By Bishop Michael Rinehart
It may not seem like rocket science at first, but most of us don’t recognize right away when we need a break. We just think a problem is impossible. A person is unreasonable. We find ourselves frustrated and angry. It doesn’t occur to us right away that the problems aren’t any worse, nor are the people any more unreasonable than usual. It’s just that our capacity to engage them creatively has been depleted. We desperately need sabbath.
Church staff often sprint from Christmas to Easter. There is a lot going on. Much of it is joyful, life-giving, and fun. Even the good stuff is exhausting though. We pour ourselves out. Then one day we realize we are out of steam. There is a deficit in our emotional bank account. If we don’t get rest, we might overheat the engine and ruin things. Choose an analogy. Pick a symptom: You snap at a colleague. Take things too personally. Approach burn out. Eat too much. Drink too much. Maybe become in danger of a boundary violation of some sort. Your health is at risk.
By the time you realize you’re crispy, it might be too late. The damage is done. You can’t catch your breath. Like dehydration or heat stroke, by the time you realize you’re shaky and chilled, you could be in trouble.
So, look for the signs in advance. When the sky and sea change, be aware a storm could be brewing. If you’re experiencing one of the signs below, it’s probably no big deal. If you’re experiencing several, it’s probably time to get outta Dodge. If you’re experiencing all of them, take some time off immediately.
Time off may look like vacation. It may look like some fun, engaging continuing education. It might be a sabbatical, which takes some planning. The best thing is often a combination of vacation and continuing education, for a couple of weeks. One week won’t do it.
So go. Read. Play. Sing. Walk. Swim. Wander. Waste time. Find yourself. Restore your soul.
You’re irritable or vulnerable. Even the slightest comment irritates you or hurts your feelings. Stuff that doesn’t usually bother you does. You’ve snapped at a staff member, spouse or friend.
You feel overwhelmed. Ministry is hard. We deal with birth and death, marriage and divorce. These are challenging times for churches. It’s not easy. Most of the time you’re energized by the challenge. The last few weeks you’ve felt like giving up. It may or may not be time for a new call, but one thing’s for sure: You won’t know for sure without some liminal space to gain a fresh perspective. After some time away, most likely you will be energized for a new season of ministry. If not, you can make big decisions from a healthier place.
You’re eating of drinking too much. Maybe you’ve gained weight. Are you burning the candle at both ends? Perhaps you’re responding to the emotional toll by eating. Do you need a few days in Florida to take your mind off things? Are you working too hard to make time for exercise? Time to re-calibrate your life. Make space in your life to reconnect with healthy, life-giving practices of prayer, walking, family, friends and mindful eating.
Mistakes feel catastrophic. We all make mistakes. Most often we apologize and move on. Other times we feel the slightest mistake is a disaster. Our careers and futures seem in utter jeopardy. Most mistakes are salvageable. When a reversible, forgivable mistake feels irreversible, it’s often our perspective that needs work. Your over-extension may have even led to the gaffe in the first place. Now it makes you feel hopeless. Time to get away.
People tell you to take a vacation. This should be the obvious hint, but sometimes we ignore it. When people start asking you when you’re going to take time off, they’re sending you a meta-message: Go away and recharge. It might be subtle: “So, taking any vacation this summer?” It may be more blunt: “You really should take some time off.” It might be coming from a church member or a family member. In any case, when you hear this, receive it as grace, not judgment.
Things feel hopeless. You can’t see a way forward. The future looks bleak. Fair enough. It’s possible you’re at that juncture, but you’re not in a place to decide right now. Things seem impossible when we are exhausted. Have you ever gotten up in the morning and suddenly seen a solution to a problem that had you stuck the night before? Certainly, sometimes we need more than a good night’s sleep. Sometimes we need a fortnight. Make space to disconnect for a much longer time.
You’re exhausted. You wake up tired. Thinking of work makes you depressed. You dread going into the office. Look, if you’re having these feelings, you must take some time away. You’re going to hurt someone. Ministry is hard, but it isn’t a drudgery. Go someplace where you can rediscover the joy that led you into ministry. Pray. Listen. Go for a walk in the woods. Stand on the beach and feel the wind of the Spirit. Where is it blowing in your life?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.