Early in congregational ministry a dear friend and colleague had the chance to see the great preacher and teacher Fred Craddock speak. When asked about clergy fatigue by an audience member he responded “if you are tired in ministry, take a nap.”
As we slogged our way through parenting young children and pastoring congregations we’d occasionally quote Craddock back to one another. In the unique vernacular of friendship “if you are tired, take a nap” became code that equal parts called the other to account for maintaining a rhythm of rest and the butt of an unspoken joke about how exhausting motherhood and ministry could be. We knew that Craddock’s advice was from a bygone era and incredibly dismissive. And yet, much like the cranky toddlers we were parenting, many of our ministry troubles wouldn’t disappear with a nap, but a rhythm of rest could and often did bring the necessary perspective needed to tackle a problem or make a pivot in either church or home life.
“If you are tired, take a nap,” was a mentality that worked more or less until this past year. Both a call to rest and a joke about how underwhelming our models of rest are in the face of late stage neo-liberal capitalism (aka Pharaoh’s economy), it more or less worked. Vacations were scheduled at semi-regular intervals. We followed the advice of specialists and influencers putting as much on auto-pilot as possible with Hello Fresh and Amazon subscribe. And what we didn’t have the privilege or resources to manage we maintenanced just enough to keep us sane. It was not a perfect system, but it was a system. A system built on work and occasional naps. And Covid blew it up.
Instead, in this late stage pandemic ministry I am a special kind of tired that no nap can touch. Not even a weekend away in an AirBnB can touch the mental and emotional fatigue from the micro-decisions that feel like a slow death by 1,000 papercuts. The decision about how we gather–indoors or outdoors? With masks or masks optional? For how long? With food or BYO snacks? What happens when numbers increase? What do we do when they decrease? Add to this the micro-decisions that go into navigating a parenting terrain that meets your child’s social-emotional and academic needs and the end of each day leaves me wiped.
Do not worry, this is not a think piece of the bone weary tiredness of parents or pastors. Mostly because I, like you, am exhausted and leery of pieces that either lament with no solution or offer cheery, unreasonable solutions.
I am here only to say that if you are tired, it’s ok if a nap doesn’t cut it. It’s ok if you have whiplash from the excitement of innovation and the disappointment of pivoting. It’s ok if the things that only shakily supported you, no longer do. And it’s ok if you are still reshaping your rhythm. You need more than a nap.