Silvia ministers at Cashmere Presbyterian Church in Christchurch
Here’s a question which will throw your Christology into stark relief: ‘Did Jesus get tired?’. If your Christology is ‘low’ you’ll probably say ‘Duh, yes of course!’; he was fully human, and experienced all the pain and exhaustion that we humans do. You’ll remember that he slept (even in a storm on a lake!), and took himself off alone to recharge.
If your Christology is ‘high’ you’ll probably be more ‘well kind of but not really’, as in, as Son of God he had full access to the power of the Holy Spirit in every moment, so he could sleep through a storm, not because he was shattered, but because he had the whole situation under control.
This question matters to me because I’m trying to live more and more in the steps of Jesus, and I’m curious about how God works through the ebbs and flows of my personal energy. Ask anyone about me and they’ll tell you that I’m a high-energy person. Until I’m not. I don’t ‘crash and burn’ the way I used to, and I’ve got way better at resting, but fatigue is still an issue.
Lots of people have stressful jobs, but ministry is exhausting in a unique way. What job could be as diverse as parish ministry? I am dancing with toddlers, then I’m cleaning a dirty spot on the carpet, then I’m praying with a stranger in tears of longing to see her kids. I am grappling with scripture, alone with my laptop, then I’m rethinking church financial systems, then I’m with a family screwing down the lid on Nana’s coffin. The roles of pastor, preacher, publicist, strategist, celebrant, team leader, and mission catalyst pile on top of each other, and it’s easy for Silvia to get lost in the crowd. And then, there are the other roles of mother, wife, daughter, friend, which also quite rightly claim attention.
In a really big week, like when I had four funerals in eight days recently, I feel stretched. I find myself operating at the edge of my energy, which isn’t a safe place to be. The awesome thing is, God is good. Miraculously, I find enough brain-power to write the fourth funeral and a sermon for Sunday, and maybe even cook dinner (or not!). But there is a price to be paid for working at full stretch. When the pace slacks off it hits like whiplash. The energy recoils, turns inward and crumbles. The effort strips away and it hurts. I have learned to rest, to lie under a tree, to recover.
Jesus liked to lie around under trees too, I’m told. He made a habit of climbing up the hill behind Caperaum to watch the dawn over the lake, just him alone with his Dad. Solitude, green things, beauty, stillness, open space – these are the things the soul craves when much is demanded of us. Not that Jesus got much of that. His connection to God was open all the time, busy or still, in crowds and in solitude, whether or not his own needs were being met. He spoke about being having access to food the disciples didn’t know about (John 4:32). The great words of John’s gospel describe how Jesus and the Father are one. It is this unity of being and doing with God that is the source and flow of Jesus’s energy. And this is what I desire for my own ministry.
People worry about me burning out, so I tend to not show them my tiredness. Personally, I do not feel at risk of burn-out. It’s OK to get tired. It’s not OK to be torn apart by conflicting loyalties. It’s not OK to get chipped away by disappointment. What burns us out is not ministry, but our own warped agendas. Jesus was completely unafraid, and utterly ‘in’ every moment. He knew the Father and he knew he was known by the Father. That’s all that mattered to him. Us? It matters to us when we’re criticised, or when people don’t show up to something we organise. Me? I’m afraid of failing, I get upset if I feel rejected, I want everyone to like me. These are the things can could tear me down and wear me out. I’m determined not to let them.
So I will work hard, and rest well. I will give my ministry everything I’ve got, because I know that it’s Jesus’ ministry not mine. I will bring my very best, and probably expect more of myself than I would of anyone else, and I will pay the price for working too hard some weeks. The Spirit of Jesus does not protect me from tiredness, but he does re-energise and renew. The Spirit of Jesus is at work in me continuing to align me to Christ, maturing me so that I don’t care quite so much about what everyone else wants from me.
So, did Jesus get tired? Yes, but he knew how to tap in to the ultimate energy. He needed sleep, and food, and rest and solitude like the rest of us. But unlike us he was totally in line with God and totally free from everyone else’s agendas. So he poured himself out without getting drained. He emptied himself without losing himself.