A few years ago 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 have 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, 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 can be brutal sometimes.
How can leaders cultivate a healthy heart? I would suggest four disciplines:
1. 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?
For me this is best done with a regular quiet time, including 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.
2. The Discipline of Rest
Oftentimes what looks like discouragement is just weariness. 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, such as:
- determining to get enough sleep each night and possibly napping during the day;
- deciding to rest at least one day in seven; and
- scheduling vacations and possibly even a sabbatical.
I believe it even involves fasting—giving our bodies a break from the tyranny of our appetites.
3. 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 me, getting outdoors and fishing is the ultimate. It lets me totally detach from work, shift my focus to the present, and reconnect with my heart.
Maybe fishing isn’t your thing. For you it might involve rebuilding an engine or fixing a gourmet meal. Whatever the activity, it might not seem urgent, but it is vitally important.
4. 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.
The personal payoff is huge. The right relationships open up a world of learning, encouragement, and accountability to us. And it’s a two-way street. When we’re in meaningful relationship with others, we can provide those as well.
As leaders, it’s easy to place work ahead of these sorts of relationships, but strong support among our family and friends is essential for keeping our hearts strong in the middle of life’s challenges.
I realize that I have only scratched the surface. This topic is worthy of an entire book. My hope 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.