Dear Citylife – Letter to Congregation from Pastor Um (5/6/20)

Dear Citylife,

I wanted to follow up from last week’s reflections by saying that any type of loss can trigger grief. Obviously, people experience grief when going through difficult moments such as a divorce, separation from a relationship, or a death of a loved one. However, there is also a type of grieving that can result from a crisis like this pandemic. Experts will list things like financial anxiety, job loss, feelings of isolation, worries about having to pay bills, fears for the future, our regular routine and rhythms being postponed and canceled as part of this grief.

Psychologists also talk about anticipatory grief, which is a feeling that greater loss is yet to come. This creates existential tension because we have to grapple with both momentary grief while battling the stress that comes with not knowing what the future holds. This level of instability, impending loss, fear of what could happen in the future can lead many of us into emotional isolation and loneliness. I do not want to over-emphasize our emotional pathways because we all “cope” differently, but we are wholistic complex people who have a mixed matrix of our being that is both physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural and spiritual. 

Counselors speak of these various signs as potential indicators that we could be dealing with serious loss.

1) Different sleeping patterns
2) Irritability and anxiety
3) Low energy and fatigue
4) Different eating patterns
5) Over-stimulation (primarily from news/social media) which leads to numbness
6) Anthropological comparison with peers who seem to be managing better
7) Indifference and apathy 

The question I’d like for us to pose is how do we guard our hearts from facing burnout during this season? I recently read a similar article about how pastors could avoid ministry burnout. I would like to share some analogous thoughts about how this could be useful for all of you.  Hopefully these pastoral recommendations can be beneficial for you:

1) Re-orient our hearts
Ask yourself these leading questions: Why am I down? Why am I irritable? Why am I afraid? Why am I insecure? Why am I anxious? Why am I lethargic? Why am I indifferent? Why am I so self-focused?

Then ask yourself, what are your coping mechanisms to these problem emotions? Are you running to other sources for comfort, security and stability? Honestly assess what’s going on in your heart. Re-orient your heart to an anchor that will help you to provide answers that will be ultimately helpful and meaningful. An indestructible foundation that is God-centered – that can provide both conviction for your heart condition and a balm that will provide a cure for the depths of your heartache in your soul.

One helpful model for this is Psalm 139: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!…You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways…Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:1, 3, 23, 24). Here, the Psalmist is recognizing that God, who knows him completely, even before the foundation of the world (v.13-14), is the only person who will try us and expose in us whatever needs to be revealed so that we can honestly evaluate our thoughts. Then, we should ask God to lead us in the way everlasting and to re-orient and to establish our steps (Proverbs 16:9).

2) Acknowledge our limitations
We are not omni-competent. This crisis has exposed our inadequacies. This means we need to acknowledge that we don’t know (e.g. no one knows) how this will all work itself out. All the experts are doing their best to estimate potential projections. In a sense, we are all in the dark.

Acknowledging that by saying, “I am not adequately equipped to handle everything that is going on around me” is a good place to be! You are not all knowing, all wise to fix every problem in your life and your circumstance at this present moment. There is something very freeing about that – that the ultimate burden that you have been placing on yourself is not a weight that God is asking you to carry (e.g. your future employment, the future for your children’s schooling, etc). Anxiety visits your life when you see all sorts of problems and challenges in front of you, but you realize that you don’t have the power to ultimately resolve these problems. Therefore, you get anxious!

Take great comfort in Daniel 2:22-23: “He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him…you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”

Even though we are facing darkness, God knows what is in the darkness! He will make known to us at the appropriate time those things we don’t know. Acknowledge our inadequacies and limitations and trust that he will lead us. Don’t put the burden on yourself – God is not asking you to figure out everything for you and your family for your uncertain future.

3) Evaluate our habits
Ask yourself these questions for self-evaluation:

  • How are you doing with your gospel habits? Are you finding a good, consistent rhythm for times of deep reflection in prayer and reading Scripture?
  • Are you able to establish good patterns for sleep and rest? Are you sleeping at a similar time, waking up at a similar time, washing up, getting dressed, and having a structured day to get some work done?
  • Even though I struggle with this habit, are you finding time to get physical exercise?
  • Are you able to eat healthily and at consistent times? Avoiding snacking too much or staying up too late?
  • How are you approaching entertainment? I do believe this is a wonderful time of playing games, reading books, watching movies, and playing with our family and roommates. (Those of you who are living alone, please let us know how we can better connect with you.  We don’t want you to walk through this struggle all alone).  Trying to find moments of laughter and fun is good and fruitful. Just make sure you aren’t over-binging in front of your screens because that can really drain a lot of energy out of you.
  • “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

4) Embrace new rhythms
In the past, a typical day looked like this: Many of us woke up in the morning, washed up and spent time in God’s Word, (for parents, we assisted children with getting ready for school) and went to another physical space for work or study. Then, we ate our meals either alone or with colleagues/friends. We would have meetings, be productive (and procrastinate a little bit), and then come home to have meals with family members, friends, or roommates, then (if we are parents) we would re-engage with our children, then take care of household responsibilities or follow up with things left undone at work. Depending on the day of the week, some of us would participate in a community group, or engage with a friend, and possibly enjoy some down time. We would then wash-up (hopefully pray) and then go to bed.  

This is no longer the rhythm we are in! In the past, you could separate your responsibilities: self-care, gospel disciplines/devotional time, work, meetings, meals, shared responsibilities at home, re-engaging with others, being part of a community event, personal time, and rest! This was pre-COVID.

Now, we are finding our work, our rest, our house responsibilities, our relationships with our spouses/children/roommates, and our exercising are all converging with one another in the same space at the same moment! It’s hard for us to really focus on one thing because we are trying to do multiple things at the same time.

For those of you who are parents, you were able to have a little distance away from your children when you sent them off to school, but now they are in your presence at every moment.  I am sure you have a newfound appreciation for their teachers J. That can be very overwhelming, and you are beginning to feel completely burnt out.

Here are words we can cling to from Psalm 22 (vv.11, 19, 24): “Be not far from me, for trouble is near…but you O Lord do not be far off!  O you my help, come quickly to my aid!…For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”

5) Wait for the Lord
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

  • Isaiah 40:28-31

The writer is providing gospel memory for a weary individual. He’s asking the questions, “do you not know this about God? Have you not heard this about God? Let me remind you!”

The Lord is the everlasting God! He is the creator of the ends of the earth! He doesn’t grow weary and he is not faint. He gives power to those who are faint and for those who are tired, he gives strength and might. He is saying, “you might be young and might sense that you have more energy than those who are older but even young men (and young women) get tired, exhausted and weary.” The exhortation is for us to wait upon the Lord because he will renew our strength! They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint.

The hope for the weary and the faint comes from being renewed and recharged with a strength that comes from the outside. Let us wait upon the Lord, seek him, and remind our hearts of this gospel memory that he is an everlasting God/Creator and the One who does not grow weary. In other words, he is not like us! Therefore, because he is not like us and is all-powerful, he can and is willing to increase our strength. Even though we sense that we are bound by the restrictions of our circumstances, and in a sense fenced in and sheltered in our homes, he will give us strength so that we will be able to fly in open space like eagles.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

Please join me tonight for another “Wednesdays with Pastor Um” session at 7:00p.m. Look back at the latest Citylife News email, subscribe to our weekly Newsletter here or join our Citylife Social FB group to find the meeting login info.

With the gentleness of Jesus,

Pastor Um