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Caution Fatigued, Yet?

My latest essay for

There are lots of reasons people take risks.

There are those who take risks heroically—with pure motives, for ultimate good. David comes to mind. He faced Goliath for the glory of God and to deliver his people from the threat of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17).

Risk might be taken pridefully. Drawing upon another biblical example, I think of Samson. He risked the lives of his wife and father-in-law when he pridefully assaulted the Philistines and even marked himself as their enemy (Judges 15:10).

There are other examples in the Bible of people throwing caution to the wind—foolishly or even apathetically.

But others who did so honorably—in obedience to God. Peter acted from both sides of the coin. He took a risk impetuously when he pulled his sword upon the arrest of Jesus. Then he admirably stood up to the authorities when proclaiming the gospel.

When it comes to weighing risk, we should think through both method and motive.

Another cause for risk is what Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, has labeled “caution fatigue.” She has observed that being under this long-term level of chronic stress, because of the pandemic, has not only worn us out: it can also cloud our judgment.

In the face of a real threat to our well-being, causing great anxiety and discouragement, we have been practicing highly stressful behaviors (such as isolation, distancing, and masking) for a prolonged period. And we have become weary of doing so. To quote Gollan, “Initially you may have been energized and positively focused on following pandemic-safety behavior. But, as the virus has continued on, you may start to focus on the negative and feel physically or mentally depleted.”

As the spread continues, and the number of new cases continues to rise, many people even in pandemic hotspots have lost the motivation to observe these safe practices.

Lost motivation results in compromise. And compromise leads to risk.

On July 23, Fox News reported that the unimaginable number of corona virus cases in America had topped 4 million. The more frightening data was that it went from 3 million to 4 million cases in just 16 days!

Might some of that be attributed to caution fatigue? Are people taking more risks because they weary of being cautious for an extended period of time? With no let-up in sight?

Quite simply, we’re tired of it. And reasonably so.

However, in our tiring of the battle, we are prone to taking greater risks. As resolve fades, and conviction wanes, cases surge.

What will help refuel us for the fight? Because the battle is still very much raging—and we mustn’t give up.

We must keep the goal in mind. But what should that goal be?

As always, there is no better place to turn for wisdom than the Bible. And I believe the instruction of Paul to the Galatians can be our inspiration and measure. He said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Being others-minded for the common good should frame the goals we set.

Being aware of this common fatigue goes a long way in helping us to think more clearly. It is important to remember the threat of the virus when making decisions which could affect other people. Perhaps we can honestly ask ourselves, “Is it either rash or reckless? Am I being careful or careless?”

“Be very careful, then, how you live—

not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15)

Another consideration is Paul’s exhortations to the Romans: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:10-12).

Prayer fuels hope. Hope fuels zeal, devotion, joy, and patience. It all works together—that we may serve the Lord and honor others.

As negative events in this raging world take away from us, we must deliberately add back positives—such as rest, self-care, engaging relationally, and keeping a healthy balance of media input. Combine these with biblical practices which remind us of God’s ever-present grace. God’s grace will certainly supply renewal as we battle on regarding things that are physical in nature.

But what of those things spiritual in nature? Can’t the danger of caution fatigue wreak havoc with our discipleship?

Are you finding yourself tiring in the trenches?

How do you “never tire of doing what is good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) under ongoing stressful circumstances? I believe the book of Hebrews gives us some great advice.

The writer of Hebrews first tells us to “fix our eyes upon Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). Ask yourself: “Where is your focus?” Then change the direction of your gaze—and lock-in. Embody the resolve Jesus had as He resolutely faced His greatest challenge—the Cross.

Then he tells us to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3).

Consider Him. Intently and intentionally think on Jesus.

Though our Lord became physically weary (John 4:6), His zeal for His Father’s work never wavered. And because of the Lord’s unwavering work, He blazed a way for us to be fueled by the tireless Spirit.

The demands of discipling people can be taxing in the best of times. But now that we are burdened with several opposing stressors and denied a lot of face-to-face interaction, we might feel too weary to disciple others.

Discipleship calls for diligence. Especially when we’re confronted with those things that threaten our faithfulness or our witness. But the Holy Spirit within us rises to meet the call–and refreshes the disciple to carry on.


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