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Springing Back Into Shape

It’s a while since I penned a Pastoral Letter, and as we’ve moved into 2020 I have looked back and considered the busyness of the past couple of years as I have bedded down at GMC. There has been some great mission work in the church, times of sadness and loss, as well as joy with new members and folk coming to, and growing deeper in, FAITH. Is that all we need?
Whatever life is throwing at us, wherever we are on life’s journey, either in terms of age or indeed our spiritual journey—we need resilience. I read last year a useful article by Chris Dunkerley in ‘ascend’ (Issue 6, Nov 2019), a Church of Scotland magazine for ministry. ENJOY…

There is no pill for resilience. Everyone is talking about resilience these days, but it is as old as the Bible. Jesus’ brother called it perseverance’. “Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many finds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1.2-3)

Resilience is the ability of an object to spring back into shape. In human terms, it is the ability to recover quickly after adversity, distress and difficulty. In terms of change, it is the ability to keep running the race, eyes fixed on the prize, when everything around you is shifting.
Resilience is a key factor is much of what I do. I am a clinical psychologist and work for Healthlink360, a Christian healthcare charity. We work with missionaries, aid workers, those in ministry and ordinary folk whose lives are awash with change, conflict, trauma and relationship difficulties. Some of them are remarkably resilient. Other are resilient in some areas but not others. Many would like to be more resilient.
Resilience is a multi-faceted concept that takes in the whole person. These are the most common interventions I give to clients to help the, become more resilient:

Manage priorities—Brother Yun is a Chinese Christian who has endured what, to most of us, would be mind-boggling adversity. IN his book The Heavenly Man, he writes of how he, his ministry and his family almost came apart because he put his ministry before his family. Does that sound familiar? Wisely, he re-ordered his priorities to: 1) God, 2) family, 3) ministry
Sabbath rest—sounds good, doesn’t it? It is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, before the prohibitions on murder and adultery. We don’t quibble with those, but we appear happy to discard the need for weekly rest. It’s not about this or that day of the week, it’s about regular, ring-fenced times of rest. Each person needs to work out what that means for them, but it probably needs to include stillness, silence, laughter and an absence of productivity.

Take exercise—you need to have lived in a ministerial bubble for the last 20 years if you don’t know that regular exercise is key to mental, emotional and physical health. Because of that, it is key to resilience. The problem that most people have ins not ignorance of this fact but knowing what to do and when. In 2014, we screened aid agency and NHS staff going to Sierra Leone for the Ebola outbreak. It was vital that, under such pressure, they got some exercise. Some were runners who would be confined to a compound. Others were swimmers who’d be 30 miles from a swimming pool. The solution was exercise apps and routines that could be used in one’s room (preferably with the curtains drawn!). Engage your ingenuity and work out how you will work up a regular cardiovascular sweat.

Process Your Feeling– Every week we accumulate experiences that produce anger, anxiety, frustration or fear. If we don’t process these, it is like hiding fresh food in a dark cupboard and leaving it. Over time, it goes bad, causing a stink or even sickness. There are many ways to process uncomfortable feelings: supervision, counselling, journaling, or just a cup of coffee with a trusted friend.

Don’t ruminate—Rumination is going over an event and all its connotations again and again. It saps your energy like a hole in a petrol tank. It’s a cause and a consequence of many mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. “So why do I keep doing it?” you ask. Your brain is probably thinking: “If I go over this one more time, I’ll resolve it.” But it never works, does it? So notice it and then choose to disengage.

Ask God for help not to chew on that stuff. Then focus on worship, notice the beautiful sounds / sights / smells / textures around you. If you’re ruminating about a situation that needs action, then act; but after that, switch your attention back to God and the world around you.

Seek stillness—Perhaps the opposite of rumination is stillness and silence. It’s wonderfully unproductive and I wish I did more of it. It’s about lying down in green pastures and being led beside still waters. Guess what? It restores your soul. Don’t wait until there’s a gap in your schedule; intentionally write stillness and silence into your schedule.

Enjoy company—We need solitude, but we also need people. One of the most well-evidenced findings in psychology is that support from friends, family and colleagues reduces the risk of developing mental health problems. Conversely, isolation is linked to just about every mental health disorder. People are good for you, even if your job involved giving out to others. But you need to pick the right people. Take a moment to think: who do I feel better for being with? Who increases my joy in God and life? Again, don’t wait until there’s a gap in your schedule—deliberately write these people into your schedule.

Although aimed at ministers, I believe the contents of this article are valuable to all. Please consider them in your life and your journey with God

Your servant in Christ.                                                                                                                                             Pastor Mike



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