Sometimes all it takes is to watch Dr. Phil to realize that whatever you're going through someone else has it worse. However, perspective doesn't erase the hurt and trauma you experience when going through a difficult time in your life.
Over the years in ministry, my husband and I have faced our share of difficult times. The first time was something we'll not likely ever forget - an angry person in our congregation. They were new folk who had joined and took offence at being politely called on their attitude toward Natives in the province. They seemed to think putting them all on a train and blowing it up was acceptable and even more so to tell your pastors what you thought was just fine. When we met with them in a public place - McDonalds - they told us we were terrible people, bad parents and threw their offering envelope in our faces. I remember calling our supervisor at the head office and debriefing about the whole thing. We felt supported and cared for and the encouragement kept us going.
For the most part ministry has been fulfilling even while painful. It's that eternal paradox - no pain, no gain. It's like getting a massage from a Registered Massage Therapist and them finding all the pain points and kneading them deeply to release the tightness. Not only painful during, but even after when you ache and pain and need a couple of Tylenols to make it through the day and night. Only a few treatments later, when the pain is over do you feel better. Sometimes, ministry is like that.
Part of the problem for people in ministry is that ministry is becoming ever more complex as our society becomes more secular and governments enact laws that affect how we run our organizations. My organization runs faith based ministry centres that help people and they are becoming more complicated to run all the time. Employment laws and Human Rights issues have brought about many fear based policies and hiring practices. No one wants to be sued for denying employment to someone based on their religious beliefs. However, how can you ensure that the spiritual mission of the organization is upheld and supported by the employees and managers? What does that look like? It's complicated - and a ministry leader is vulnerable and faces great challenges.
So how can a ministry leader make it through perilous times?
By focusing on what is important. That's what I've been doing lately.
- I Remember God loves me and no matter what anyone says about me, I know He loves me and He is the only one I need to please. That includes fulfilling my ministry obligations, but also ensuring that I remain true to my calling and covenant.
- I pray. Even if it's just "God, hold on to me!" I say the words, repeat them. I pray the Psalms - they're all about crying out to God in frustration, anger and despair. I particularly like Psalm 13, it's a good one to read when I feel like rubbish. I also ask others to pray, a select group that I know I can trust.
- I breathe deep often. When the anxiety mounts from the extra cortisol stress brings, breathing deep helps.
- I go for long and vigorous walks - exercise also burns cortisol.
- I talk to a trusted friend or pastoral care counsellor and make sure that I say the truth about the deepest thoughts I have. Saying them out loud steals the power from my fears.
In the end, puppy kisses heal the heart. So, that's what I make sure I get a healthy dose of every day from Talulah, our Labradoodle puppy. She's so sweet and obliges me every time I ask for a kiss.
If you're going through a tough time, in ministry or some other type of work, I hope this helps and lets you know you're not alone, you're not the only one who feels lonely, betrayed, confused or anxious. Comment below, and I'll make sure I pray for you.