Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Stress Management Page 1 of 2

Exploring Spiritual Formation: Burnout

The Situation
You love Jesus. You’ve dedicated your life to serving him. You’re loyal, diligent, and you work hard. It’s not unusual for you to check your email after hours, and you’re even willing to work on your day off, if necessary. Lately, it seems like it’s necessary a lot.

You’ve been known to sacrifice for the good of the team, and you often give up time with family or friends to tend to others in need. You’re usually willing to take on extra projects. Sleep is a luxury. Exhaustion is a constant companion, and you can’t remember the last time you took a vacation that didn’t involve a visit with a supporter.

Seeking balance or seeking the kingdom

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? – Luke 14:28

I am quick to “count the cost” when I am asked to do something on top of what is expected of me in my job descriptions.  Can I add this to my workload?  Do I have the capacity at this time to take on this assignment?  I wonder if maybe those are the wrong questions.  At least, those are not the first questions I should be asking.

Handling the What If’s

Over the years, I have often found myself struggling with the “what ifs”, primarily in regards to my relationships with people I work with (yes, with fellow missionaries). What if the person responds in a negative way to my email? What if that person decides to go in that direction, contrary to what I have recommended? What if they refuse to do anything at all in response to my request?  What would I do or say then?

I have far too often found myself absorbed and distracted by ongoing dialogues in my mind, imagining different responses from people to particular situations and what I would then do or say in response to their response. In these situations, I find myself falling into the trap of imagining various ways that I could retaliate, rather than responding in grace. These internal dialogues prove to be very unproductive, both because they tend to portray other people in a very unflattering and distorted light, and because my fantasized response to the imaginary situation would only make things worse.

Wearing multiple hats

Today, one of my students wrote a note on their assignment about job descriptions, “I think I have too many jobs.”

I can identify. I have two mission job descriptions. Both of them are leadership roles. One of them is supposed to take up about 60% of my time and the other the remaining 40%. I have wondered at times whether they are not in actuality two full-time positions that have somehow both found their way on to my plate. Following that analogy, pieces of both do fall off the edge and slop on to the floor every once in a while.  Maybe more often that I admit.

Stress: too much and too little – Part Two

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of maintaining margin.    Too much stress for too long a period is unhelpful and destructive.

But as I also demonstrated from the life of Paul, we must not avoid all stress at all costs.   I am afraid that far too often I have said “no” to an opportunity simply because it would have stretched me beyond my comfort zone.   But I need to be stretched if I am to grow.

I see many parallels to physical training.   When I started running (again) in 2009 after knee surgery, I was not able to run more than a kilometer before being totally exhausted.  Over the period of a couple of months, I was able to extend that to almost 5 km, a distance with which I was quite satisfied.   After all, I was not a serious runner, and already in my late 40’s, and this was already further than the distances that I had run in college.  So I plateaued at that distance for about 4 years, running 5-6 km three times a week, just to keep in shape.

Stress: too much and too little – Part One

Is stress, even cross-cultural stress, always a bad thing?

Too much stress is not good.   More than 4 years ago on this blog, I mentioned a book by Dr. Richard Swenson on the topic of “Margin” – Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.   I had read the book and was recommending it because I recognized that many of our missionaries were subject to overload and consequent burn-out.   (See another recommendation on our SEND U wiki.)

Questioning the Validity of “The 4 Stages of Cultural Adjustment”

This post is contributed by Darlene Jovellanos, a former missionary colleague of mine in the Philippines.  After leaving the Philippines, Darlene led SEND’s Member Orientation Program in Michigan for many years.  Currently she works in a part-time capacity with SEND U, and in a full-time capacity as wife, mother and home-schooler.

Cultural adjustment is a topic of great interest among missionaries, especially those who are preparing for ministry in another culture, or are already in the throes of the stress that comes with living and working in a culture previously unfamiliar to them. It is a topic that most missions, including SEND, address in pre-field training to help prepare our new missionaries for transition into effective ministry in a different culture.

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