The title sounds quite new-age and non-Christian thinking, but in light of things I’ve been learning and thinking about lately, I think it’s appropriate.
Yesterday I started a health diary. I’ve been aware that I’ve been under quite a bit of stress, but there was no one big factor that I could say was the cause, only a whole bunch of contributors. It didn’t really come as a surprise. A lot of the things I’ve been feeling and wrestling with are the same things I was scared about in Nov and Dec when starting to get into the swing of preparing for MTS. Some of you may know that January was actually a really good month- I’d finished up with a few groups, I was house-sitting a house that felt like I was on holiday near a beach (even though it was only 2 streets away from my home), and I had a lot of free time to do things that I enjoyed. Thus, with that start, the first few weeks of MTS were relatively easy (though that could be that it was a nice slow start for me, not having to organise much and not having to really meet anyone new yet).
Slowly, though, as the change really started to make itself known, I became increasingly tired and overwhelmed. I put it down to meeting so many new people in quite a short space of time. Then I realised I haven’t had more than a whole day of rest since July last year. Almost every week for the past 5-6 weeks, I’ve had some really low points, becoming more frequent as time continues. Sunday night/Monday was a bad day. I’ll spare details, apart from I’m glad that people are so understanding and forgiving.
Yesterday at the staff meeting we did a “personality test” (with a disclaimer that while tools like these can be helpful, they also need to be taken with a grain of salt). While it was helpful in some ways (it had some helpful advice for moving past some particular weaknesses of the “personality types” that my results had ended up with), it also depressed me a little bit, because I was slightly jealous of some of the other personality types that came up with some of the other staff, and started to over-generalise some of the things mine said about me.
Today at Girls training (which is almost the same as our staff meeting, just without our token male staff worker) we looked at “stress and adrenalin”- how stress works and how our response to stressors can be managed by coping mechanisms so that the effect of stress can be reduced. It was a little bit of a science/psychology lesson.
We looked through what types of things are stressors; significant change (like changing jobs), not being able to fully come down from a high (e.g. leading training on Monday night and then jumping straight into work early the next morning),
And we looked at the indicators of being affected by stress- things like sleeplessness, forgetfulness, chronic pain, not being able to switch off, headaches, poor self esteem, overwhelmed, irritability, indecision, anger, tense muscles, etc, etc. It was a long list. And it was very, very familiar. It’s given me a bit of confirmation that I’m not coping that well, and comfort in knowing that there are good reasons for why I’m so tired and emotional.
One of the girls made a comment that a couple of those indicators made sense to her and seemed familiar. I’m thankful (though my emotions gave me little choice) that I piped up and said almost all of them were things I was experiencing at the moment. My trainer (perhaps in her preparation of the topic) had a knowing, sad smile on her face and asked that someone lead the group in prayer for me. I’m very thankful for the team that we have.
On top of all of that, and in light of it in some ways, I’ve been thinking about the nature of ministry and Ministry (capital M). I know that I am a child of God, and my identity should be in Christ and not the things I do (or fail at). I know that in giving up a few days of work to do more ministry I am just obeying a call to “live a life worthy of the calling you’ve received” (Eph 4:1) and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col 3:23-24). There’s nothing particularly special (that defines me apart from any other Christian) about doing it. I just have the opportunity to do what I’ve always wanted in ministry- to have more time (because there never seems to be enough time for all the ways we could be serving)- and there are people who are willing to donate their time and energy in prayer and money so that I have money to live whilst I’m not in the “work-force.”
So why is it that once we capitalise the ‘M’, the stress and the pressure increases so much more? Perhaps it gets easier after the new routine gets set up and the changes and new relationships aren’t so new (and thus exhausting) anymore. I hope so. The thought keeps crossing my mind that “maybe I’ve made a huge mistake” and I’m really not cut out for this.
In our thinking about stress, though, we looked at a lot of bible passages about God’s sovereignty, which are like sweet water to a very thirsty soul (not to say I haven’t been reading my bible, but it’s so good to do a systematic study of God).
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away…
I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so tat men will revere him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4, 6, 14).
“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in- behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…
If I say, “surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well…
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake, I am still with you…
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
(Psalm 139:1-6, 11-14, 17-18, 23-24).