The Rested Leader---Part II
In part I of this conversation, I mentioned Jim Loehr. He was a performance psychologist who evaluated top-ranked tennis players in an effort to determine what made those who held the highest world rankings better than their lower-ranked competitors. What did they do as they played tennis that made them superior players in a highly competitive sport?
Loehr discovered that the strokes and techniques of all the players were infuriatingly similar. But eventually, he noticed that the difference lay in what the players did between points. Top performers, Loehr discovered, knew when to work hard and when to rest. Their strength lay not in the perfection of their strokes or their level of effort, but rather, in their ability to recover. The top tennis players, Loehr discovered, found rituals (the way they walked, breathing patterns, self-talk) that actually lowered their heart beat, calming them, and, in effect, allowing them to rest both physically and mentally between points. And the rest and recovery, even in the thirty to ninety seconds between points in a tennis game, is what made all the difference.
Loehr and Schwartz took what they learned from sports performance and created a "Corporate Athlete" system for improving performance on the job and in all areas of life, which is detailed in their book, The Power of Full Engagement.
Jesus himself modeled this pattern. He would engage fully in ministry of teaching, healing and so on. But then, he would take time to rest, and he invited his followers to do the same.
In Mark's gospel, we read that Jesus sent his disciples out two by two to do ministry - to heal and teach. They return, full of excitement about how effectively they were able to minister.
Many of us might say, "Great job! Keep going, don't lose momentum, strike while the iron is hot! Get back out there and win more souls!"
But Jesus doesn't do that. "The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ?Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest'" (Mark 6:30).
In other words, after the disciples had spent several days fully engaged in ministry, Jesus tells them to disengage, to rest.
In another passage, Jesus invites his followers: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest" (Matthew 11:28, The Message).
What does it mean to "recover your life"? Jesus offers us a "real rest." Which I think goes deeper than a bit of time where I "just chill." Jesus says, just come to me, and find deep soul rest. He does not necessarily ask us to become more religious. In fact, he invites us to "get away" from religious activity if it is not helpful, if it is burning us out.
In my own life, I want to learn how to take a real rest. Why? Not just because it would be nice, or I'd be happier.
I believe God has called me to his purposes, to do certain things - to be a leader in my church, my family, my neighborhood. To be compassionate, mindful and kind. If I want to live that kind of life, then I need to figure out a way to live. In order to respond with my life and actions to what I consider to be God's calling on my life, I must give my best effort. That does not mean I run without stopping. Neither does it mean that I do things sort of half-heartedly, conserving my energy.
If I never fully expend my energy, and never fully rest either, I'll never increase my capacity. Like an athlete, I have to sometimes push myself, not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well. How? I have to forgive when I think I can't; I must choose to act loving even when it's hard. By acting loving, I become more loving. But then I also need to have times where I simply rest - times to withdraw from people and their demands, times where I allow myself to spend time with Jesus, to take him up on his invitation to "come away with me by yourself to a quiet place and get some rest" (Mark 6:31). In those moments of what I call "sacred selfishness," I let Jesus attend to my deepest needs: for quiet, for peace, for intimacy with him.
Sabbath-keeping is a spiritual practice that will help us recover our lives. It is what is missing from our hectic, hurried lives. It is the missing part of the rhythm that God designed us to live in.
To grow as a person, to experience a deeper spirituality, to grow closer to Jesus, I must find a rhythm of life that includes times of full engagement, balanced with times of complete and soul-satisfying rest. Is that even possible? What would that look like in your life?