Tag Archives: self-care

Despair, thankfulness, and paradigm shift

Robinson Crusoe has been on the island for some time. He, clearly, has been able to meet his “hierarchy of needs” – air, water, food shelter. At least enough so that by chapter 5, he is able to start thing theologically about the mess he’s in.

As I sat here some such thoughts as these occurred to me: What is this earth and sea, of which I have seen so much? Whence is it produced? And what am I, and all the other creatures wild and tame, human and brutal? Whence are we? Sure we are all made by some secret Power, who formed the earth and sea, the air and sky. And who is that? Then it followed most naturally, it is God that has made all. Well, but then it came on strangely, if God has made all these things, He guides and governs them all, and all things that concern them; for the Power that could make all things must certainly have power to guide and direct them. If so, nothing can happen in the great circuit of His works, either without His knowledge or appointment.

And if nothing happens without His knowledge, He knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful condition; and if nothing happens without His appointment, He has appointed all this to befall me. Nothing occurred to my thought to contradict any of these conclusions, and therefore it rested upon me with the greater force, that it must needs be that God had appointed all this to befall me; that I was brought into this miserable circumstance by His direction, He having the sole power, not of me only, but of everything that happened in the world. Immediately it followed: Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus used?

Rob is struggling with a little theodicy. Dwelling on these thoughts drive him to despair. His despair results in a dreadful physical malady. He searches for relief. He comes upon a plan to mix fresh tobacco and rum. (Frankly, I like where he’s going with that but the execution leave much to be desired.) This, of course, leaves him worse off. He becomes violently ill.

Sick and tired, he takes something else from a chest he brought from the ship and begins to read. The Bible he has falls open to Psalm 50 and he reads this:

“I took up the Bible and began to read; but my head was too much disturbed with the tobacco to bear reading, at least at that time; only, having opened the book casually, the first words that occurred to me were these, “Call on Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” These words were very apt to my case, and made some impression upon my thoughts at the time of reading them, though not so much as they did afterwards; for, as for being delivered, the word had no sound, as I may say, to me; the thing was so remote, so impossible in my apprehension of things, that I began to say, as the children of Israel did when they were promised flesh to eat, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” so I began to say, “Can God Himself deliver me from this place?” And as it was not for many years that any hopes appeared, this prevailed very often upon my thoughts; but, however, the words made a great impression upon me, and I mused upon them very often. It grew now late, and the tobacco had, as I said, dozed my head so much that I inclined to sleep; so I left my lamp burning in the cave, lest I should want anything in the night, and went to bed. But before I lay down, I did what I never had done in all my life – I kneeled down, and prayed to God to fulfil the promise to me, that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver me. After my broken and imperfect prayer was over, I drank the rum…”

I love this passage. Might be partiality because he ends his prayer with rum. What happens next is worth the book.

July 3. – I missed the fit for good and all, though I did not recover my full strength for some weeks after. While I was thus gathering strength, my thoughts ran exceedingly upon this Scripture, “I will deliver thee”; and the impossibility of my deliverance lay much upon my mind, in bar of my ever expecting it; but as I was discouraging myself with such thoughts, it occurred to my mind that I pored so much upon my deliverance from the main affliction, that I disregarded the deliverance I had received, and I was as it were made to ask myself such questions as these – viz. Have I not been delivered, and wonderfully too, from sickness – from the most distressed condition that could be, and that was so frightful to me? and what notice had I taken of it? Had I done my part? God had delivered me, but I had not glorified Him – that is to say, I had not owned and been thankful for that as a deliverance; and how could I expect greater deliverance? This touched my heart very much; and immediately I knelt down and gave God thanks aloud for my recovery from my sickness.

And this:

“Now I began to construe the words mentioned above, “Call on Me, and I will deliver thee,” in a different sense from what I had ever done before; for then I had no notion of anything being called deliverance, but my being delivered from the captivity I was in; for though I was indeed at large in the place, yet the island was certainly a prison to me, and that in the worse sense in the world. But now I learned to take it in another sense: now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no consideration in comparison to this. And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.”

His condition never changes. He was no more rescued physically that morning than any other morning since he got on the island. It was his paradigm that had changed. He went from seeing himself as a victim of God to being a child of God who had experienced deliverance. The prayer did not change his dreadful plight but simply showed him the “other side” of his misery. His “blessing.”

The verse quoted is from Psalm 50. This week. This will be my sermon – asking “where is God” is the wrong question. The better questions might be – “where am I and where has God been all along?” And then find the answers.

My condition began now to be, though not less miserable as to my way of living, yet much easier to my mind: and my thoughts being directed, by a constant reading the Scripture and praying to God, to things of a higher nature, I had a great deal of comfort within, which till now I knew nothing of; also, my health and strength returned, I bestirred myself to furnish myself with everything that I wanted, and make my way of living as regular as I could.”

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I remember.

I’ve thought a great deal about this today.

Every year Memorial Day comes around and I remember.

I remember the heat and blood. JP8 and cigar smoke. Laughter and pain. Intensity and boredom. That’s war I suppose.

I remember those who died, who never came back.

Again I post this video of a young, overwhelmed chaplain with great intentions and limited skill.

