What sustains you? Leadership can be difficult, draining and exhausting. It’s simply not possible to keep going forever without resources. For faith leaders, that includes having a spiritual life.
In his book Rest in the Storm, my December 3 teleconference guest Kirk Byron Jones talks about the gospel story where Jesus fell asleep in a boat: “Jesus gave up, at least for the moment, being responsible for what did and did not happen. (Give this up, and your ministry will be transformed for the better almost overnight.)”
One of the temptations of leadership is to think it all depends on us. If we can’t ever let go, we will find ourselves worn out, burned out, and inclined to make bad decisions simply because we’ve lost perspective. Stepping away long enough for prayer, meditation or reflection can help us let go. It can also help us get clarity on the places we really do need to engage.
Another temptation of leadership is to identify “self” with “role.” Developing ourselves spiritually helps us focus more on who we are and less on what we do. I’ve found the best way to do this is to practice meditative prayer. I take a few minutes daily to do nothing but breathe, letting go of the many “urgent” thoughts which pass through my mind. Over time, I’ve found myself better able to assess the urgency of the matters which come my way throughout the rest of the day. I can slow down my reaction time in my relationships with others, both personally and professionally. This helps me respond more thoughtfully to others.
Meditation is not the only way to develop a spiritual life. Other powerful spiritual practices can help support our leadership: regularly seeing a spiritual director or friend, spiritual reading (that has nothing to do with preparing for teaching or preaching), or praying for those in our work whom we find difficult.
You may be asking, “How can I possibly make the time for this?” If your schedule is that packed, I’d say anything is better than nothing. One minute of meditative prayer. One verse of the Bible or one paragraph of a spiritual book (you probably already have one somewhere). And start with something you like to do. This week I met a knitter who says she finds it a meditative practice. Runners often have the same experience. Can you bring your attention to what you already do in a different way?
Don’t make yourself say your prayers. Give yourself the gift of saying your prayers.