May 08, 2022
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC May 8, 2022, fourth Sunday of Easter. “Resilience for Times When…” series.
Text: Acts 9:36-43
Have you ever felt “dead tired?”…Like the thought of managing something or doing a simple task or mentally processing something or moving was more than you could manage without wanting to hide, run away, or cry (or “all of the above”)? Perhaps some have experienced this when physically ill. Others might have felt it in times when, as my Grandma would say, they were plum tuckered out—in other words, absolutely exhausted.
It's not just my observation, but that of doctors, therapists, journalists, sociologists, and, well, most everyone, that exhaustion has reached whole new levels over the past number of years—due to multiple pandemics plaguing our nation and world, political strife, a growing wealth gap, generally unhealthy expectations within most workplaces, and the daily onslaught of outrageous, absurd, and deeply disturbing headlines.
And for many of us who previously thought of “burnout” as being really tired after a period of hard work, we now understand that there’s more to it than just that.
Burnout is a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It’s a result of excessive and prolonged emotional, physical, and mental stress. It’s a real syndrome that may include feeling drained and unable emotionally to deal with problems around you, extreme tiredness and low feelings and energy, cynicism and frustration toward work and colleagues, feeling emotionally distant or numb, struggling to concentrate, handle responsibilities, or be creative. Late last week, the New York Times had an article on a subcategory: parental burnout.[i]
The daily effects of all of this on parents with young children, and on all of our relationships, and our capacity to manage life stuff has left untold numbers of humans exhausted and burned out to the point of mental or physical illness. Self-medication with substances is most certainly happening. And, as usual, those for whom daily life was already difficult, will be feeling the effects of all this most acutely. I’m also currently thinking about those who have worked tirelessly to further the cause of equity and justice for LGBTQIA persons and for reproductive rights and health for all those with uteruses and for safe access to work and play and sports and marriage regardless of skin color, hair style, language, faith, gender identity, or any other thing. I’m thinking about how exhausting it is to realize that long and hard-fought gains can be erased by a majority opinion of a very small group of people.
There are some for whom the fire of prophetic justice (for themselves or others) is their motivation. They will most always have energy for “the cause,” energy to show up at a rally or march. But even they, I fear, will have moments when they just…can’t. And all who have devoted their lives to sojourn with those on the margins through social work, specialized fields of health care, policy advocacy, legal aid, community organizing, and more…I’m thinking about how their passion and dedication fuels them until those moments when it just…doesn’t. I’m mindful of clergy and teachers of all kinds who some days want to weep at the thought of having to create one more lesson plan, plan one more program, or write one more word…when there’s not a drop more creative juice. My guess is that a whole lot of us are plum tuckered out…dead tired…and may not want to get out of bed, don’t want to face the to-do list or the headlines or the new obstacle in the way of justice or peace or the 2 year old’s (or 16 year old’s) temper tantrum…
Where do we find resurrection resilience for times when we literally or metaphorically don’t want to get out of bed?
The book of Acts is about the beginnings of the Jesus movement, a movement fueled by Holy Spirit midst the awe and wonder of Jesus’ resurrection. The trajectory of the story in Acts is that the same resurrecting, new life-giving power of God that was in Jesus is at work in Jesus’ disciples through the power of Spirit. It is that thread that the author most certainly pulls through this story of Peter bringing Tabitha back to life. I understand that the story is likely meant to emphasize the way that members of the early church were able to do signs and wonders, just like Jesus. Today, however, I wish to let this story speak to us a little sideways in the hopes that we might receive a word more directly.
Tabitha was a servant ministry leader—a “disciple” who was “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” And, as I’ve been saying, that kind of work can run you down and burn you out. It can be discouraging, it can be thankless, it can be neverending, it can feel pointless sometimes—like two steps forward never really get you two steps forward… I wonder if Tabitha had kids. I wonder what kind of illness struck Tabitha. I wonder if she worked herself into an early grave? Or maybe she was just “dead tired.” Maybe she just didn’t want to get out of bed.
We don’t know the details of her life, but it is clear the disciple Tabitha had made a profound impact in her community through her acts of generosity, caring, and love toward those who were vulnerable in society. When she dies, Peter—the leader among the earliest disciples—is summoned. When Peter arrives, the widows—often among the most vulnerable—show and tell of the one they know as Dorcas and of her kind deeds. It reminds me of so many wakes, visitations and receptions, when photos and stories get shared about the person whose life has touched so many others. And I always imagine and hope the deceased is hanging around to receive these reflections…
And Peter—historically hot-headed and impulsive—has, through his journey with Jesus both before and after the resurrection, become a powerful preacher and source of healing grace for others. I’m always moved in this story by Peter’s simple, humanizing actions. He kneels and prays. Following his prayer, perhaps having received some leading from Christ, he turns toward Tabitha and speaks to her directly. Peter is there when Tabitha opens her eyes—perhaps a bit startling, but also reassuring. And then, simply, “He gave her his hand and helped her up.” (Acts 9:41) I have not witnessed a literal resurrection, but I have seen persons whose simple acts of faith, presence, and kindness have made another person’s heart beat in a new way that has led to new life.
