I’ve seen the post with the pictures so many times. It’s the family or the teenager making a big move to somewhere new. The post often depicts some of their favorite things, moments, and people from where they are leaving. It’s usually accompanied by a heartfelt caption with tears and hugs. I sometimes find myself yelling (to no one in particular) … “If you are so sad, then why are you moving?” The truth, however, is that sadness and grief always accompanies the move to something new.
It’s ok. It’s normal. It’s necessary.
PRESENCE OF MOURNING IS THE NORM IN CHAOS
Monday morning I sat in my fairly normal booth at my fairly normal breakfast spot. I say fairly normal because though the booth was extremely familiar, the surroundings had drastically changed. Seating was limited. My friendly waitresses were all wearing masks. My coffee sweetener and favorite salsa were not conveniently waiting for me on the table. None of these things are really that major, but taken as a whole they represent a new reality. At that moment, my “normal booth” minus my salsa and sweetner represented the overwhelming sense of loss that was becoming way too common in my life. Perhaps you have experienced the same. It’s the small reminders of the bigger losses we are all experiencing, these old norms in the midst of these new realities…that leaves us wanting.
Sitting there, I began to process the frequent conversations I had been having with other leaders around the country. Mixed in with talk of church building closings, online church pivots, shrinking budgets and eventual re-entry was a growing concern about the level of exhaustion and fatigue being felt by themselves and especially their teams. Perhaps you have been feeling that as well.
Oh, You probably haven’t processed much of this.
You probably have simply been too busy.
There have been pivots to make, videos to shoot, and people to care for.
I get it.
Carey Nieuwhof nailed it when he said, “As a leader, what you do is cast vision and bury your grief because you’re afraid that if you stop, you’ll break.”
Let’s not break.
FATIGUE IS A BYPRODUCT OF OUR CURRENT CHAOS
We are in a season where so many of us have been asked to pivot quickly, execute effortlessly and organize efficiently. Granted, this process was not just an initial occurrence, but instead has now been repeated multiple times throughout this covid quarantine season. Even the best teams have been challenged as they have navigated the speed and scope of the change in what our normal looks like. For many it has been overwhelming and exhausting because of the speed of change required in the midst of so much uncertainty. For others, the pure scale of what has shifted has created a severe sense of fatigue. This is not unexpected.
None of us are naturally wired for so much change in such a short period of time on such a massive scale. We just aren’t.
When it comes to our organization and how we “used to” it, much of the exhaustion your team is feeling is due to the speed of pivot and the urgent need for execution that exists within the current crisis. This urgency of leadership forces us to move much too quickly through our grief or to simply ignore it all together. I’ve had conversations with so many leaders whose entire routine has been flipped on its head. Our normal flow, tasks, and responsibilities have completely disappeared overnight without the certainty of their eventual return.
A driving principle for my team during this season of uncertainty has been this: “In the midst of chaos, there is the ground to be gained” . It has been encouraging as we discovered together emerging opportunities in the midst of chaos. However, the enormous potential for ground to be gained must be preempted by acknowledging the ground that has been lost.
LOSS OPENS THE DOOR FOR RESILIENCY TO HAPPEN
Leaders often expect, encourage and celebrate resilience within our team and its members. Resiliency is simply the ability to bounce back and accelerate forward from unexpected circumstances. All of us have needed a dose of resiliency recently. We have watched parents pivot during this season and become teachers. Businesses have pivoted and shown resilience by recreating their primary revenue stream. And we have seen churches and their teams pivot, moving their model from a physical structure to a virtual experience. We applaud all of this. However, we must recognize that resilience is only possible when loss has been properly processed. Reflect on a past season of your life where you were resilient. What did that moment look like and what can you apply to this present reality?
Mourning is a necessary component of eventually finding closure. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” Jesus said. And yet leaders often avoid mourning at all cost, seeing it as weakness. This avoidance stalls a necessary process and eventually creates a greater sense of exhaustion. Leaders, if you don’t allow your team to experience the grief, process it together and emerge ready for the next challenge, you will enter this next season with a tired team at a time you can least afford it.
If ministry is a series of ungrieved losses, then it is even more necessary to pause in this season and appropriately grieve what has been lost.
PERSONAL LOSS IMPACTS OUR LEVEL OF LEADERSHIP
Within this conversation, don’t dismiss the personal. The routines, the expectations, and the norms that have been our source of life and energy have suddenly been ripped away from all of us. These losses feel permanent as we have no timetable or guarantee of an eventual return. You can lead forward as passionately as you want, but if you don’t deal with the high level of loss and frustration, it will emerge at a later point. And when it shows up, it will be dehabilating to our leadership at the worst possible moment.
We all could form our own current “List of Loss”. Perhaps the absence of sports, dining out with friends and family, traveling to our favorite vacation spots, enjoying a darkened movie theater, or even celebrating key milestones in traditional ways would all find their way onto that list. What is your list? Take a moment and actually compile it.
Appropriate mourning for many includes a conversation with a counselor, communicating your emotions with a trusted friend, being self-aware enough to acknowledge your emotions and taking your grief to Christ. When we experience loss and do not mourn appropriately with others and with Jesus, we will find our comfort somewhere. We may choose to put our head down and work harder, find mind-numbing escapes, or maybe just pursue a return to the past, a past that is no longer there.
So before you rush frantically forward toward re-entry and re-launch, ready to take on this new world we’ve been handed…Please pause. Look backward. Be honest. Be vulnerable. And invite others around you to do the same.
GIVE YOURSELF AND YOUR TEAM INTENTIONAL TIME TO PROCESS AND MOURN
- What emotions have emerged within your team that you realize are loss based?
- What are you doing intentionally with yourself or your team to acknowledge these losses and process them appropriately?
Here are some facilitating questions to create a needed conversation for your team:
- What is your current level of exhaustion and fatigue (1-5)?
- What are the factors that contributed to your number?
- Why is loss so easy to push aside and ignore for you as a leader?
- Why does it often feel selfish or inappropriate to actually admit your feelings of loss?
- What do you miss out on if you fail to mourn your loss?
- What “normal” activity or thing have you returned to lately that left you feeling a sense of loss rather than replenished? Why was that true? How did you process what you were feeling?
- What used to refuel/replenish you in a season of exhaustion that you’re unable to do now (ie. traveling, concerts, coffee shops, etc…). What have you newly embraced to refuel/replenish now? Who in your life do you need to talk to, to help you?
This was well written Lee. As a leader in the Crossing community I feel exhausted and I am not employed by work but by serving God during this covid-19 pandemic. Reading this gave me some peace to know I am doing whatever I am able even though I am not making money working. Talking and listening to others (like at Alpha online) gives me a calm inside knowing the Holy Spirit is lifting me up when I am down and not alone. Thank you for being a part of the pastoral team at the Crossing. Am glad to know you.