Loving What God Has Given Us

By Rev. Juliet Focken, Assistant to the Bishop

Sometimes, the work of being a pastor is overwhelming.  It’s a call to the whole church, and that often means our support systems and our closest friends might be too far away to be a part of our daily lives.

Authors have written about the prairie for years, the peace that is in the wide open graciousness of the sky, the joy that comes from working the land and loving what God has given us, but also the wind that whips through and voices the struggles of loneliness.  It’s not that the wide open is bad, it’s just that if you haven’t grown up here, the land that you love might look and sound different.  It’s beautiful to see the first planters out, and to see the new sprouts of corn and beans in the spring.  It’s peaceful to watch the summer sunsets as the sun fades into gloriously vibrant colors.  It’s joyful to see the wind stir up the leaves into color and hope of growth for the next year.  Sometimes, it’s difficult to see the joy and hope in the winter.  It’s appropriate for us that winter falls in the season of Lent it’s a season to focus on contemplation and change, of searching for what might be in the future of God’s church.  But there is a line where contemplation is devoured by worry and self-doubt that can lead to depression.  Depression is common amongst clergy and we all need to be on the watch over our own hearts and those around us. 

One way to be proactive with depression is to intentionally put things in place in which you can look forward.  What do you need to set up now, or put in place now so that you can already have these supports when the winter winds make you feel alone?  Studies say that the best thing for the winter gloomies are: socialization, exercise, and hope/mission.

1) Especially in our rural areas, its difficult to socialize and find people that are interested in the things you might be interested in, but this is a brand new time in technology.  Do you have a couple of friends who love to talk about cats while they drink coffee and knit?  Why not meet once a month online to talk and see what the others are knitting?  Do you have a couple friends that love to grab a glass of wine and talk about the zombie apocalypse?  Or do you have a favorite tv show that you would love to talk to someone about, but you don’t know who?  The most difficult part of starting a group, is the first conversation.  Start a conversation with a friend and ask them to bring a friend, meet online through one of the many apps.  Set a regular time on your schedule so that you have something to look forward to in the cold months.  Plan time into your week to socialize about things other than work.

2) My sister is one of those people that loves to run.  It brings her joy and accomplishment.  It calms her down and helps her release stress.  I am not one of those people. I don’t enjoy it and it causes me stress to even think about it.  I have never liked it, and am at the age where I’m realizing that might be ok.  I don’t have to run a marathon or go to the gym everyday to be healthy, but I do need to try to be a little more active than I was yesterday.  My new favorite activity is walking while I’m on the phone, our office is built in a loop hallway, so I can walk many times around on just one phone call.  It gets my blood flowing and is better than just sitting in a chair while I talk.  What if your exercise plan this winter was just to be a little more active than you were yesterday?

3) We’ve just experienced the joy and anticipation of Advent.  We celebrated the Christ child until exhaustion overwhelmed us.  And now we’re in the liturgical season of Annual Meetings.  As you work with the council to think about the mission of the church for the next year, why don’t you take some time to think about your own mission.  What is the hope for your future self?  What do you want to improve on this year?  It doesn’t have to be huge, but it must be attainable. How do you want to grow this year?  While I was thinking about this, I realized that I’m in a reading rut.  I ask the same people for suggestions, and Amazon now sends me suggestions based off of my orders.  These are great ideas, but are not pushing me beyond my own comfort.  So, I did a little research, and have signed up for the Read Harder 2020 Challenge. https://bookriot.com/2019/12/03/2020-read-harder-challenge/   I decided this year I would read 24 books that are not the common genres for me.  (Check back in December to see how I’ve done.)  I love to read, so this seems attainable and fun.  The best part is that if I don’t enjoy it, I just don’t do it next year and pick a different mission for myself.  There are tons of these groups online, try doing a search for one of your hobbies and see what comes up.  It isn’t a huge change, but it’s one that will strengthen the things I already love and broaden how I can relate to others.

As ordained leaders, we commonly put others before our own needs.  The reality is that we can’t give to others if we are exhausted or overwhelmed.  It’s important to plan in time for our own health, so that when others are in need, we are ready to be of support.  If you’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed, please reach out to us.  Each one of us on the synod staff has resources and connections that can help you find the time to breath again.  I’m thankful that we no longer live in a time when there is a stigma about therapy, mental health, and spiritual wellness.  If you need help, please let us know. 

I wonder what you’re doing to plan for your own wellness?  Let me know!


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