– stories, thoughts and think pieces
Eighteen months ago, I found myself in floods of tears. I was staring at a photo of myself in my mum’s house, taken at my graduation five years before. I didn’t recognise that bold woman in her colourful PhD gown filled with hopes, optimism and an unshakeable calling and faith to serve God wherever he would lead. Over the years since, God has placed me in a number of local, national and international leadership roles in different Christian organisations. I firmly believed that I was living out my God-given purpose, until 18 months ago that is…
Now I found my confidence in my calling and in my God-given gifts was spiralling out of control in a vortex of fear, anxiety, doubt, shame and a deep sense of failure as I faced challenges and obstacles.
I was spiritually burnout. I was barely surviving, rather than thriving, in any of my leadership roles. Something had to change...
Over the last 18 months, I've been on a difficult but necessary journey with God as I've been overcoming the identity thieves of fear, anxiety and shame. You can read more of my story in October's Youth work magazine.
Now I'm cultivating three disciplines in my life to ensure that I'm living the 'life to the full' that Jesus describes in John 10.10:
PAUSING TO RECHARGE
One of my favourite places on the planet is Iceland. I love watching its geyser explode right in front of my eyes. It's fascinating. After the initial pillar of water propels itself into the air, the base of the geyser drains of all the water for a few minutes. Eighteen months ago, I was the human equivalent of a drained geyser: I was running on empty. I had developed what John Ortberg defines as soul fatigue – when our busyness turns into hurriedness.
A wise mentor asked me: you’re so busy giving out, what are you replenishing yourself with? We need to recognise that our passion and enthusiasm for God’s ministry can be the same energy that causes us to ignore own needs and deplete ourselves. Busyness is not a badge of honour. Just like our mobile phones, we have a finite capacity. We need to ensure that we’re recharging and plugging ourselves into our ultimate power source: God.
Do you need to stop DOING FOR God and start BEING WITH him?
Practical steps: how are you plugging into God every day? Do you need to carve out more space to do so?
Amid all the striving that causes us to seek perfection, it is powerful, counter-cultural and biblical to pause and remember: “I am enough”. Imagine if we all extended God’s grace to ourselves when we suffer or feel inadequate.
Some may perceive self-care as selfish but Alli Worthington in Breaking busy reminds us that: “Self-care is one of the most other-centred choices you can make in your life. That’s because you can’t live the life God created you for, with space to be aware of his leading, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Doing things that give us joy – reading, spending time with friends, sports – are integral, not marginal to the “life to the full” that Jesus talks about in John 10:10.
For me, self-compassion is ensuring that I don’t just have a Sabbath on a Sunday but have a Sabbath hour every day: 60 minutes of doing something that lights up my soul. This could be reading for pleasure, a walk around my local pond or playing with my niece. The last year has been a journey of extending God’s grace to myself, savouring slowness and cultivating it in my life by placing boundaries on my time in simple but effective ways such as not looking at any emails at the weekend. Sabbath isn’t just a religious concept; God biologically designed us to need it. Our circaseptan cycle – heartbeat and blood pressure – rises and falls in seven day cycles. Our bodies and brains need rest on a weekly basis. A regular Sabbath reminds us who we are and puts things in perspective – after all, we’re much more than just our leadership roles.
Practical steps: how are you looking after your soul? What does Sabbath look like for you?
The Bible demonstrates through the example of Jesus, David and Mary (and many others) that following God’s calling is going to lead us into challenging and difficult situations. After all, one important component of our calling is our God-given passion, or as Bill Hybels says “our holy discontent”. Many of us throw the word passionate around so flippantly in our conversations. We’re passionate about everything – including chocolate, sunsets, Eastenders and good food. But the word passion comes from the Latin word ‘passio’ (to suffer). And here’s a difficult truth to swallow: our true passion should cause us to suffer. Our calling should lead us to the frontline of the spiritual battle. After all, we need to get close to the darkness if we're going to punch holes in it. In many ways, obstacles are evidence of God powerfully working through us.
It’s easy to write that we should expect and embrace obstacles in our ministry, isn’t it? I’m humbled (and intimidated) by the words of Caleb in Joshua 14:12. Faced with huge obstacles including a fortified city and a superior army, Caleb confidently asserted: “Give me this mountain.” He embraced the challenge, assured that God would be the ultimate victor. Developing spiritual resilience through self-compassion and frequent refuelling helps us approach challenges through God’s eyes.
Resilience also helps us reject fear, one of the greatest weapons in spiritual warfare. Fear can often knock on our door and prevent us from stepping out and being all that we’re created to be. It’s no coincidence that “Fear not” is one of the most frequent commandments in the Bible. God doesn’t want us to live under a blanket of destructive fear. Resilience can help us face fear head-on and expose its lies with words of truth.
Practical steps: how are you cultivating resilience in your ministry and leadership?