This year, I want to remember someone else. Actually several someones. Every deployment I’ve been on, the tragedy does not end with the re-deployment. For some, home never really feels like home, life just does not readjust. The pain of losing those so close to them just becomes too much and life overwhelms them. There is so much help and love available to them but the blinders of depression, despair, and anguish blocks their vision.

They cannot see. They cannot know.

They are those who have died by suicide. And they are many.

For me, there are four.

I remember.

If a veteran, current service member, or family member is going through those dark waters. They are not alone. There is help for them.

Veterans (or family members can call): 800-273-8255  (Veterans Crisis Line – Active Duty/Guard can call as well)

And Military One Source is always available: 800-342-9647

Memorial Day is about all who have suffered and died.

I remember.

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Tapped Out

I did an unthinkable thing today – I told my boss that I was “tapped out.” I didn’t have more to give.

This is a first for me, at least for as long as I can remember. “Stick-to-it-tivness” was a theme in my family. You work until the job is done. This, of course, has about killed me on several occasions. I just don’t have good boundaries. I have a terrible time saying no.

It’s not that I don’t WANT to do it (whatever “it” is) – I very often do! In fact, most times, I could do it better than it’s being done and I want to help. But, there are only so many hours in a day and I only have so much time to give.

Self-care. It’s never been a strong suite with me. I’m something of an “on or off” person. For the last ten years or so in ministry, the spiral works something like this:

Get the new job or assignment. 

Work like a mad fiend. 

Be very impressive because I just don’t ever go home. 

Get lots of kudos for my workaholism. 

Feed on the kudos and work more. 

Start to feel the burn. 

Work harder. 

Crash. Burn. Let the ball drop. Depression. 

Recover. 

Repeat. 

Now, the thing is, my career path has not helped this natural tendency in me. Since I joined the Army, I have had a change, move, PCS EVERY year! Every year, I would go through my patterned cycle and every year about the time I was at my worst (always hidden from my leadership and Soldiers through secret ninja skills I learned growing up a pastor’s kid) I could recover because I knew there was a change coming. There was a moment on it’s way that would give me an artificial shift in my circumstances and I knew that I’d be able to take some time off and recover from my woes.

Until this year.

This year has been the first time I’ve started a new OER (Annual Evaluation) in the same unit and NOT be deployed/coming back from a deployment. This has highlighted the need in my life to actually do something about my spiral. I had never identified this pattern in my life. During my year of CPE, I identified something through group work and this year, my wife and I nailed it – this pattern of exhaustion that torpedos my ministry.

So. I. Made. Change. I broke the spiral. I felt coming on and I owned it. It was the first step. I had to own that I was overwhelmed and starting to spiral downward. Then, I had to do what actually hurt: say no to programs.

Here’s the thing, when you are a minister, saying “no” not only means that you personally will not do something or give up time it also means that OTHERS will not get to have the event because you turned it down. So, as a prison chaplain, it means that my inmates will not get to have a service because I can’t handle doing it and remain healthy. That’s where it gets tough. That’s where the rub turns into a burn. Having to face your commander and your congregation and tell them that you just don’t have more to give goes against everything I have ever experienced for a Soldier AND a pastor.

I’ve heard and read a great deal about “Self-Care,” the idea that we pastors have to take care of our selves in order to properly minister. I have experienced others and myself sighing and affirming that reality. Then, we all go back to work, head into the same meetings and carry on with the business of wearing the hats of “staff officer” and “chaplain.”

Too often, the ones who pay the steepest price are the kiddos, spouses, and families of the minister. I’ve certainly done ministry on the back of my family. This last Christmas season, I made a commitment to NOT do that. This does not mean that I didn’t work on Christmas – I did – however, it DOES mean that when I am home, I am home. When I am playing with my kids, there is nothing taking me from that. When it’s my wife’s time, it’s hers and she does not have to share me with my smart phone or email.

It’s been challenging. It’s been stressful. It’s also been life-giving!

Who knew that embracing my own limitations would be so… liberating?!!

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Production Burnout

Burnout.

Expectations.

Success.

Production.

I think these words mean very different things to different people. I just read this amazing article, “Soul Care and the Roots of Clergy Burnout.” Very worth reading.

Some highlights and thoughts:

“Pastors who are effective and get things done are considered “successful.” Denominations, including the United Methodist Church, focus on results that can be measured (e.g., increased membership and the congregation’s financial well-being). Yet numerous studies over the past 20 years reveal that this approach is, literally, killing clergy and, by extension, churches and denominations.”

Production is a part of who we are as Americans. What we DO defines us. It also seems to be what kills us.

January is the month that highlights this in my life. After the long work hours of November and December, January’s need for the new year productivity just beats me up. I get depressed and start to spiral into a passive-aggressive lethargy. It happens. Every. Year.

It’ll pass. I’m proactive about “refilling my tank” but it’s still exhausting. My hope lies in my knowledge that “this too shall pass.” Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m writing this at a 0400 UA, waiting in line to have my urine analyzed with the rest of my company… Production indeed.

Even still, fellow ministers, how has the need for production impacted you? It’s worth thinking about.

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