One of my friends told me, last night (at the public meeting), that he wasn’t at a meeting we had mutually agreed to attend because he’d “had enough Circle of Hope meetings” that week. In his case that seemed pretty realistic. But he had counted a birthday party, a personal conversation with someone with whom he was working out conflict and dinner with friends one night as “meetings” too, I think.
It can be pretty discouraging when your life turns into a series of meetings! When a toddler party turns into a church meeting and puts you over your meeting ration for the week, I think a new conception might be in order.
Perhaps we need a new psychological term for this syndrome (maybe there is one): meeting fatigue. The symptoms might be: 1) the inability to say no to a social event, 2) the inability to talk to your loved ones about why it is you are not going to attend the first-birthday party or the game night, 3) the inability to find your date book and strategize the use of one’s time. I think I know quite a few people with meeting fatigue among Circle of Hope. If it weren’t for being part of the church, they would not feel obligated to spend so much time in marginally useful or satisfying meetings. The basic meeting structure of our church is pretty simple: 1) connect and worship on Sunday, 2) be part of a more intimate cell. That’s it. The rest is purely voluntary. But once people get connected they can be included in many other social and missional enterprises. Incrementally, they can end up attending brunch every weekend, countless birthday parties, baby showers, weddings, move-ins, protests, team meetings, concerts who knows? One’s function in the body can seem like it is happening in an endless series of meetings.
Like many psychological issues, change can happen when one’s mind changes. I am not a picture of mental health, but I don’t feel obligated to attend my life as if it were a meeting. For instance, I am going to see the Phillies whup the Cardinals tonight with Jacob. It is not a meeting. I was actually at the public meeting in Camden last night, but I saw it more as an opportunity to connect and serve, not as a mere meeting I was obligated to attend, lest I get into trouble (I suppose there would have been some kind of trouble if I’d stayed home to watch my Netflix and didn’t offer the speech I’d prepared, but you get my meaning).
I often want to say to someone (and sometimes I do say to someone) who feels burned out on meetings, “Get over yourself. The world is not revolving around you. You are not being spread too thin or stretched in a million directions, like you are a finite piece of wonder everyone wants a piece of.” But that is kind of mean and I don’t always have the right to be so blunt. More often I say, “If you are that worn out, I give you personal permission to not come to any meeting I’ve organized. You’ll probably just be a drain on it anyway because you’ll feel rebellious about sharing our love the whole time we are giving it to you.” But that’s kind of angry sounding and I don’t always feel it will be heard in the right spirit. So I have most often said, “Let’s go over your schedule together and see what can be adjusted. It looks like you have too much to do.” That isn’t always so well-received, either, but it might be the most useful help I could offer. I think we rarely have a time issue as much as we have a strategy issue. We don’t know why we are doing what we are doing. And if we do know why, we have not had the courage to decide how we are going to organize ourselves and do what we’ve decided. It is a lot easier to be mad at someone else for making us do something we don’t feel good about than doing what we think we ought to do and letting the results be what they are. What toddler needs you at their party if you are contributing your “obligation” to them? Spare them.
When I am done being angry and reactive to people who are in meetings with me with their love hidden by resentment and their passion muted by rebellion, I can have more sympathy for the psychological state they are in. They need a new conception. If one sees their life as 50-60 hours of work with night classes tagged on, getting kids to school, being at their mother’s birthday party and “going to” church. It can begin to feel like an unmanageable mess, like meeting fatigue. When does one mow the lawn? Much more, when does one sit down to plan the schedule? My father used to call it a “rat race.”
I have one small suggestion for anyone with meeting fatigue. Forget all the other meetings until you get the most important one set. Have a daily meeting with God at the beginning of the day. Get up as early as it takes to do this, even you are tired for the rest of the day, until you get used to having this “meeting.” Learn how the Lord sees your day ahead. Take your planner with you and let Him start sorting it out with you. I think God can offer a conception for what is happening that will work for you. Plus, I think He’ll build up the strength you need to do what makes sense rather than being pushed around by nonsense. Most of all, I think he’ll deepen your love so, no matter what is going on, you’ll be bringing something from Him to it.