Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting with three pastor couples on retreat in idyllic New Albany, PA. The retreat house, The Haft, is the kind of place that has little to no cell service and your GPS unit won’t find. While it was Spring mud season, the weather was warm and we had a good amount of time for walking in the woods.
I led the first discussion of the retreat on the topic of discouragers. There are common things that can discourage a ministry couple: chronic criticism, ministry with no boundaries, endless needs and no support leading to burnout, vision conflict, family struggles and no place to talk about them, unmet expectations/desires, poor finances, and much more.
Family struggles can be incredibly discouraging for ministry leaders. When kids act up, ministry leaders often feel they should be able to handle–and fix–these problems. the same goes for marital conflict. Sex can be a significant discourager in one of two ways. You serve others (in church or family) and then when you are emotionally and physically tired, you discover your spouse wants intimacy while you just want to be left alone. Or, you work hard all day and you want intimacy only to discover your spouse does not. The one little desire you held to throughout your day comes to naught and you find you are completely defeated or angry about not getting your one little pleasure. Actually, this can be very true about other kinds of pleasures. Wanting to watch TV without the kids, wanting to have just a bit a down time, etc.
After we discussed the many kinds of discouragers (especially un-evaluated expectations), I reminded the participants that Heb 12:3 reminds us that spiritual rest comes with mental activity, the activity of meditating on Christ. While we need sleep to deal with physical tiredness, spiritual tiredness needs activity.
As a final activity, I had each person recall and write down 2 “stones of remembrance.” These were things that happened to them that they clearly remembered God’s handiwork in their lives. It recalls the stories in the OT where Israel was asked to set up piles of stones to remind them of God’s rescue (e.g., crossing the Jordan river). When we are spiritually tired, we gain perspective by remembering what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do. This activity prepares us to better reflect on changes we might need to make, expectations that need altering, or boundaries that need re-drawing.