Overcoming Soul Weariness


Accidie or acedia is one of those half-way point spiritual pitfalls that we as evangelicals haven’t heard a lot about, but many of us who are a few steps along in the journey recognize. (And where the author talks about “monks” or “monasticism,” I think it works just fine to say “Christians” or “spiritual life.”

“[A] danger [in the monastic rule of stability] is the antsy listlessness called accidie…. A day becomes something to be got through, its demands seemingly endless and equally unappetizing. Anything promising diversion has great appeal, but genuine satisfaction lies always out of reach, with someone else, in doing something else. Evagrius Ponticus, the acute fourth‑century monastic psychologist, described it this way: ‘it seems that the sun hardly moves and that the day is fifty hours long; the monk constantly looks out the window, walks around outside, peers at the sun to figure out how long until dinner time; there arises a dislike for the place, for the monastic life, for work; the monk thinks that love has fled from among the brothers and that there is no one to provide any encouragement.’ Accidie depends on the con that life used to be–or will someday be, or could somewhere else be–better than it is here and now. Not so much melancholy as restlessness, accidie urges its victims to surf the World Wide Web of life in search of illusory fulfilment.

The risk in accidie is that one either abandons monastic life entirely or does so internally by escaping into fantasy as a protection from the demands of commitment and community. Anyone who has been married or has made a similar commitment to a person or a group knows the temptation. Early monastic writers urged hard work as a particularly apt remedy for accidie, joining work, of course, to a battery of reality therapies designed to counteract the allure of fantasy and self-deception. Work was not an escape from painful experiences but one aspect of healthy living. Work at that time was simple and manual, with clear and immediate results. The prescription of work as a cure for accidie is somewhat trickier today, when work is often neither simple nor immediately productive. Work can become an escape from accidie rather than a cure. Benedict prescribes service of one another, mutual obedience, work, spiritual guidance and annual renewal in Lent as ways to keep monastic life grounded in the freshness of each moment.” (Stewart, Columba. Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998, p. 76-77.)

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The Sin of Overwork


“I would warn you against the sin of overwork. Many of you seem to think it is right to misuse the strength God gives you. The result of such misuse is that you break down and cause great hindrance to God’s work, wasting the talent He has entrusted to you. Overwork among conscientious souls is a far more real and frequent sin than laziness, and we ought to be more ready to suspect it and guard against it than we are. You need eight hours in bed and one day a week free from work if you are to give God your best service. Are you securing this amount of rest? If you are not, there ought to be a very serious questioning of your conscience in the matter.” (Morgan, Edmund R. Reginald Somerset Ward: His Life and Letters. London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd, 1963, p. 81-82.)

I agree with Ward here, and think that his counsel is especially fitting for Orange county Christians and a lot of ministry leaders I’ve met. We’re more tempted by overwork than by laziness. Overwork is doing more than what Jesus is giving me. Overwork is adding to the easy yoke Jesus invites me to bear. It is actually a variety of pride. And usually overwork is not especially fruitful work. In my case, it tends to be busy work.

I must take Ward’s counsel as it relates to eight hours of sleep and one day a week free of work. I’ve figured out that I function at my best with seven-and-a-half hours of sleep. And even though I frequently give a presentation on Sabbath and have a chapter on the theme in An Unhurried Life, I have not always been good at the practice. Either I believe this is for me or I do not. If I do not, I haven’t much business proclaiming the virtues of a practice I have not incorporated myself. Thank you, Jesus, for ways you are mentoring me and stretching me into healthier ways to live and work. (I wrote a bit more about overwork in the post: “Overwork Hardens the Heart.”

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Overcoming Soul Weariness


Accidie or acedia is one of those half-way point spiritual pitfalls that we as evangelicals haven’t heard a lot about, but many of us who are a few steps along in the journey recognize. (And where the author talks about “monks” or “monasticism,” I think it works just fine to say “Christians” or “spiritual life.”

“[A] danger [in the monastic rule of stability] is the antsy listlessness called accidie…. A day becomes something to be got through, its demands seemingly endless and equally unappetizing. Anything promising diversion has great appeal, but genuine satisfaction lies always out of reach, with someone else, in doing something else. Evagrius Ponticus, the acute fourth‑century monastic psychologist, described it this way: ‘it seems that the sun hardly moves and that the day is fifty hours long; the monk constantly looks out the window, walks around outside, peers at the sun to figure out how long until dinner time; there arises a dislike for the place, for the monastic life, for work; the monk thinks that love has fled from among the brothers and that there is no one to provide any encouragement.’ Accidie depends on the con that life used to be–or will someday be, or could somewhere else be–better than it is here and now. Not so much melancholy as restlessness, accidie urges its victims to surf the World Wide Web of life in search of illusory fulfilment.

