When tragedies occur in communities or nations, pastors can wind up working tirelessly to comfort congregations looking for help, both physical and spiritual. Counselors call it compassion fatigue, and it affects anyone who works in human services of any kind, especially those deeply involved in soul care.
In American life, we’ve all been focused on the recovery effort that has followed the flooding and devastation from Hurricane Harvey and already, Hurricane Irma is wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and she’s headed toward Florida next. Communities will have to come together again to aid one another in the recovery.
To pastors and ministry leaders who are in the middle of the work of comforting and consoling others, let me give you three pieces of advice.
1. Release Your Frustrations
Stress and exhaustion create all kinds of negative emotions in your life. They bring on anxiety, worry, fear, guilt, shame, and depression. And the most common thing we ministers tend to do with our negative emotions is stuff them. We think we’re being better Christians if we never admit to our own fear, anger, and depression.
But God created you as a human being with emotions, and he wants you to be real—to let them out by expressing them to him. If you don’t do that, they will eventually come out in other ways – perhaps inappropriate ways.
So tell God how you feel. The Bible says in Psalms 62:8 “Pour out your heart to God, for He is our refuge.” (NLT) That means just lay it all out. “God, here it is! Here’s how I feel, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m stressed. I’m tired. I’m grieving. I’m angry.” Whatever you’re feeling, the Bible says, “Pour out your heart to God.”
2. Receive Help from Others
We give so much in ministry that often it’s hard for us to receive from others, but if you’re going to survive the emotional strain of the heaviest seasons of ministry, you’re going to have to find some people who will support you. You need some people with whom you can let your hair down.
The temptation in moments of crisis and recovery is to isolate yourself. That’s a very big mistake.
When you are at your breaking point, you need people in your life. You need people who will give you strength, and most of all, who will give you perspective. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Encourage each other and give each other strength.” (NIV)
3. Refocus on Christ
When you get under stress, your life gets out of focus. In fact, when you get under stress you start looking at your problem and you stop looking at Christ. You become very preoccupied with yourself, and all you can see is your pain. Your focus just gets narrower and narrower when you’re under stress.
What you need to do is get the focus off the problems and back on God. Think about Jonah—now there’s a guy literally swallowed by his problems!
But God says, when your problems swallow you up, refocus on Him. Jonah finally learned this and he prayed, “When I had lost all hope, I turn my thoughts once more to the Lord.” (Jonah 2:7 NIV)
The key here is to stop focusing on what you can’t do and start focusing on what God can do.
Are you at the breaking point today? Or maybe the stress level is rising in your life. Some of you say, “You have no idea what I’m going through right now!” I don’t know the pain in your heart, but God does. God is aware of the stress in your life, and God cares about the stress in your life. God can help you in the stress in your life–if you will take these steps … take it all to Jesus and say, “I put it in your hands.”
Jesus said it like this, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” Matthew 11:28-29