“I’m so tired.” This is a phrase we’re hearing repeated over and over as we talk to family, friends, and colleagues in ministry. Continuing to manage the ever-evolving COVID-19 protocols, economic disparities, job insecurities, health concerns, and the emotional distress of the daily news is wearing us down. Anxiety and/or anger simmer just below the surface. People we used to consider level-headed and grounded suddenly snap at the slightest provocation. And we wonder, “If it can happen to them, then what does that mean for me?”
A majority of the world is experiencing what clinical psychologists refer to as “emotional edge states.” Emotional edges happen when internal places of vulnerability are triggered, and we experience difficult emotions – from mildly annoyed at one end of the spectrum to uncontrollable anger at the other end – and anything in between. At first glance, these edge states can feel unhealthy. But from another perspective, they can offer a deeper awareness for self-growth and spiritual growth. Edges are where two things meet and intersect. Sometimes they are like-minded, sometimes they are opposites. This intersection can become a threshold where we can pause, be curious, and listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.
Pausing allows us to name and recognize the sacred tensions we are holding on any given day, at any given moment. Tensions that we feel in our bodies, in our minds, in our hearts. Tensions that are seeping away our energy unless we learn how to pay attention to these edge states that chip away at our souls.
This is why soul care, self-care, and community care initiatives are so important for everyone’s well-being, and especially for global servant leaders. This journal, therefore, is going to look at how these three areas intersected with our lives during the beginning of 2022. We pray that some of our experience will encourage you in your efforts to seek holistic well-being not only for yourself, but also for those in your circles of care.
Self-care is a buzzword in many churches and organizations today. It’s often touted as a priority, but never fully implemented. Leaders have often been told—implicitly or explicitly—that self-care is selfish. That when we focus on ourselves, we are choosing not to focus on the people whom we serve. Yet, Jesus modeled rest and self-care as part of his ministry. He was not “on” 24/7. The gospels tell us that he left the crowds, and even his disciples, to seek time for solitude and prayer. Self-care and soul care practices allow spaces to off-load stress, to pause and reflect, to reconnect with our God, so that we live and minister from our best selves.
“Self-care isn’t just something you do to recover from illness or crisis, but is also preventive and proactive. It’s a way to value and love yourself, but also demonstrate to others that you care to show up at your best for them, personally and professionally.” (Jacqueline Ashley, “Why Multidimensional Self-Care is Essential to Better Living,” Forbes Magazine, June 28, 2021)
It has been proven that when leaders authentically model self-care practices, then they create an environment where people thrive.
As we began 2022, we increased our own self-care and soul-care practices so that we remain healthy, grounded leaders. After the focused intensity of providing spiritual care for missionaries & global leaders during the last 2.5 years of the pandemic, we realized we were tired. To continue to be effective spiritual leaders, we needed to take steps to prevent our own burnout. We have included intentional times of rest, renewal, continuing education, creativity, and spiritual discernment as the year unfolds. If you are a spiritual leader, we encourage you to build in intentional space for rest and renovation this year, too.
Soul Care through Debriefings
Soul care is more than just one’s spiritual health. It wraps around family, vocation, extended community, and your life with God. For missionaries, a debriefing is one event where all these areas can be addressed simultaneously.
In January, we had the opportunity to attend a debriefing conference offered by Barnabas International, an organization focused on nurturing and strengthening ministry leaders & their families. International Ministries encouraged us to attend this event, and provided the funding. Normally IM provides the debriefings for all its global servants, but because we now assist in the planning and facilitation of IM’s annual debriefing conference, IM sought another way for us to have this experience. We are thankful for their commitment to our care.
Debriefings are an opportunity to look back at your last term of service to share joys and concerns, process challenges and stressors, discover and discuss growing edges, and to give feedback to one’s mission organization about where improvement needs to occur going forward. They allow one to process personal and ministry events. It is a time to reflect on God’s providence and faithfulness in a cross-cultural context.
Persons from a dozen other mission organizations joined us at the conference, so there was sweet fellowship & diverse sharing. We not only benefitted personally, but we also gleaned wisdom from seeing how another organization offers this member care service. We were housed at the Marywood Retreat Center in Jacksonville, FL.
Community Care through Small Groups
Community care is how we nurture, grow, encourage, and carry one another’s burdens together. We acknowledge that we are not on this journey alone; we need each other. As 2022 began, we launched two small groups on zoom to continue our emphasis on community care of global servants.
David is hosting one called Epiphanies. This group is exploring a deeper awareness of God and self through personal story-telling based on “The Place We Find Ourselves” podcasts by Adam Young. Joyce began a small group called Wayfinding which is weaving together wisdom from Biblical stories and Indigenous cultural stories about finding our way during uncertain times. We discuss what it means to be an adaptive leader during liminal space. We hold space for listening and discernment. She is resourcing research from her doctoral studies to guide this community.
Our Continuing Education as Spiritual Care Givers
Since last September through this March, David has been engaged in a training for narrative based trauma care sponsored by The Allender Center of The Seattle School in WA. This training begins to equip leaders in how to respond to persons who have encountered trauma. David’s training has been invaluable as we care for our colleagues responding to crises around the world—most recently with colleagues in Europe impacted by the war between Russia and the Ukraine.
In early March, Joyce had the opportunity to attend a retreat for Doctor of Ministry alumni of Portland Seminary. One presentation focused on this statement: “The church is calibrated for a world that no longer exists.” How do we as leaders respond? Another presentation looked at Gen Z and spiritual formation with “the screen” generation. As you might imagine, the conversations around both of those topics was lively and engaged!
Pouring In, Pouring Out
Ministry leaders are constantly pouring themselves into the lives of those they serve. However, if healthy boundaries are not maintained, then they can become exhausted and head towards burn-out. Self-care, soul care, and community care practices keep us grounded in Jesus, the source of our health and well-being.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 invite us to rest and renewal: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As we allow Jesus to pour into us, then we find rest for our weary souls. From this place of restoration and renewal, we can then pour out God’s hope and living water to others.
Wherever you are tired today, may the living water of Jesus restore you.
Walking with you in faith and grace,
David and Joyce