Written by Norm Henry
From his column A Sound Mind
With the pandemic continuing and tension in the world increasing, many are mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. The world desperately needs ministers living out the gospel of hope. God wants to use us to bring healing to the world. To do this, however, we have to be in shape mentally, physically, and spiritually. So, even with God’s care for us, self-care is important, allowing us to be resilient in times of great stress. How are you doing in taking care of yourself?
Spiritual (Soul) Care
We understand that spiritual (soul) care is most important! God wants to spend time with us so He can restore, renew, and refresh. We focused on soul-care last time. Since then, I have been thinking about the classical devotional literature, such as A Testament of Devotion, My Utmost for His Highest, and The Meaning of Prayer. God has repeatedly used these books to restore me as I have read and reread them. Pick one of your favorites.
As we mentioned last time, we need to pay attention to our physical fitness, so we need to be sure to engage in regular age-appropriate exercise. We will last longer, enjoy life more, and have more energy for ministry.
Caring for ourselves mentally is vital. We all talk to ourselves (sometimes even aloud 🙂). Each of us has healthy and unhealthy thought patterns. Difficult situations intrude into our thinking. With less mental energy, thinking can slide into thought patterns that generate unhealthy emotions—anxiety, fear, or hopelessness. When we recognize such thoughts, we should try to disrupt them by substituting healthy ones. In doing so, we conserve energy for continued health and ministry.
Healthy thought patterns tend to generate healthy emotions, like assurance. We see this when the Psalmist talks to himself to counter his own discouragement: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” David then challenges himself: “Put your hope in God,” and responds with healthy thoughts of praise: “For I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 42:5 - all scriptures NIV). We need to keep in mind, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble…think about such things” (Ph. 4:18) and turn draining thoughts into ones of reassurance.
Two common unhealthy thoughts are, “What if…” and “If only…” Asking “What if?” generates fear, anxiety, and dread. Be careful. Planning for the future is different from worrying about what will happen in the future. God’s grace is sufficient for today…and will still be when tomorrow is today. Live in the present remembering: “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad” today.
“If only” generates regret, resentment, and judgment. We cannot re-decide the past. We can learn from it, but not change it. When we dwell upon “If only,” we miss out on enjoying the present with God.
Ministry is sometimes an emotionally draining experience. However, not all activities we engage in when we are tired actually restore us. What restores you? Being anxious or angry takes energy we need. God’s encouragement to “not be anxious about anything” is good for us. And letting go of our anger is good for us. While fear can protect us from harm, and anger can motivate us to make needed change, anxiety and anger leave us tired and spent. They burn energy without accomplishing much. So how can we restore our emotional energy? There are many healthy ways to recharge—perhaps a prayer walk in the woods or some other activity devoted to focusing on God’s presence and care.
Another simple way to restore one’s self is to sing. I have mentioned this before, and I practice it regularly. Yesterday, we were able to worship together in our sanctuary for the first time in more than four months. With face masks on, we sang together. Singing songs of the faith was emotionally healing for me. I need to sing more often. You need to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Singing lifts our spirit and emotions. Oh yes, “and be thankful.” Gratitude is a healthy emotion that restores energy. Expressing gratitude makes us feel better. Being thankful helps us to see where God is working in our life.
Ministry is all about relationships, which take energy. Somehow, we need to spend time with persons who restore us and encourage us. Even in the midst of lock-downs and isolation, we need to spend time with spiritual friends. Zoom helps some, but we now know we can suffer from Zoom fatigue. So, maintain social distance and talk through face masks, but connect with those amazing people who encourage you. Call one of those friends when you finish reading this.
Please take care of yourself. God wants you to be available for ministry.
Dr. Norm Henry has served the Church of the Nazarene in numerous capacities as both psychologist and minister.