By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
(Jesus spoke tenderly) “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
“Are we there yet?” Most folks have heard this question while traveling. The GPS even counts down the miles and minutes that remain until you arrive at your destination. The driver points out landmarks for passengers to look for along the route. These checkpoints create digestible lengths of time for milestones reached until the trip is complete.
The same can be said for running. A personal pep talk can provide the needed energy boost to continue. “If I can make it to that tree … I can see the next turn ahead … I’m almost there ….” We set these personal goals, achieve them and find the stamina to continue to the next landmark until we have completed the course.
We train and prepare ahead of time for the race. We pace ourselves according to the distance. We begin with the end in mind.
And yet here we are, six months into a season with an as-yet-unknown distance left to travel. The finish line is not in sight, so what is the ideal pace to keep?
Dear Abby, the famed advice columnist, postulates that “just for today” is a manageable pace. She writes: “Just for today, I will live through this day only. I will not brood about yesterday or obsess about tomorrow. I will not set far-reaching goals or try to overcome all of my problems at once …Just for today, I will refrain from improving anybody but myself … Just for today, I will gather the courage to do what is right and take responsibility for my own actions.”
I want to acknowledge the reality of immense stress and strain on the thousands of clergy and laity who are committed to leading in ministry in congregations across South Carolina. The pandemic has made novices of us all. This is new territory for even the most seasoned leaders. Taking care of your mental health in the midst of a pandemic, social distancing, mask debates, civil unrest, economic woes and the like is a seemingly insurmountable challenge. When we focus our energy ahead, we are met with uncertainty. When we focus on the rearview mirror, nostalgia abounds.
But what if we focus instead on today? We can do most anything for one day. This day is what we are promised. Nothing more, nothing less.
Jesus is familiar with worn out, burned out people of faith. He calls us to find rest in Him. He does not promise to make the obstacles disappear. What Jesus promises, though, is even better – an invitation to walk with Him, work with Him, and watch Him. An invitation to find in Jesus a place to rest. We look to our Savior as the example for the best pace to keep.
As church leaders, we so often see ourselves as the driver, but we are actually all passengers, with God being behind the wheel. James Moore addressed this best when he said, “If God is your co-pilot, switch seats.”
God strategically places encouragement in our lives; landmarks to look for along the route. These “unforced rhythms of grace” are simple reminders that we are never alone or forsaken. These glimpses of God’s handiwork give us stamina to keep going and show us that we are on the right route, the path that God has called each of us to follow, until we reach the finish line.
To remain focused on following God’s direction for our lives and to see the landmarks of encouragement along the way requires discipline, dedication and a commitment to prayer. These means of preparation for running the course require a deep well of faith.
Laura Story, Grammy-award-winning singer-songwriter and South Carolina native, shares the struggle with moving over to the passenger seat, developing trust that God will steer us in the best direction. “We pray for wisdom, your voice to hear; we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near. We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love; as if every promise from Your Word is not enough. All the while, You hear each desperate plea, and long that we’d have faith to believe.”
And so we keep moving forward in faith, one day at a time. Keeping company with Jesus Christ. Remembering to rest. Believing God’s promises of grace, hope, mercy and love.
All with the assurance that we are never alone.