How to Avoid Accumulated Fatigue
Mentally, they’re tangled and cut by thorn-bush thoughts. Physically, they fought bravely. Emotionally, they cried until they had no strength. Now suddenly, the power grid of their emotional, mental, and physical stamina gets hacked and shuts down. They have nothing left to give (1 Sam. 30:1–10). Two hundred fighting men, all loyal to King David, and they will sit this one out.
Accumulated fatigue signals the gradual build-up of circumstantial stresses, mental challenges, and relational sorrows. It doesn’t ride right up to you and bandit you. It embezzles you instead. Like a slow-leaking tire, you don’t notice the gradual siphoning of air, the subtle lean of the car from its depleted strength.
It’s as if you’ve been doing life and ministry on emergency generators. The electricity went out long ago but the lights still worked, so you paid it no mind. But now, all the lights have burned out. To your surprise, so have you.
Constant criticisms and continuous slanders don’t help. We cry for rest that only a change of scenery can provide.
My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest . . . (Psalm 55:4–6)
Strategic pause stops us for a while to keep us going. It collects the morning dew of sabbath and trickles its drops into each stressful hour, day, week, and month of our lives. Jesus says, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Why then, do so many of us somehow believe that rest is foolish, and unrest is wise?
Momentum tempts us.
If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
he must use more strength,
but wisdom helps one to succeed. (Eccl. 10:10)
If we have to resist rest to maintain momentum, it isn’t God’s energy we’re trusting. Eventually, we begin to use more power than the work itself requires. Over time, this unrested exertion of additional effort builds up a wall that we or those we work with can no longer climb.
But, you might say, God blesses my preaching! People are coming to know Jesus! Look at how things are growing!
I don’t doubt that God is faithful, but this is not because you are wise. We must never justify our foolishness because God was faithful. Remember, those in our culture who do not want to slow down for strategic pause, love it that you don’t require this wisdom of them. In fact, as soon as you begin to trust God’s rhythm, many will leave and go somewhere else. But it’s better to lose people by offering them God’s wisdom than to keep them with folly.
If you don’t mind, take a moment to read this out loud and slowly. Notice how day six and seven sound.
Day One: Work Rest
Day Two: Work Rest
Day Three: Work Rest
Day Four: Work Rest
Day Five: Work Rest
Day Six: Work Rest
Day Seven: Rest Rest
But what would it be like to become as explicit about strategic rest as you are with any other aspect of your personal or church mission statement?
“Come,” Jesus says. “You are weary and heavy with cares. Your soul has no rest. Come to me. I will give you the rest you need” (Matt. 11:28–30).
Fatigue also accumulates because we forget to adjust for seasons (Eccl. 3:1–8).
When the kids were little, they went to bed early. Now they are older. Everyone stays awake at night deciding about boyfriends and girlfriends, or sexuality or God or depression or this friend or that job. We attempt the same work with double the emotional demand. Soon enough, we begin to see our life with family or friends as part of our job, as one more task on our to-do list.
Now add death or grief, unhealth or age, mistakes or sickness, birth or newness to a season. We become like a man with a broken arm. He can’t text or type as fast. It takes him longer to dress and eat, to brush his teeth, to tie his shoes and drive. Everyone who knows him understands and gives room.
Sometimes the cast we or our spouse or our team member wears isn’t visible. The broken thing needing time to heal is inside of us. If we don’t pause to let it mend, the fracture only deepens.
What would it be like to account for seasons in your work life? How might this affect your goals? Instead of saying, “I want to multiply five home groups this year,” you might say, “I want to multiply five soul-sustainable or seasonably resourced home groups this year.”
Success isn’t measured now, only by counting. We now have to account for rhythms and seasons. This is a remedy for accumulated fatigue.
FROM REST TO RECOVERY
When accumulated fatigue takes hold of us, a night of rest, a weekend get-a-way, or a six-week sabbatical likely won’t help. We are like Elijah among the ravens, wrestling with our doubts in the caves with God (1 Kings 19). We are among David’s crew who must sit this one out.
Needing recovery is no shame. King David made sure of it. He not only defended those who needed to stay back and recover, he publicly advocated for their honor and their role in the community (1 Sam. 30:21–25).
How did David know to do this? Perhaps because he knew God as the Good Shepherd. “He makes me lie down,” David once said graciously of God (Ps. 23:2).
We too can learn this grace of God-given pauses. It becomes part of our testimony as leaders about his ways of grace. “He makes me lie down” we learn to say. We learn that this too is faithfulness.