While being in ministry can be wonderfully rewarding, it also poses challenges, too. When it's your life calling, passion, and (not to mention) your JOB to consistently pour into other people and enter their brokenness, it can become extremely easy to forget to take care of your own soul in the meantime.
I just returned home from a week of RUF staff training in Atlanta with Marc. I cannot be any more grateful that my husband works for a ministry like RUF!! What other job out there provides 2 WEEKS a year of pastoral training, accountability/prayer groups, seminars on all topics surrounding their ministry, etc.!? These guys (all the RUF campus ministers nationwide) are an amazing bunch of like-minded guys who do a great job of challenging and encouraging one other and they are continually learning. Sure it's not easy to give up my husband for a week, (because I usually don't go along with him like I did this time...) but I can safely say that when he returns, he's going to be an even better husband, a better father, & a better campus minister than he was before. What other job is there where a husband has friends & peers who are looking out for ME! and the emotional health/stability of my little family?? I am so grateful.
So it's been years since I've tagged along with Marc to training. And I'm so glad I did. There was one training session in particular that stood out to me entitled "Soul Care for the Campus Minister." While I won't go into the details, can I just say it was SO incredible and helpful!? It hinted upon things like:
-the need for rest & recreation
-temptations within ministry (temptation to be a messiah, to think you can "fix" everyone, caring far too much about what people think of you, etc.)
-how those temptations start small and where they can lead us
-the need to take all aspects of our well-being and care for them
Here's what I mean by that last one. I think Christians fall into the mistake of over-emphasizing the fact that we are spiritual beings. Certainly we are. No doubt. And we need pastors and Christian community and prayer and time in God's word to nurture our spiritual nature.
But people in ministry (for whatever reason) tend to de-value the fact that we're also physical beings. We're not only broken spiritually, but guess what? We're broken physically and mentally, too. Most Christians don't have any problem seeing how messed up we are spiritually and continually in need of a Savior, but these same Christians forget to apply their theology to their own bodies and minds as well. We KNOW we need to run for help on spiritual matters, but we shy away from getting help with our emotional/mental/physical problems, many times because "it's-not-that-big-of-a-deal" or we think we can handle it on our own.
One of the things I liked in this seminar was an exhortation for every minister to have EACH of the following:
1. a friend
2. a mentor
3. a pastor
4. a counselor
5. a physician
We don't simply need just a pastor or just a mentor-- we need a TEAM of folks who surround us and serve as helpful resources in our lives. I know I've mentioned this idea of reaching out for all types of help before in earlier posts, but as a pastor's wife, it seems to be a consistent theme I hear as I listen to folks who are under pretty heavy amounts of stress or they're just stuffing their pain deep down and don't know what to do with it. (so it usually leads to outbursts of anger or addictive behavior or a quiet passive aggressive seething...) People just aren't getting HELP! They're fearful. They're not motivated to do anything about their problems. They're believing a lie that life has to continue this way. We just aren't meant to go at life alone. As independent as we'd like to think we all are, it just ain't so.
We need help. And lots of it.
-I need a friend. A peer. Someone who REALLY knows me and can speak into MY life. (because when you're in ministry, it's most often the other way around) This takes time, but I'm thankful God has been gracious to give me a few friends here in Lynchburg.
-I need a mentor. An older woman who has experienced life and has gone ahead of me, and is there to provide me with insight and wisdom from the other side. (in ministry you are the mentor to so many, but who pours into you?) My mentor is my dear "living room friend" as I call her. I've told you about her in previous posts as she walked with me through the darkest hours of Caroline's health saga.
-I need a pastor. Like everyone, my heart grows cold to the Gospel. Doubts and fears creep in and want to take residence there. I need a pastor to remind me of the truth of God's Word and the bigger picture in my suffering. I'd say I'm rather fortunate in this area, since I get to sleep every night with a pastor! :) But I'm also grateful for the pastor of our church, too. He's a pastor in the truest sense of the word because I feel like I could tell him anything and it wouldn't shock him. And then I have confidence he will gently bring me back to see the beauty of Christ.
-I need a counselor. A professional one. Pastors have some training in counseling, but as a pastor's wife myself, I know they don't have enough. A good professional counselor needs to be in everyone's arsenal for those inevitable times in life when we can't begin to know what to do about something, or just need help picking up the pieces & processing through the pain or stress or whatever it is that we're facing. And yep, I've got one of these too.
-I need a physician. As I've shared before, in recent months & years I've struggled with various ailments. Particularly dizziness and headaches. But I've also experienced a much higher amount of depression and irritability lately, too. Here's where having a TEAM is helpful. If I only went to a pastor for my depression, he may help me up to a certain point. But guess what side effects you get when your iron levels are low?? Depression and irritability. (among others, of course) You see, if I didn't have a doctor on my team to check out the physical possibilities for my mood, things would most likely have continued to worsen, and no amount of counseling or Bible study would be able to solve that problem! We are physical creatures who need particular things in our bodies to function. As Christians, I think we need to remember to check out & address our physical brokenness as much as our spiritual. I am so thankful for my doctor discovering my severe anemia last week and I'm hopeful that I will begin to feel better all the way around soon!
God gives us all kinds of people as resources. He uses things like His Word, our friends, professional counselors, and even medication to help us be WHOLE people. It's probably safe to say most of us don't have ALL of those team members in place right now. (And thankfully God sustains us and is with us all the way regardless of how much help we are seeking out or not!) But my hope is that this post might be a helpful starting point to get us thinking about what it looks like to care for our souls and for those in our families.