“When there’s too much holy work to do.” Those are the words of Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell and Jason Byassee, in their book Faithful and Fractured. Their book addresses the clergy health crisis that has only grown since the pandemic.
And I would dare say that it is not just the clergy, but laity, volunteers and church staff that are struggling with emotional, physical, and spiritual health in the life of the church.
There is so much to do and fewer people and diminishing resources to get it all accomplished. Where do you find the Sunday School teachers needed, the greeters at the door, enough people to give up part of a Saturday for a workday at the church, or funds for the new roof or heater that everyone prays will last one more year?
How does one balance making that visit to the hospital or nursing home, addressing concerns at a Trustees meeting, creating a meaningful worship experience, or writing and delivering an out-of-the-park sermon? And oh yes–trying to navigate Arena church reports right now? (Is that too soon? Sorry!)
I wish there was an easy answer to the dilemma of having too much holy work to do. Yet, there will always be “too much,” or more than one person’s stress level can endure week after week. As Rae Jean Proeschold shared at our regional clergy retreat in September, it is important for us all to practice daily ways to lower our stress and let Christ breathe life into our soul.
So, below are some suggestions that may help us begin to lower our anxiety and become a bit healthier:
– Before you look at that long to-do list, sit still and breathe deep in through your nose and out through your mouth for five minutes. It allows the nervous system to relax, blood pressure to drop, and you become focused on what truly needs attention. Simply turn your eyes upon Jesus.
– Journal it! Take time at the end of your day to write down just a few bullet points of where you saw God’s presence today. It is helpful to be reminded that throughout the day, be it in the beauty of nature or picking up kids from practice, we can experience God right there with us. It’s a key reminder that we are not doing any of this day-to-day life in isolation. The Psalms are a great reflection of this for us to see and mediate where God is each day.
– Set realistic Boundaries and Expectations. There are reasons why we drive between the lines on the road: move out of the boundaries and we get into trouble fast. Ministry does call for all of us to be flexible and to deal with the unexpected. However, it is important to turn the phone off and eat with family, to block out a fun night, to work on a hobby, or to realize what is a reasonable expectation and when you are becoming a “people pleaser.” Even Jesus modeled time alone with God.
– Finally, what do you have control over? As leaders, people depend on us to lead the way, take control over situations and produce results. However, we cannot control what others do, what some politician will say on the news, or how to fix many of the ills that are laid at our desk. What we do have control over is our attitude. As Paul shared with the Philippians, let “your attitude be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Getting our mindset in the right place reduces the overwhelming feelings that we are not doing enough or we are failing at this work.
Too much holy work! Yes, there is. But that was true for Moses, Daniel, Mary, Dorcas and so many others whose stories we read in scripture. “Come to me and I will shoulder it with you” says Jesus. The holy work is not going away. But we can do something about the stress and at the end of the day be healthier in mind, body and soul.
So how about starting right now, by tending to your soul?
*The Rev. Glenn J. Conaway is GNJ’s Delaware Bay District Superintendent and Coastal Plains Regional Team Leader. This article is republished from the Coastal Plains Regional Newsletter, October 2013.