Change is tiring

December 6, 2021 by Rev. Jessica Tate

Most conversations I’m having with colleagues these days go something like this.

Me: “How are you?”

Colleague: (shrugs) “Doing ok.”

Me: “Yeah?”

Colleague: “I’m proud of the way the congregation has weathered all the last year and a half have thrown at us. (Sighs) But I’m exhausted.”

It’s no wonder. We’re enduring a multi-layered pandemic including, but not limited to, a novel coronavirus, systemic racism, economic inequality, and mental health crisis. It has been disruptive and disorienting. It’s torn down veils and forced us to confront painful truths about ourselves and the society we’ve built. It's required massive amounts of creativity, decision-making — usually with not enough time, not enough helpful data, and a million and one strong opinions from everyone.

While it is energizing to see how the church has adapted and changed in ways we maybe never dreamed we could, the actual living out of those changes is tiring.

United Methodist pastor and leader Jenny Smith has suggested that what’s being asked of church leaders right now is that we run a second marathon, having just come to the finish line of the first. We know what we need is rest, water, stretching, and recovery. Instead, we’ve re-opened! Now we are navigating even murkier waters of decision-making as more choices are left to church leadership, rather than being mandated. And we are doing so in the context of general weariness and stunted grief, which you might have noticed, prevents many of us from being our best selves.

In her book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor describes receiving an invitation to come speak at a church. Come tell us what is saving your life now, they said. “All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could,” Taylor writes, “and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.”

I wonder if that assignment isn’t one for us all to spend a bit of time with right now. What is saving your life now?

What I have discovered in this season of profound disruption and reorientation, what I most need isn’t “Can it just all stop, please?” (though I highly recommend a two-week vacation, or taking that sabbatical that’s been put off). What is saving my life is more like manna. It’s a “thin slice” of something that nurtures my spirit. Something small (read: doable) is enough for today. For me, that means watching the sky change as the sun comes up with a cup of coffee on my balcony. Or taking my walking route down to the river, even though it’s going to cost me 20 more minutes. Or a short yoga practice I can do from home in whatever minutes I can grab. Or some unscheduled time to play with my son and become engrossed in the immediacy of his little world. Or phoning a friend just to say hi and catch up for a few minutes. Rarely do I get more than one of those in a day. But those thin slices are enough for today.

I pray you will find the manna you need for today.

Rev. Jessica Tate serves as a consultant to the Presbyterian Foundation and serves as Associate Pastor to The Georgetown Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Jessica was the founding Director of NEXT Church where she helped shape the energy of NEXT Church into a relational community of Presbyterian leaders who are discerning how to be the faithful church in the 21st century. Prior to serving NEXT Church, Jessica was Associate Pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia. Upon graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jessica served as a Young Adult Intern for the PC(USA) at the denomination’s Washington Office. From there she went on to seminary at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, where she received a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Christian Education.