“They’re just tired.”

I kept hearing this off-handed comment from pastors and leaders with little explanation. When it showed up in three coaching conversations in four days, I realized something deeper was going on.  

“Could you tell me more about that?” I asked. They all had similar answers.

“Long-time friends have left. Rock-solid volunteers have bailed. Our attendance is barely half what it was before the pandemic, and we don’t know how to get them back. We thought things would be better by now. It’s disheartening.”

Of course, they could all point to occasional bright spots: a baptism, some new people, the start of a new ministry. But the dominant note in this somber symphony was discouragement.

That’s when it hit me. In this (mostly) post-COVID era, the sluggish, unresponsive people in our churches are not simply weary. They are grieving. They are not bone tired; they are soul tired. It comes from carrying multiple losses on multiple levels.  

Since March of 2020, we have all said a sad goodbye to someone we knew. But it’s more than that. We’ve lost relationships to disagreements or neglect. Political, racial and economic upheavals have changed our culture. Long-haul COVID and other illnesses have redefined our lives or the lives of people we love. Almost everything has changed.

No wonder so many of us feel tired. The struggle is real, for sure. But God made a way to deal with loss. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Tricky Terrain

To receive that blessing, here are four ways to navigate the tricky terrain of grief.

  • Acknowledge Your Losses

In our non-stop, hurry-up culture, this may be the hardest step to take.

When a loss comes, the last thing we want to do is to stop and acknowledge it. We are programmed to brush it off and keep moving.

Here’s the downside. As we rush on to the next thing, we carry that loss with us. When the next loss comes, we do the same thing, and they start to stack.

Sooner than we realize, the weight of ungrieved losses slow us down. It feels like we are walking through sludge. Even everyday tasks take more and more energy.

Acknowledging our losses, actually listing them out on paper or a screen,  helps us identify why we are so tired or sad or short-tempered. We own that life can be hard.  It’s the crucial first step to laying down this heavy burden. The next is a heart issue.

  • Feel Your Feelings

It sounds easy enough – until a big loss hits. One morning I was walking down a back alley to get to church. It was so cold, the mud in one of the tire ruts had frozen overnight.

Suddenly, the Lord showed me that my heart was like that muddy rut. It was frozen, unable to feel.  

Many of us walk through life with a frozen heart. Whether from bitterness or busyness, we haven’t given ourselves time and space to feel.

Often our reluctance comes from fear. We are afraid the pain that’s been stuffed inside for so long would overwhelm us and never end.

Instead, what overwhelms our lives and never ends is the joyless, lonely  burden of unresolved grief.

Grieving is the healing feeling. When the Holy Spirit revealed the frozenness in my heart, I knew it was about grief I had tried to escape.

When I allowed myself to feel my feelings, and cry real tears, it thawed my heart. Joy returned. I felt like I could breathe again.

The easiest way to unfreeze is to live in real community.    

  • Share Your Losses

The journey through grief is best traveled with others. Something truly cathartic happens when we share our story with people who care enough to listen deeply.

Over the last couple of years, the grief in one church had gotten so thick, the pastor and I dreamed up an odd remedy – a funeral.

We envisioned staff and key lay leaders dressing up and coming together to read Scripture, share personal stories about their losses, and sing songs of lament.

They would pray prayers of letting go, funeral prayers that point to our eternal hope in Jesus Christ. And they would say goodbye.

Afterward, they would gather for a big meal, tell more stories (the funny ones), and show that in the midst of death, life still goes on.

All this would be a sign that those who are still here must carry on the mission.

The more we talked about this idea, the more excited the pastor became. He knew the power of sharing our losses and the door that could open to new life – the final stage of the journey.

  • Let The Old Birth The New

Here’s the best news about loss: we have a God who specializes in resurrection from the dead!

Peter Scazzero who first introduced this concept to me says, “[Jesus’ resurrection] is what enables us to affirm that our losses and endings are gateways to new beginnings – even when we can’t see anything good that could possibly emerge from them.”

No doubt, some who are reading this right now are in a very dark place. Your losses have been overwhelming, truly devastating, and you are barely hanging on.

A Gateway

How could what you have suffered be a gateway to a new beginning?

There’s only one way. Each of us must trust God enough to let go of what we had, so we can receive what only God can give right now.

In no way is this done easily or quickly. But it is in surrendering, allowing the old to fully die, that the new is birthed.

If you or someone you know feels tired all the time, despite plenty of sleep, physical exhaustion is probably not the issue. Unacknowledged losses, frozen feelings, unshared endings, and hanging on to the old wear us out on the inside.

Instead of taking another nap, let yourself grieve. You’ll be thankful when your soul starts to rise to new life.

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role as an executive coach and specialist with Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI). For reasons unknown, he’s also allowed to teach as an adjunct professor at Perkins School of Theology, SMU. Roger is the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane (who’s married to Sam). He loves spending time with family, reading, SCUBA diving, and traveling in different cultures. He also has a weakness for golf.