By Steve Anderson
It’s Tuesday. I’m crashing right now.
We just returned from our High School Winter Retreat. It was a great time. We spent two nights at a nice camp in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Our theme was “Whisper.” Instead of live teaching, we watched a video series by Mark Batterson. From there, we launched into discussions in small groups. We talked about what it means to hear from God. We shared our hearts about how valuable it is to have a real, intimate relationship with Jesus, and to hear his voice in our lives. It was precious.
We had a blast, too. On Saturday, half the group went skiing/snowboarding, and the other half enjoyed snow tubing and hanging out in the gym. Saturday night, we played an epic game of Hide ‘n Seek. We stay in a two-story lodge with about 30 rooms. We have it all to ourselves; two floors of total darkness and fantastic places to hide. With the bass thumping from our speakers, we scatter like cockroaches under beds and behind furniture while teams search for us. I was pretty cocky. Last year I was undefeated. My legend was growing, and I was feeding it. But God despises the proud. In the final 60 seconds of the final round, I felt a tap on my knee. “I found you.” I’m still salty about it. I told the kid he’s not welcome back next year. He’s a senior, so he didn’t take it too hard.
The retreat went exceedingly well. There was no drama whatsoever — no trips to the ER, no puking, no trouble, no fighting, tears or misery of any kind. Everyone got along, engaged in what was happening, and came home happy. But I went into it pretty tired from a very busy two weeks at church—a weekend of preaching, leading weekly youth services, some other responsibilities. Driving home on the PA Turnpike, as I sat behind the wheel of the 15-passenger van, sipping my Sheetz Toasted Marshmallow Latte (don’t judge), my tired mind reviewed the weekend. I thought about how much I love my students. I thought about what great leaders we have. I thought about the spiritual conversations that took place. I thought about the relief that it was over. I get to do it again with the middle-school in two weeks.
I also thought about this: I’m going to crash tomorrow.
And I have. I mean crrraaassshhhh. Yes, it’s now Tuesday. I’m still wearing the same sweatpants I came home in. Yesterday I stayed in bed for hours. I took a nap after my nap. I’ve hardly eaten. I’ve watched a lot of TV. I’ve puttered on my computer. I did the dishes. I did one load of laundry but it’s still in the dryer. Otherwise, I’ve done absolutely nothing of value except for walking my dogs around the block. I am in full crash mode, and it’s not over yet.
I’ve also crashed a bit spiritually. I don’t feel like reading my Bible. I am doing more staring than praying. I’m not feeling very pastoral.
But here’s the truth. I’ve come to expect this feeling. The details might differ, but the basic feelings are consistent. I get it every time. It’s part of youth ministry. It’s the Post-Event Crash. It’s normal.
I think of it like this: it’s the spiritual equivalent of how we feel two hours after the trip to IHOP. We drank two extra cups of coffee and inhaled about 10,000 carbs of pancakes. We leave feeling great, but a few hours later, our bodies shut down. Our minds go radio silent. Our eyes gradually bounce downward like a tennis ball after match point. Before we know it, we are sitting behind the steering wheel in our driveway, unable to remember where we’ve been or how we got there. Yes, it’s like this.
The Crash may last a few days. Tuesdays are usually worse for me than Mondays. Depending on the event we’ve completed, and the state of my life at the time, it may take a week or more to fully recover. Or I may be feeling much better by Wednesday. It depends.
Sometimes, when it’s particularly brutal–when Satan is poised at my door–it gets rather nasty. I’ll hear a voice telling me it’s time to pack it in. I’ll stew over some minor criticism or conflict. I’ll become really selfish. I’ll lose passion. I’ll lose compassion. I’ll even lose my ability to be a pastor for a time. I’ll work on fumes and wonder why I ever got into this in the first place. It won’t be pretty, for me or for those I work with. Not every time, but sometimes.
This isn’t unprecedented. Put anyone in a state of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion, and they will crash, no matter how great their faith. No one short of a Navy Seal can overcome it by sheer will. Remember what happened to Elijah after he had one of the most spectacular personal victories in Scripture (1 Kings 18)? What an event he put together! “Hey kids, watch while I take on 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah and make them look like fools!” His youth group must have thought he was something else!
Right after that, he was so overcome with fear he ran for his life and wished to die.
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:3-5)
If it happened to him, it’s going to happen to us, even if, by comparison, our victory was over the juniors in the flag football game and not the 850 enemies of God.
My crash is here. I knew it was coming. I’ve come to expect it. I’ve almost come to accept it. I know that in time, God will lift me back on my feet and I’ll carry on. He’s done it countless times before. In the deepest recesses of my faith, I know he’ll do it again. He restores my soul, even if it takes a few days.
Your crash is coming, too, but it’s okay. It’s not the end; it’s just par for the course. God will restore you. See it coming, let it hit you, and then let God do his thing.
In the meantime, go take a nap. That’s what I’m going to do.