Rachel S. Gerber is denominational minister of Christian Formation for Mennonite Church USA.
How am I doing?
When was the last time you really asked yourself this question (and answered)? No matter your political persuasion, these last few months have been quite … well, divisive. And if you are in any type of Mennonite Church USA pastoral or lay leadership, these last few years have not been for the faint of heart. I’d say as a collective, our stress meters are in the danger zone.
So, how are you doing?
I generally despise my alarm.
Yet, the last few months, it has been set to go off at 5:25 a.m. It is so dark, it might as well be the middle of the night. The house is silent, except for the gentle rumbling of the furnace.
I arise and throw on my work out clothes, lace up my sneakers, and grab my water bottle as I exit to attend a 6a.m. workout class at our local YMCA.
I should also mention that I’m not necessarily a morning person. But as one who has risen multiple times throughout the night over the span of the past 10 years due to little people or nursing infants, I’ve well, adjusted.
What I’ve learned from these early morning risings is that I actually love the routine. My body craves the rhythm and the empowering way it starts the day. In seminary, professors stressed us to find our own rhythm and rule of life. As a (discerning) seven on the Enneagram, this always seemed a bit rigid. Systems and schedules often felt stifling. I preferred the freedom and flexibility to go with what I felt like doing in the moment.
But, I’m finding this ancient wisdom of rhythm and rule of life to be absolutely life giving and a saving grace during stressful seasons of life.
Consistency roots and grounds me with a predictable pulse allowing me to better manage the various unexpecteds that arise during these critical junctures of church life. But what I’ve been discovering, is that in times of stress and strain, these rhythms of moving my body, choosing healthy foods, prioritizing sleep, have been absolutely critical to navigating these days.
Pastors aren’t known to be the best at self-care. Maybe it’s because we often use our energy caring for others. We tend to sit a lot — writing, emailing, driving or doing pastoral care visits. We have lots of meetings and pre-meetings to prepare for the meetings. Often these meetings have some type of goodie or sweet treat included. We often work long hours and are generally always on-call.
One thing is for sure, sustainable ministry can only come as we prioritize our own health and wellness. We need to make sure that our own rhythm of caring for body, mind and soul is done with as much passion as we offer those in our congregations. We can’t trick ourselves into thinking that our congregation’s healthy formation can happen if we are not caring for our own formation in turn.
I know you already know this. I know that you already understand that you need to prioritize your own health and wellness as a ministering person by getting enough sleep, making healthy food choices and moving your body. But if you are like me, I sometimes forget. I sometimes get going in the rat race of ministry and busyness of programming, considering these other things to be more immediate, a higher priority, and I allow what really sustains me to fall by the wayside. Ironically, this makes navigating through the stress more difficult.
If you find yourself in a season where life feels like too much, I invite you to pause and consider your own rhythm and routine.
Tighten up your margins. Protect your day off. Use your vacation days. Do what brings life and light to your soul. Talk with a spiritual director. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. These are not easy days to be a leader, but I do believe that God has equipped us with everything we need to thrive. Our church needs healthy leaders. What small step can you do today to move towards wellness?