, now I need to go down there and USE the space for exercise! (I DO plan to do that regularly.)
Discouragement always has something to teach me. It’s important to take the time to ask what is behind it and what I’m supposed to learn. I think we all can learn from that. Some of the stories in the gospels talk about Jesus being discouraged with the slowness of the disciples’ learning, but his patience prevailed. I’m glad he’s patient with me, too!