Many times in ministry, or within our organizations, we find ourselves gifted with a sabbatical.
Stop “Just Pushing Through”: How to Know When You Need Support
“I will let people down if I break down; rest is for the weak; there won’t be ‘enough’ if I don’t keep producing; I will somehow lose my creativity or mom
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)
"But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me." 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NCV)
Full-time minister, parent, spouse, career-oriented leader, survivor- all of these labels and roles often come with narratives that tell us support is for those other guys and not us. These narratives vary and are often hiding beneath the surface of our awareness:
“I will let people down if I break down; rest is for the weak; there won’t be ‘enough’ if I don’t keep producing; I will somehow lose my creativity or momentum if I have an off day; I can focus on healing that wound or forgiving that person when I take a break this summer; I don’t have enough time!”
We fail to hear the narratives clearly; we avoid the silent spaces where our feelings scream, turning instead to our favorite numbing practices, and eventually we crash into our wall of disorienting pain, wondering how we got here. This was my story, and at this point in my journey I know I am not alone.
Work was busy, but I was sure the ease of things slowing down was just around the corner (it always is). More than ever I felt the need and opportunity to try and establish a little more security- “If I just finish this one project, all will be well. Make that pot of coffee once the kids are in bed and answer one more email; write one more sentence, sleep will come later.” But the security I was so desperately seeking never came. Instead came late night Google searches: How to stop crying, What can a Christian pastor do when she doesn’t seem to be able to function anymore. Eventually, I succumbed to the pain of practicing vulnerability with a few key people who helped me find and explore the supportive world of therapy and Soul Care. Finding one of Mindy’s online classes, committing myself to therapy and then spiritual direction, I began a slow journey of healing and learning what it truly was to follow the way of Jesus. I had discovered an invitation to a new path, a different way to live, that was somehow hidden from my sight for the 30 plus years I had been a Christian in the church.
The leader's four letter word: HELP
So how do we know when we need support? How much do we need? What does that look like in the midst of an already full life? While my story, along with many others, involved a more extreme “hard stop” where life was not really working any more, there were unmistakable warning signs along the way that I refused to notice. Some of you may be feeling the stirring that something inside is not quite right. Your prayer time seems a little off or has become robotic. There is no feeling of freedom when you arrive at your work or at your home. You just can’t seem to shake the still small voice of the Holy Spirit trying to get your attention.
Let’s take a closer look at those warning signs since they can also easily go unnoticed or overlooked. Here were some of mine; let’s see if you can relate:
Time spent in God’s creation did not stir me and felt like a waste of time. From a young age, sunsets and oceans were the background of some of my most intimate conversations with God. Suddenly they felt like a distraction from the work I had to accomplish.
Physical symptoms of muscle aches, migraines, and random rashes were treated with plenty of over-the-counter medicines in order to keep me going.
The accepted vices of caffeine and sugar were relied on heavily as if I was in college pulling an all-nighter over and over.
I found it harder to compassionately listen to people, including those I loved, without forming my own response, idea, or losing focus completely as I trailed off onto another task.
As my restlessness in silence increased, the Holy Spirit’s voice became quieter and quieter.
About this time, personality tests were making a big appearance in the church world. So many of them reflecting that I was driven, felt little, and was capable of leading large groups. Despite the pit in my stomach, these were not seen as warning signs, some of these traits brought reward, I could hang with the big guys, I could do hard things, I could commit with extreme loyalty... and I could and would crash.
We were not created to do life in isolation, we were created for community, and it is pivotal to our emotional, spiritual, and physical well being that we allow support in our lives no matter our position or role. That can happen in varying ways and levels: trusted friend circles, family, church community are all great avenues of support. In addition to those there are times where creating the space for professional support through a spiritual director, life coach or therapist can be what we need most to care for our soul. You see, it can be difficult for us to spot soul neglect and unhealth in those we work with or serve when we ourselves have not ventured into the world of tending to the care of our souls. Getting support helps us to become aware of what is happening in us and what is happening in our world.
I once dreamed of creating an organization that would provide a break for pastors and leaders. Someone could step in and take over your tasks so that you could get away, you could learn new rhythms, and begin to heal or care for your soul. My dream has shifted into a prayer, and that prayer is that we would eliminate the need for crash recovery; that we would all learn to spot the signs of soul neglect or unhealth; and that we would add support in our job descriptions to strengthen our connection to God and reality, so that in our weakness we find His strength guiding us to new life, resurrection life, full of joy and peace.
How is the condition of your soul? Are you tired? Worn out? Missing peace? Restless? Thirsty?
What can you do to strengthen support in your life?
God, we come to you with an honest reflection of our soul. Help us to know what would strengthen our connection to you. Help us to see your invitation and to say yes to the one thing you want us to do next. We love you, we want you to lead and guide us in all areas, we surrender our lives and humbly seek your face. Be our light! Amen.
*Be on the lookout for future Soul Care writings around the topic of support. There are many reasons we find ourselves looking for support and our goal is to normalize that need throughout many of life’s challenges and stages.