The risk in accidie is that one either abandons monastic life entirely or does so internally by escaping into fantasy as a protection from the demands of commitment and community. Anyone who has been married or has made a similar commitment to a person or a group knows the temptation. Early monastic writers urged hard work as a particularly apt remedy for accidie, joining work, of course, to a battery of reality therapies designed to counteract the allure of fantasy and self-deception. Work was not an escape from painful experiences but one aspect of healthy living. Work at that time was simple and manual, with clear and immediate results. The prescription of work as a cure for accidie is somewhat trickier today, when work is often neither simple nor immediately productive. Work can become an escape from accidie rather than a cure. Benedict prescribes service of one another, mutual obedience, work, spiritual guidance and annual renewal in Lent as ways to keep monastic life grounded in the freshness of each moment.” (Stewart, Columba. Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998, p. 76-77.)

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(Repost from June 2011)

Acedia: Soul-Weariness in the Midst of the Journey


Yesterday, I posted some thoughts on the classic spiritual problem of acedia. I have a few further reflections to share today.

There is a connection between acedia and the way that desire underlies discipline. Acedia is a loss of holy desire that energizes the practices by which I make open space and unhurried time in my life to notice the real presence of God. He is always with me. I don’t always remain aware of this most basic of spiritual facts. I behave too often as though God weren’t present, or were so distant as to make His presence irrelevant.

Acedia is that spiritual malaise in which I find disciplines boring and not worth my time. It is a loss of a more eternal perspective in which I recognize I am living eternal life now. If I live each moment in the light of eternal life, I can remain unhurried and profoundly engaged.

Acedia is a kind of spiritual boredom that tempts me to escape my responsibilities and, for that matter, responsiveness to God. It is “I-don’t-feel-like-it”-it is; an inflamation of unholy indifference.

At its simplest, the opposite of acedia is love–active, sincere, engaged concern for others and devotion to Christ. It is in the halfway places that I lose track of this priority. If I let my thoughts wander, the sharpness of holy concern is dulled by lust, envy, greed or other unholy inward impulses

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Overcoming Soul Weariness


Accidie or acedia is one of those half-way point spiritual pitfalls that we as evangelicals haven’t heard a lot about, but many of us who are a few steps along in the journey recognize. (And where the author talks about “monks” or “monasticism,” I think it works just fine to say “Christians” or “spiritual life.”

“[A] danger [in the monastic rule of stability] is the antsy listlessness called accidie…. A day becomes something to be got through, its demands seemingly endless and equally unappetizing. Anything promising diversion has great appeal, but genuine satisfaction lies always out of reach, with someone else, in doing something else. Evagrius Ponticus, the acute fourth‑century monastic psychologist, described it this way: ‘it seems that the sun hardly moves and that the day is fifty hours long; the monk constantly looks out the window, walks around outside, peers at the sun to figure out how long until dinner time; there arises a dislike for the place, for the monastic life, for work; the monk thinks that love has fled from among the brothers and that there is no one to provide any encouragement.’ Accidie depends on the con that life used to be–or will someday be, or could somewhere else be–better than it is here and now. Not so much melancholy as restlessness, accidie urges its victims to surf the World Wide Web of life in search of illusory fulfilment.

The risk in accidie is that one either abandons monastic life entirely or does so internally by escaping into fantasy as a protection from the demands of commitment and community. Anyone who has been married or has made a similar commitment to a person or a group knows the temptation. Early monastic writers urged hard work as a particularly apt remedy for accidie, joining work, of course, to a battery of reality therapies designed to counteract the allure of fantasy and self-deception. Work was not an escape from painful experiences but one aspect of healthy living. Work at that time was simple and manual, with clear and immediate results. The prescription of work as a cure for accidie is somewhat trickier today, when work is often neither simple nor immediately productive. Work can become an escape from accidie rather than a cure. Benedict prescribes service of one another, mutual obedience, work, spiritual guidance and annual renewal in Lent as ways to keep monastic life grounded in the freshness of each moment.” (Stewart, Columba. Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998, p. 76-77.)

