Tag Archives: meeting fatigue

The A is for Available in F-A-T

A couple of my friends talk about their “bandwidth” whenever the screen of our relationship tells me it is “loading” rather than playing. That means I thought we were going to connect, but my friend was not available.

I haven’t really explored this, but I think people with a “bandwidth” metaphor might think they work like a TV: the stream coming in is only so much and the draws on the stream are many. So they run out; they dry up. There is a reason to pay attention to that reality, of course — we could thoughtlessly “burn out!” On the other hand Jesus followers know that the strength to love is pretty much unlimited; it is not really time or media-player bound. So we should not monitor or excuse our choices as a matter of limited natural resources.

That’s not to say that anyone who wants to love big better consider what’s coming in and what’s going out. God may not have limitations, but we humans do. We need to know what we are given to give, not just imagine fulfilling every need we hear about. I actually have to tell people: “No one told you you needed to come to every meeting!”

I think, over time with Jesus, our spiritual, intellectual and emotional “bandwidth” actually increases, so the amount of faithfulness, attention and teaching that can flow through us in a given amount of time increases too. It is like plumbing, the greater the diameter of the intake pipe to your house, the more water pressure can get to the shower, washing machine and lawn sprinkler, all running at the same time.

We use the old idea that leaders, especially, need to be FAT: faithful, available and teachable. One of the big problems these days is finding someone to lead who is “available.” That is, they have, or will free up, enough “bandwidth” to be available. The problem with being available has two main parts I want to point out: one part is feeling busy, the other part is being inattentive.

Feeling busy

The Economist  notes that busyness is less about how much time one has than how you perceive the time you have. Ever since a clock was first used to synchronize labor in the 1700s, time has been understood in relation to money. Once hours were financially quantified, people worried more about wasting time, saving time or using “their” time profitably.

Individualistic societies, which emphasize achievement over affiliation (like the U.S.), help cultivate this time-is-money mindset. We constantly hear an urgent demand to make every moment count. When people see their time in terms of money (counting or getting), they often grow stingy with time to maximize profit. Workers who are paid by the hour volunteer less of their time and tend to feel more antsy when they are not working. When people are paid more to work, they tend to work longer hours, because working becomes a more profitable use of time.

The rising value of work time puts pressure on all time. Leisure time starts to seem more stressful, as people feel compelled to use it wisely or not at all. Big increases in productivity on the job compel people to maximize the utility of their leisure time. The most direct way to do this is to consume more goods within a given unit of time. The explosion of available goods has only made time feel more crunched, as the struggle to choose what to buy or watch or eat or do raises the “opportunity cost” of leisure (i.e., choosing one thing comes at the expense of choosing another) and contributes to feeling stressed or “burned out.”

The endless opportunities made possible by a simple internet connection boggle the mind. When there are so many ways to fill one’s time, it is only natural to crave more of it. Since the pleasures are all delivered to us in restricted measures, we need to come back for more.  The ability to satisfy desires instantly but fleetingly breeds impatience, fueled by a nagging sense that one could be doing so much more. For instance, people visit websites less often if they are more than 250 milliseconds slower than a close competitor, according to research from Google.

Being inattentive

Mentioning Google brings me to the second problem with being available. People are unavailable because they are inattentive. In The Guardian, last month, an article noted that ” technology is contributing toward so-called ‘continuous partial attention,’ severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off.  ‘Everyone is distracted,’ Rosenstein (inventor of the “like” button) says. ‘All of the time.'”

It is revealing that many younger technologists are weaning themselves off their own products, sending their children to elite Silicon Valley schools where iPhones, iPads and even laptops are banned. They appear to be abiding by a Biggie Smalls lyric from their own youth about the perils of dealing crack cocaine: “never get high on your own supply.” The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions. It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later. None of this is an accident. It is all just as their designers intended. We are not available because we are already occupied, the thing is vibrating in our pockets, calling us to attend to it, and we do.

So is anyone available?

People who lead the church, then, or who just want to follow Jesus, have a somewhat daunting assignment. The church seems to expect an inordinate amount of time and a lot of attention, and we don’t feel like we have a lot of either. We feel pressed when we “must attend meetings” since they cost time. Somehow we miss that we are meeting with people we love or who need to be loved. We can’t attend to God because we take our phones to the prayer room and they lead us astray. Our bandwidth for time and attention is sucked dry by the demands of the endless outlets that wring whatever profit they can derive from us along our brief journey through life.

Is there any hope? Of course there is. I am going to offer just one of many solutions for each of the problems that steal our availability to do something transformative with Jesus.

Decide for yourself what your time is for and how it will be used. Take all the waking hours you expect to have in a week and allot them for the vision you are given, the needs you have, and the goals you want to meet. This will probably take a chart (I recommend one on paper, not on a screen). Use the chart to pray, not just plot. Let God lead you through time. Ask, “Who am I in Jesus and how do I make my time available to be my true self?”

Put limits on the technology, like the techies are doing for their children. Start with tracking how much screen time (with screens of every size) you are spending in a day. Decide how much you should spend and limit the time to that. If your job is in front of a computer, get up every half hour and walk away (pray as you are walking). Don’t put your phone by your bed (even for an alarm) or read a screen in bed. Don’t delude yourself into thinking watching TV together is the best way to relate. Get your cell (group, not phone) to talk about these things.

If we don’t do things that hold back the flood of attention-grabbing by the technologies of late capitalism we will never be available to God, to one another or to the mission of Jesus. Jesus will actually end up vying for our attention!  The people we love will need  to wait until our screens load and are finished with us. The mission might become too costly because there is just not enough time. We will not be FAT enough to do it.

For myself, when I run up against a loved one or leader with little bandwidth, I get discouraged. It is tempting to give up and join the stampede toward our individual tents where we fruitlessly try to commune with the ever-available internet, pretend face-time is a face, “likes” are love, and addiction is not what is happening. I need to turn back to hope and meditate on the quality of aliveness, right under my nose. Jesus changes wrongs into rights.

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Meeting Fatigue: Change your mind and change your schedule

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. I thought his decision seemed pretty realistic. But it was also true that he had also counted a birthday party, a personal conversation with someone with whom he was working out conflict and dinner with friends one night as “meetings,” as well.

It can be pretty discouraging when your life turns into a series of meetings! When a toddler’s birthday 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.

The syndrome called “meeting fatigue”

Perhaps we need a new psychological term for this syndrome (maybe there is one — yep, found a lot a few years later): 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 one’s 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,  and who knows what else? One’s function in the body can seem like it is happening in an endless series of meetings.

There is a way out: change your mind

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 sounds kind of mean, doesn’t it? 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 can 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, our issue might be a lack of courage 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. It is worth considering: What toddler needs you at their party if you are contributing your “obligation” to them? Spare them.

Suggestions for what to do about your apparent  fatigue

When I am done being angry and reactive to people who are in meetings with me with their love hidden under their resentment and their passion muted by their 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 then “going to” church, it can begin to feel like an unmanageable mess, like I must have “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.