Recently I felt myself falling into a sort of psycho-spiritual funk. Not exactly clinically depressed, just sad, blue and off my game. When my wife asked me if something was wrong (she is often more aware of my mood changes than I am), I knew that there was, but couldn’t quite put my finger on the problem.
Reflecting later that day, I began to make a list of what I’d been dwelling on lately. In addition to the usual day to day concerns of pastoral ministry–calling on the sick, preparing for Sunday worship, preaching and teaching, routine administrative work, a number of additional stressors had been accumulating on my plate. Among them were a catastrophic fire that had recently destroyed my elderly parent’s home; news from my doctor that a my diabetes was out of control, necessitating major life-style changes; self doubt and questions about my own effectiveness in ministry and whether or not I am accomplishing anything; and finally sadness about polarization of our public life and the continuing marginalization of the middle class and poor.
Fortunately, I had a coach (Dave Jacobs) with whom I could share these concerns and the funk into which I’d fallen. With his help I began a list of strategies and behaviors to help get through such dark nights of the soul. Here, in no particular order is the list.
- Count your blessings.
- Focus on the positive; remember and celebrate your successes.
- If you have saved cards, letters and notes of thanks and encouragement, get them out and read a few.
- Take an unscheduled day or two off.
- Take a fast from daily news and current events–disconnect from negative influences.
- Assemble a collection of faith building, encouraging scriptures.
- Pray. Have you brought my burdens and lamentations to God, today?
- Journal your thoughts. Get them out and on paper where you can see them. Something mysterious happens when we put pen to paper or begin to strike the keys of our computer.
- Unload on a trusted friend–not your spouse. This may be difficult for many clergy, especially in solo pastorates. We often don’t have a close intimate friends with whom we can be completely transparent and real, with the exception of our spouses. But constantly adding your own burdens to the already difficult task of being the minister’s mate put too much strain on a marriage.
- Find someone outside the congregation and family who can listen attentively, sympathetically and objectively.
- Find something to laugh about. There is truth in the old saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.”
- Go easy on yourself–don’t add self condemnation.
- Give it some time. You can’t rush through a dark night of the soul.
- Fake it until you make. As much as we’d like to hide under a rock or find some solitary hermitage, it’s not an option. You may not be at the top of your game every day, but doing what you can and doing it as well as you can is therapeutic. It occupies your mind and gives you a sense of accomplishment. So, keep on keepin’on.