My favorite magazine, Sojourners, greeted me this week with a set of challenges. “Welcome to a season of holy resistance,” it began, and continued to exhort all the justice-minded preachers, leaders, and church members who make up its readership to “be of good courage” facing 2017, and to “get busy.” As the year begins and the inauguration approaches, those of us who identify as progressive Christians know that we have a lot of work cut out for us.
This lands me in a familiar spot… torn between excitement and fear, and asking myself why I don’t do more to help. It feels paralyzing sometimes as the great weight of needs presses down. What’s more, I know clearly that I can burn myself out with such tasks. My first experience with back pain (which unfortunately has continued through the years) happened on a day in early 2003 when a group of us drove many hours to Washington DC, marched all day in opposition to the invasion of Iraq, and drove straight back to college that evening – a 20-hour day that forced even my strong, late-teenage body to throw in the towel in protest.
I know what it feels like to work to the point of exhaustion, to surrender committee chairship at the end of a long and fruitless term, and to watch good efforts fizzle and fail. All these past experiences jump up to warn me whenever I want to join a new cause or take on a new task. But I also know – and I bet many of you do too – that this burnout comes from trying to save the world (or the church, or an organization, etc) single-handedly. That should be our biggest warning sign. My best moment of comic self-awareness came when I found myself setting up dozens of chairs for an important event – while on crutches. I truly believed I was the only one who cared or could “do it right.” That’s the kind of solo work that can burn you out faster than anything else.
The good news in Christ is that we are saved, not one by one, but all together – and that we are transformed to become Christ’s hands and feet in the world. So we learn to share the load.
As we gear up for the year and all it may bring us, please don’t let yourself be taken down by lonely self-martyrdom. Whether you are doing service here at the church, or out in the wider community, I hope you will be able to take refuge in the good Presbyterian tradition of committee membership… and share the load. This way we can keep one another accountable, offer support, and rotate leadership so that (for example) the gimpy one doesn’t have to do chair setup, and (for example) the exhausted one gets to take a break, and still the work goes on.
I often say on Sunday mornings that it wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t here. It would be a lot lonelier without all of you. And the same goes for every day of the week as we try together to learn and do the work of love and justice. Let’s hold together tightly, and share the load.