By: Kae Tritle, RN Well-being Coordinator
It has been a long 18 months since the pandemic changed all of our lives. Now that life and society are beginning to recover, and we are still dealing with the consequences of those changes and the effects of the pandemic.
As our schools and churches come back together, we are excited to connect with each other and to be in each other’s presence. Part of our health-fullness is to be in relationship with each other and to interact with one another. We need the support, the comradery, the challenge, and the accountability of in-person encounters for our health and well-being.
But as Lee Schott writes in her recent Abiding in Exile
article; “It is all so exhausting”. And many of us are—exhausted by the continuing effort it is taking to re-engage after coping with so many changes. For many of us; the strain, anxiety, tension, and constant adaptation have taken their toll. It is hard to gather enough energy to re-engage, to re-start, or to try another new thing.
I am sensing a weariness of heart and soul within our congregational leadership, a sense of spiritual exhaustion. Our ministry personnel wants to re-start, involve people, and have our churches buzzing again with activities. They desire our congregations “To be Hope Made Real
” for our communities and church families. But this is taking much energy that some of our ministry professionals may not have. I have adapted some evaluative questions from Flora Slosson Wuellner’s book Feed My Shepherds
regarding spiritual exhaustion for persons in caregiving professions such as ministry, health care, or education.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matt 11:28-30 The Message)
- Are there unrealistic expectations either by the professional or for them? Are the words “ought” and “should” used in relationship to their tasks and responsibilities? Have expanded responsibilities and or expectations been thrust upon them without negotiation? Do they feel an increased pressure to complete more tasks with limited staff or time?
- Is it difficult for the professional to accept help from others? Many see themselves as being in charge and appearing inept if they delegate. They often feel that they are responsible for completing everything that needs to be done.
- Is the professional supported in having a work/life balance? Ministry and caregiving is a 24 hour/7 day a week profession. There are always people, decisions, tasks and needs to be cared for. The work of ministry never ends. Is the pastor or professional encouraged and allowed to take time for themselves and their family?
- Are our pastors and/or congregations experiencing an unrelieved, intense situation? Adapting to the pandemic and its effect on all of life has caused stress and angst among congregational leadership and membership. The pandemic has been particularly traumatic by its all-encompassing effect and the length of time it has gone on. It really seems like there is no relief from the intensity of this situation.
- Are our clergy and congregations in the midst of deep inner shifts and/or growth? The adaptations of the pandemic have taken immense energy and attention in all areas of our lives. The ambiguity of our denomination’s structure has weighed upon many clergy as they look towards the future. These shifts have disrupted both the clergy’s and church member’s perceptions and expressions of faith.
- Are we as faithful Christians, practicing regular Sabbaths? We need one hour per day as a time to just “be” and do something that is relaxing. One day per week is needed for relaxing, joyous, humanizing activities. This is time for play, personal interactions with family and/or friends, and a break from the daily demands of ministry and caregiving. Then one week per year is needed for renewal and refreshment to allow time for our spirits to re-connect with God’s purpose for us and to be revived for the work of ministry.
As we cope with spiritual exhaustion, we need to find ways to reconnect with God the Source of our Being, Jesus our Redeemer and Teacher, and the solace of the Holy Spirit, our Sustainer. Below are several strategies to consider.
From Flora S. Wuellner:
- Soaking Prayer: Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Become still and let God’s light and breath flow slowly and deeply into every part of your body, saturating you just as water saturates a sponge. Your whole self is washed in God’s presence. You may want to silently or audibly say: “The living love of Christ now fills me…calms me…heals me…renews me”. This prayer may last 15 minutes or an hour. Let it send you into sleep if you wish—a good bedtime ritual.
- Breathing Prayer: As you rest your body, think of your breath flowing in and flowing out. Let each gentle breath become for you God’s breath of life breathed into you. Let the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, flow into your body like the light as you breathe. Think of the rhythmic motion of ocean waves and the rhythm of your own gentle heartbeat as we breathe in and out.
- Breath Prayer: (Ron DelBene) Choose or let form within you, a word or a short prayer phrase that helps you focus on God’s presence or expresses your own deepest need or longing. If a single word, something like Peace, God, Jesus, Spirit, Love. If a phrase; Jesus fill me, God, be near or give me strength, (my favorite) Jesus loves me. Let this special word or phrase come to your mind and spirit during the day becoming for you a central pool of peace and strength for you. Eventually, as your needs change your breath prayer will change.
Being outside in nature, God’s first sanctuary is another strategy. Nature soothes us, resets our thinking, increases endorphins, and tames burnout. Our body and mind need to feel the sun’s warm embrace, smell the flowers or newly mown grass, watch the birds and other small animals frolic and see the wind in the trees and fields. Michael Easter in The Comfort Crisis
states that for optimal health-fullness we need the following:
- Three times a week for 20 minutes, a walk or time in a tranquil city park or another natural setting,
- Five hours per month in a semi-wild area like a county or state park,
- Three days per year in a wilderness area like a National Park.
- Think of these experiences as Sabbath time, meant to refresh and renew.
Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest
further explores the need and gift of Sabbath. Sabbath activity allows you time to slow down, gives you space from ‘busy activities’ and permission to connect with your inner self, significant people, and God. Think of Sabbath as “pampering your soul”
While many activities are quiet and meditative appealing to introverts; extroverts need the stimulation of people and events. So gather a few close friends for a relaxing time of conversation, music, or for an unhurried meal where preparation is shared. Be creative and intentional
Join me in encouraging those in the caring professions of ministry, teaching, and health care to care for themselves. It is essential for the well-being of their heart and soul as they pour themselves out for others. May our clergy, teachers, healthcare professionals, and other essential workers continue to bless us as they live out their calling.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do no not let them be afraid. (John 14: 27 NRSV)