I started reading this after Bon took us through thinking about “stress and adrenalin” in semester 1, and I realised that I fit a lot of the signs of too much stress. This is the kind of book I wish more people knew about, earlier; it’s specifically written for Christian gospel workers, but has helpful information for any Christian involved in ministry.
Brain is an Anglican minister who shares what he’s learnt over the years. He talks about the unique stresses that ministers face, explains the mechanisms behind stress and the body’s response to it, shares a lot of really practical reflections and tips on “self-care”, with the purpose of keeping yourself healthy so you can continue to serve, and finishes up with some really key biblical truths that help keep the way we serve in perspective.
I found the first few and last chapters the most helpful; even though the middle chapters were very practical, I felt like he said a lot of the same things over again and may even have had a bit of a bee in his bonnet about some things. It would have been nice to see more biblical backing for the things that he said, though I suppose the bible doesn’t have that much information on how to respond to stress. Most of the things he spoke about in terms of self-care involved readjusting expectations, working with the congregation (if you’re a pastor) about your role and making sure they understand that time off and prep are just as important as face to face ministries, planning rest times and sticking to them, as well as having a whole day off, and spending time in personal bible reading and prayer and learning. He emphasised the importance of investing in relationships; if married, your spouse should be your greatest support and ally, quality and quantity time is needed to maintain a healthy relationship, and making sure you have a couple of good friends who will keep you accountable, can be a sounding board or venting partner, be someone who you can spend time mutually encouraging each other apart from work, are very important.
I wish I had known a lot of this earlier, rather than halfway through a difficult year. That said, it reinforced some of the things that other Christians encouraged before I started MTS, so that I could see just why these things were so essential. For me, it was helpful to know that the things I was struggling with were not unusual and part of the way I was dealing with it was my body responding in the way that God designed it. It also helped to deal with the things I was struggling with, like readjusting my expectations for how I was spending my time and what and how much I should be doing (because often the expectations we think people have of us are unrealistic). I have been learning about what things are really restful for me (so I usually avoid my computer on my day off, because even internet surfing is not helpful), and will continue to work out how to have a proper holiday (I can do a Sabbath, but don’t know how to rest for more than 3 days).
One last thing – it’s easy to feel guilty for taking time for yourself; faithful Christians will feel like there is always more to do, people to serve, and feel like they’re being selfish or lazy in taking a day/evening off to do things for themselves (which is why i’ts important to work out what is actually restful/refreshing and what is wasting time). There is a difference between rest and laziness, and one of the most helpful and gently rebuking things that I learnt (from this book, and also from our minister at church) is that God commands us to take a rest day (and Sunday does not count). When we step back from things regularly, it is showing our obedience and trust in God – it’s showing that we need to rely on him for our sustenance (and he put that in place for us in the command to rest) and that we trust him to look after his kingdom without us. My minister worded it something like this, “hand over the kingdom to God for a day.” It’s humbling and comforting to know that he doesn’t need us and rebuking when we admit that people and ministries will not fall apart when we’re not available and it’s not a failure when we take time out (when we’ve set aside the time or when we just need it due to overload).