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Burn-out Isn’t Necessary


(A repost from October 2009. All this week, I am helping lead our Journey retreat in Idyllwild. Please be patient as I will have sporadic internet access and may take a while to approve your comments. Thanks!)

Jesus said, “…my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Do you ever wonder why the yoke of life or ministry feels so hard or the burden feels so heavy? Is Jesus promising an easy life here? Does He promise that our work will always be a breeze? In March 2000, I took some time to reflect on these questions.

What is ministry? Though it may seem subtle, there is a great difference between working for God and working with God. When I see ministry as working for God, I end up unconsciously assuming that God is “out there somewhere” and I’m here serving. A more Biblical image is to see myself as one who works with God, from a place of established and intimate relationship.

Ministry is the overflow of my abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. When ministry is the overflow of Christ’s life in me, my service comes out of abundance. When I minister from a place of leakage, my service may well be my last ounce or even the dregs. God means for my life to overflow with grace to others. This is ministry. I sometimes visualize this as the difference between the drop that spills out the top of a full cup and the dribble that leaks from a crack in the bottom of a mostly empty cup.

Matthew 11:25-30 is a passage that has helped me to see that ministry is coming to Christ, hearing and seeing him, and then going where he goes and doing what he does.

“At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things [His miracles/works] from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

How is ministry the overflow of an abiding relationship with Christ?

First, I see that God hides what He’s doing from the know-it-alls and is pleased to reveal them to the “little ones”—the humble. Ministry must never be the overflow of someone full of themselves! It is the little ones who know themselves to be empty and who open themselves to being divinely filled to overflow.

Next, the process by which we come to spill the grace and life of Christ to others is captured in Jesus three-fold invitation: 1) come to me, 2) take my yoke and 3) learn from me.

“Come to me.” This is His invitation to relationship. We don’t come to a job or a task. We come to a Person who deeply loves us, wants us and welcomes us to be with Him and to join Him in His work.

“Take my yoke.” I know I’m in danger of mixing the metaphors, but a yoke would be a place of shared work. I am yoked with Christ…and He is carrying the heaviest end. In the yoke, we learn to go where He goes, do with Him what He is doing and even say the kinds of things He is saying. This is also a kind of overflow.

Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light. If His burden is light, somehow ministry doesn’t have to drain me dry. I can learn not to take more responsibility that is mine as a pastor or Christian leader. It seems that what wearies, burdens or drains me in ministry is not what Christ invites me to take on, but what I have taken upon myself (or let others put on me).

“Learn from me.” In the yoke with Christ, we learn by companionship and shared experience how Christ actually works and what matters to Him. Ministry is learning to live and work with Christ in the places He has placed us.

“Come to me. Go with me. Learn from me.” This is a process that causes us to minister out of overflow.

Spiritual Formation is Not a Technique


gemhelenphotography.wordpress.com

gemhelenphotography.wordpress.com

(A repost from July 2009)

“For those of us seriously engaged in spiritual formation, there is a strong temptation to see spiritual formation as a technique that we do. We may even be seeing spiritual formation as something we do to revive a burned-out ministry. We may be seeing spiritual formation as something we do to replace worn-out methods of devotion or worship. How often do we see worship as something we do to get right with God, instead of an offering of ourselves in worship through which God can draw us into the depths of his loving presence. This functional dynamic threads its way throughout our lives, including our ‘spiritual’ activities.” (M Robert Mulholland, Jr. Shaped by the Word. Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1985, p. 87.)

Wayne Anderson, one of the founders of The Leadership Institute, called the way of thinking Mulholland is describing here as “Do Do Theology.” In what ways are you tempted to see prayer as something you do more than Someone you are with in loving relationship? How might God be wanting you to receive the gift of His life rather than trying to “make it happen?”

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Looking Back: A Practice for Burnout Prevention


As we come to the close of 2010, let me share a post from November 2009 on the theme of burnout prevention.

* * *

Every day, a Google search for “burnout”, or “ministry burnout” or “pastoral burnout” leads someone to this blog. My heart is heavy when I imagine the stories and situations that have led someone to make that search. They find my blog primarily because of two posts on the theme:

I’ve been in ministry over 25 years. I think burn-out is as big an issue today as I can ever remember.

I remember hitting a place of burnout in my late twenties as a full-time college pastor taking a full load at Fuller Seminary trying to be a new husband and carry on an active social life. Do you think I might have been trying to do too much at once? Is it any surprise that I began to feel a little dry and crispy?

