In This Issue...
- A Theology of Humor by Cheryl Taylor
- Ministering With Humor by Stephanie Nance
- Christian Leaders Having Fun? by Pam Morton with Kathy Jingling
- The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter by Dwenda Gjerdingen, MD, MS
Women in Ministry Mobilized E-Newsletter Articles
WIM - Subcriber Articles
Put Your Own Oxygen Mask on First
Fri, 23 Apr 2010 - 9:31 AM CST
By Gail Johnsen
My love for travel has provided many opportunities for me to fly. That means I have sat through countless monologues given by airline attendants on how to fly safely. One instruction always makes me smile: "In case of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will fall. If you are traveling with a child, or with someone who is acting like a child, place a mask over your nose first. Then assist the one who is traveling with you." The implication is that if you do not take care of yourself first, you will be of no help to the person who needs your help. An oxygen-deprived person is incapable of assisting others to receive life-giving oxygen they so desperately need.
Not surprisingly, I have found this to be true in ministry as well. We've all heard the discouraging statistics about burnout among ministers. Too many are stressed out, exhausted, disillusioned, and emotionally and spiritually spent. For whatever reason, our spiritual oxygen has been cut off and we have little to offer another struggling soul.
Tragically, we often don't even recognize our own soul-sick symptoms. The problem expands when we step from a place of depletedness into an artificial world where we are expected to perform. Most troubling is that we are inviting people into a life we are not living. This is not an indictment but an observation and a testimony from my own life. After 25 years of vocational ministry, my suffocating soul cried out, "Enough!" Somewhere along the way, in my never-ending attention to ministry demands, I'd run out of life-giving oxygen. The problem was I had no idea what the journey back to soul health looked like.
Could it be that we need an alternative approach to ministry? Instead of simply responding to all the needs of people and demands of ministry, what if we begin at some other point? What if what people needed most from us is not more work, but more rest? It seems to me there must be ways we can restructure life and ministry around the on-going health of our soul.
Perhaps a place to begin, as ministers and leaders, is to recognize the need to develop a practical sense of rhythm between engagement and retreat. This may mean doing ministry a whole different way. We know Jesus, before and during His most active years of ministry, modeled this for us, often drawing away to lonely place after being with the crowd. How is it we convince ourselves we don't need this same kind of rhythm?
In ministry, there will always be more to do. Always. "The literal meaning of Sabbath in the Hebrew is "Stop it. Quit." We are not only invited to join God in His work, we are also invited to share in His rest. It is in Sabbath moments and places, created spaces of rest, that fruitful doing for God is rooted in restful being with God. Look at Jesus' solution when our life gets separated from its roots: "Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28, NIV). Sabbath rest is the cure to runaway souls and lives.
Interestingly, in my time of crisis and in a desperate search to recover my spiritual health, without knowing what else to do, I went for long, silent walks alone with God to hear from Him again. These walks became my form of waiting, conversion, and transformation. The breath of God filled my soul once again.
On this subject, Henri Nouwen writes: "We have to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord. Without such a desert we will lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others. But with such a spiritual abode, we will become increasingly conformed to him in whose Name we minister."
A life of ministry is meant to be much fuller, richer, deeper, and slower than it often is. Before we can assist others to find a healthy rhythm, however, we must first find it ourselves.
Gail Johnsen is a pastor's wife, mother of four (and now grandmother!), author, speaker, and licensed Assemblies of God minister. Gail and her husband, Darrel, have been the lead pastors at Faith Assembly in Pasco, Washington for 12 years where Gail served as Women's Ministries pastor. She is currently working on her first book about spiritual formation.