As I ponder this story and where or how we find resilience for times when we don’t want to get out of bed, several things come to mind.
First, sometimes, you may need to listen to your body and stay lying down! A recent (2022) study reaffirmed what’s been the consistent trend in the U.S. for years. “If vacations are supposed to be a time to recharge, then a lot of Americans are running on depleted batteries. Fewer than 3 in 10 U.S. employees used all of their paid vacation time last year. And those who did were often still tethered to job tasks while away, sometimes for as many as three hours a day.”[ii] And that is just an American worker statistic. It doesn’t take into account all the other factors I’ve already lifted up. We are working ourselves to death—pre-pandemic til whatever we’re in now. Sabbath is not only a spiritual practice, it is a health practice. Take your vacation. Take a break. Just stop sometimes and deeply rest. Try to take longer breaks so that your autopiloting “think about work” brain powers down. And when you have been renewed and can catch a new breath, then get up an experience how life feels on the other side of real rest.
Sometimes, a tool for resilience is to adjust our perspective. One Foundry member who saw the title of today’s sermon shared a technique she learned from Elizabeth Gilbert that’s she’s found helpful. Gilbert suggests avoiding “horizontal thinking”—meaning that some of the most fearful thoughts can arise when you first wake up if you just lie there. Gilbert forces herself to get up and start doing something before scary or sad thoughts overwhelm. This is an example of literally changing our view. Sometimes just moving around, taking a walk, exercising, can provide energy to move us through the day.
And there is also mental shift in perspective, the importance of remembering that any given day is just one day. Any one day may include difficult challenges, but those things will pass away. We are part of a long history, held in the care of a God whose love is new every morning, a God who works for good all day long. No matter the challenge or obstacle or disappointment, or how you’re feeling today, God will be with you, giving grace and bringing you through—one way or another. And God has given us one another with the assurance that no one of us has to manage without help, no one of us is responsible for all the needs around us. Ask for help and accept it when it is offered. We can do what we do and as much as we are able to do. And then it’s alright to lie back down for a while.
Sometimes, when you don’t want to get out of bed, you may need to lie there and make a phone call to your physician or therapist for an appointment. Perhaps what will give you resilience is to address a health issue that may be contributing to your fatigue. //
One source or resilience is to call to mind who you are for others, what you do for others, your relationships, and your gifts. They need you to get out of bed, because they not only need you, but love and appreciate you.
As I read the story of Tabitha, I am struck by the love and appreciation that surrounded her. At this woman’s death, two men went to find Peter (another man) to come and be present with the community. The stories and signs of Tabitha’s impact on so many flowed freely. Peter’s prayers and loving-kindness toward her were humbly offered. Tabitha was honored. I don’t know whether she was really dead, partly dead, or just dead tired. But as she lay in the room with people attending her, I wonder whether she received all that love and care in the room from the widows, realized what an impact her life made on others, and came to understand how deeply appreciated she was. That kind of support, care, and gratitude can be just the thing to boost resilience when you don’t want to get out of bed. Even when you can’t feel it yourself or fully take it in, to be told you matter, to receive assurance that your life is important, that your efforts make a difference—to other people and to God—that is a powerful gift. I imagine a scenario in which Peter says—“Did you take all that in, Tabitha? Can you let that love renew your weary body and soul? See if it might help you, when you’re ready, to get out of bed.”
We can’t always remember our own worth when we’re worn down, but we can assure others that they are important to us. We don’t have to wait until they die to tell them what we appreciate about them or that they matter to us or that we love or honor them. I encourage you to send a little note to your friends, colleagues and family who may be dead tired today with a word of encouragement and appreciation. That might be just what they need to keep going and, perhaps, even to stay alive. (not trying to be overly dramatic, just to be real.)
And if you are the one who doesn’t want to get out bed, I encourage you to get the rest you need, to check your perspective physically or mentally, and (as needed) to make an appointment with a therapist or doctor to take care of your body and mind.
And let me be among those to remind all of you that you matter. You are loved. You are seen by a God who knows how hard you are working and all you’re holding and how tired you are. You are honored in God’s sight and precious. In your rising and in your lying down, God is with you, calling your name Beloved, and extending Easter grace that can renew your strength and bring new life.
[ii] Lois Collins, “If you’re all work and no play, you’re like a lot of American employees,“ https://www.deseret.com/2022/4/5/23010418/if-youre-all-work-and-no-play-youre-like-a-lot-of-american-employees-qualtrics-survey-worker-burnout. Retrieved May 7, 2022.