Recently, I met with a leader who was in the process of losing heart. I have seen the look in his eyes a hundred times before. (I had seen it in my own mirror on more than one occasion.)
My friend was under attack. He had just discovered that one of his board members was campaigning to unseat him. Worse, one of his children had just been diagnosed with a chronic disease. As a result of these issues, he was struggling with the typical symptoms of stress—insomnia, indigestion, and back pain.
He was ready to throw in the towel. And, who could blame him? Life is hard.
How can leaders cultivate a healthy heart? I would suggest four disciplines:
- The Discipline of Reflection. We live in a busy and noisy world that will suck the life out of us if we let it. This is why it is essential that we intentionally pull away to a quiet place, pause, and reflect. If Jesus did this (see, for example, Mark 1:35), how much more important is it for us?
I believe this is best done by reading the Bible and praying. I have also found it helpful to read other spiritual writings, especially those of the desert fathers. Anything outside of our own time gives us much-needed perspective, as C.S. Lewis notes in his Introduction to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius.
- The Discipline of Rest. God has built rest into our very physiology. We are made to shut down for a third of the daily cycle. One of the quickest ways to lose perspective is to cheat ourselves out of this God-given “off switch.”
But practicing the discipline of rest requires more than a biologically-induced pause. It requires deliberate choices: deciding to rest one day in seven and choosing to take our allotted vacations. I believe it even involves fasting—giving our bodies a break from the tyranny of our appetites.
- The Discipline of Recreation. There is a difference between amusement and recreation. The former leaves us more tired than we started. (Ever taken a trip to Disney World and come back more exhausted than you left?) Yet the latter refreshes us and grounds us.
Recreation involves any activity that gives us the opportunity to express our creativity. For some, it might involve painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument. For others, it might even involve rebuilding an engine or baking a cake. These activities never seem urgent, but they are vitally important.
- The Discipline of Relationships. Arguably, this is the most important. You and I were made to live in relationship to others. In fact, the very foundation of reality is relational. Before the world was created, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, lived together in perfect love and unity.
But in a world of social media and faux connections, we must be intentional about building authentic relationships and real community. This means making time—quality time—for our family members and friends. It means taking the initiative to invest in those we love.
I realize that I have only scratched the surface. This topic is worthy of an entire book. My hope in writing this short post is simply to put your heart on your radar, so that you will nurture it and find it to be a resource in the challenging times ahead.