At that time, I found myself often talking about the importance and value of prayer, but rarely praying myself. I became comfortable giving counsel I wasn’t actually practicing. Fatal.

I’m grateful that God was kind enough to then bring some mentors across my path who are my ministry colleagues today. One of them, Wayne Anderson (1940-2008), introduced me to the simple practice of a day a month alone and quiet with God. He mentored me in the actual practice of solitude, silence and prayer. I had read about these practices in the writings of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster and agreed fully with what they had to say. I knew about them through reading, but not from experience.

I would say that this simple, regular practice over the last two decades has been the single most valuable habit protecting me from burnout. Elton Trueblood was one of the first literary mentors I found recommending it:

“One rare but powerful item of discipline is the requirement that the recruit of the company undertake a personal experience of solitude at least once a month. This is patterned consciously on the experience of Christ who periodically went alone, even at the price of temporary separation from the needs of His fellows. The justification of aloneness is not that of refined self-indulgence, but rather a consequent enrichment of one’s subsequent contribution. A person who is always available is not worth enough when he is available. Everyone engaged in public life will realize the extreme difficult to getting away each month for a period of five or six hours, but the difficulty is not a good reason for rejecting the discipline. It is the men and women who find it hardest to get away who need the redemptive solitude most sorely. They need to be where they are free from the compulsion of chit-chat, from the slavery of the telephone, and even from the newspaper. A Christianity which understands itself will make ample provision for retreat houses in which such solitude is expected and protected.” (Elton Trueblood. The Company of the Committed. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1961, p. 43-44.)

The practice is a strategic core of all our leadership training in The Leadership Institute. Nearly every retreat, training event or process or mentoring relationship includes it.

As for burnout itself, I don’t think it’s only a factor of personality type. Type-A leaders aren’t the only ones who suffer burnout. Ferrari engines and Vespa engines are capable of burning out. This is because it is mostly a maintenance problem.

Ministry burnout results in part from a failure to make enough space for rest, for creative expression, but mostly for unhurried, uninterrupted relationship with God and others. These are the water and oil that help our ministry engines continue to function well over time.

Whenever I talk to a pastor, a missionary, a parachurch leader or Christian of influence who is tired, weary, discouraged, or empty from burnout, I invite them to join me on a day away from the normal places, patterns and responsibilities of their lives to simply give their attention to Jesus Christ. Every time I lead a day like this, I am a witness to the ministry of God’s Spirit to bring refreshment, new vision, encouragement and revitalization to someone’s personal, interactive, conversational relationship with God.

If you’ve read this blog long, you know that I lead a lot of day retreats for just this reason:

I have travelled quite a bit to facilitate retreats that include uncluttered space and unhurried time to listen to and linger with God. I love serving churches, ministries and other Christian organizations in this way. Let me know if I might be able to help you. Or, if you want to plan a day of solitude, silence and prayer, you might read my post, “Download Extended Time With God Suggestions.”

A Good Word: Burnout as Opportunity


In the Dominican Republic, a woman crushes roasted coffee beans in a home-made mortar and pestles

“Many people have burned out in ministries of service and social action precisely because they have been worshiping their own activity instead of God. In such instances, burnout can be a blessed time that perhaps should not be forestalled. Like the rock bottom for the substance addict, burnout for the action addict is sometimes the only way he or she can come to know the difference between the means and the end, between good deeds and God.” (Gerald May. The Awakened Heart. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p. 189.)

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Looking Back: Least Rested Nation in the World


Image of a pack burro in the Dominican Republic. (Taken by gemhelen.com)

I’ve noticed an increase of Google searches for “burnout” landing on my blog page, Ministry Burnout Statistics.” (There were 25 Friday alone). I feel for pastors and other ministry leaders who are coming to their end of their year and the end of their rope in the same moment.

Part of the reason I’m working on my writing project, Unhurried Time, is because I believe that a good part of our problem is that we have unrealistic ideas about the pace of life involved in walking with and working with Jesus. He was never in a hurry, no matter how many needs or opportunities were before Him. And we are His followers. Shouldn’t that make a difference in our lives?

A while back, I posted a link to an MSNBC article that pointed out that the United States is the world’s least rested nation in that we take least advantage of whatever vacation time is provided us. It deserves a revisit:

CLICK for “Least Rested Nation in the World”