Updated: Jun 11, 2020
About 20 years ago, I didn’t see it coming. Things were relatively normal when I reached a breaking point in my life. I had not set good boundaries. I worked 12-16 hours a day and was on-call 24/7. Such can be the life of a pastor. With 15 years of ministry on this track, I crashed and burned! Stress overload the doctor diagnosed. "You need to take a month off right now," he ordered. He gave me some anti-depressive medication and told me to make an appointment with a therapist.
Stress can be debilitating. Since then, I have had another 20 years of healthy ministry and life experience. By the grace of God, and an improved prayer life, I got to the other side.
Today, I’m encountering some familiar feelings. I feel them in my body and hear them from my colleagues and friends. I bet some of you are feeling this stress too. The adaptations we have had to make, expectations that go unfulfilled, fear for our personal safety, alarm at social breakdown in our society, cause more stress than we can bear at one time.
None of us saw anything like this coming. Like a perfect storm social unrest meets pandemic and the institutions we depend on, including the church, have been turned upside down.
I learned a few things from my previous encounter with accumulated stress and I find myself rehearsing them in dealing with this moment in our shared history.
1. Stay in Touch with Yourself:
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Ps. 34:18
Stay in touch with what is happening inside you. When habits are disrupted and you are forced to adapt, one thing that gets little attention, while running on adrenaline, is how you are feeling. Like a long-distance drive, if you don’t pay attention to the gas gauge, you will run out of gas. Have you lost your passion? Do the little things make you emotional? Do you find yourself saying, “I’m exhausted,” every day no matter how much you had to do? Are you losing your sense of satisfaction? Do you find it hard to laugh? Are you having a hard time sleeping? Does time-off no longer bring you rest? These are all signs of a crushed spirit and they should be an alarm for action.
2. Tell Someone How You Are Feeling:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
We were created to be social beings. Bearing one another’s burdens and sharing one another’s joys is the way we were created and brings strength in times of weakness. Tell someone you trust how you are feeling. Saying it is the first step to letting go of it. It is amazing how much strength we find in another. We may all be traveling the same difficult road but, when you share it with someone, it is half the weight.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Prayer is more than mouthing words. We need to lean into God’s understanding. In times of stress and anxiety we need to remember that God is the author of life and not death. This truth stimulates me to look for the places that God is birthing hope amid the feelings of despair. This helps us to refocus attention away from our pain and can bring courage and energy to the life that is in front of you.
4. Grieve what is Lost:
Consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
We cannot move forward until we have let go of the past. In a time of great change we need to grieve what we have lost whether it is the norms of “in-person” church ministry, or the comfort of a stable economy, or the patterns of lifestyle with which we have become accustomed, letting go is the only way to receive gifts of new life. When we are tethered to the past we cannot move to the future.
5. Live Fully in Each Day:
Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek First the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Matt. 6:31-34
I am convinced that tomorrow will take care of itself because tomorrow belongs to God! If we worry about tomorrow our anxiety will only increase. Live in this day. Celebrate it! Find the hope, love, joy, faith that is present in the moment. You may be contributing to a brighter tomorrow today, but if you don’t experience it as today’s gift, how can it be life-giving tomorrow?
A daily habit of sabbath rest can help. Plan for 30 minutes each day to read a passage of scripture and let it lead you in prayer. You will find that when you set your mind on things above, things of this world have a way of cooperating with God's divine will. If you get a pie in the face, lick your lips.