Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The robe of fatigue by Silvia Purdie

I went to a seminar this week on Clergy Self-Care. The presenter had researched clergy around the country and asked about their attitudes and practices around ‘self-care’. Obviously he found a mix of those who appeared to make their own personal lives a priority and those who were chronically tired, overworked and friendless. He quoted a writer on the topic saying that “many clergy never take off the ‘robe of fatigue’ ”.

I have a relationship with fatigue. But I certainly don’t want to wear it all the time. I know others in ministry who do. Some seem to wear it as a ‘badge of honour’, a sign of dedication to Christ and His church – like a ‘dog collar’ for non-Anglicans!

It’s pretty obvious why we get tired: long work hours, complex expectations, interruptions, blurring of home/work and relationship roles. Too often we end up caring for everyone around us and struggle to take days off or time ‘in lieu’.

My friend Mary-Jane Konings and I touch base often. When she told me about taking a funeral on Monday (her day off), I texted her to ask if she was taking another day off during the week. Her reply: “Ha ha ha ha ha ha!”. She is a wonderful Kids Friendly minister, but the demands of ministry in a large complex district mean that the fun, creative, missional stuff she loves to do, gets squeezed into tired corners.

When I talk with those who minister to and with children they often express being “tired”. Working with children can be wonderfully energizing, but it’s also physically demanding, and at times stressful and emotionally draining.

How about you? What do you find 'takes it out of you' the most?

I get tired when I spend the day rushing, trying to pack too much in, driving a little too fast to get to a meeting or a home visit, or to pick the kids up.

But fatigue is different from that. Fatigue is an accumulation of tiredness so that it builds up, hardens in the mind and soul and body, weighs us down. A ‘robe of fatigue’. A heavy yoke.

I’ve noticed for myself that what adds to my fatigue is the jarring I get when I shift modes of working. I love the deep listening pastoral work, the privilege of praying with people, leading worship, creating sacred space and stillness. Then 'wham' the phone rings or I have somewhere else to be 5 minutes ago and there are reports to write and money issues to sort and and ... . The diversity of ministry can be both a blessing and a curse.

If we don't watch out we can end up feeling bruised, stretched and out of shape by the end of the week. And tired, really tired.

I guess that’s why Paul wrote about the armour of God. Who wants a grey robe of fatigue when you could wear a shining shield, helmet, belt … or if you don’t want to mentally look like a Roman soldier, what picture works for you? A soft knitted shawl? An oilskin jacket? An elfish cloak?

Hey, I hadn’t noticed that before – the point of the spiritual armour is that “after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13) That’s the worst thing about ministry, especially children's ministry, you never feel that you have done everything, there’s always so much more to do. Imagine that. Still standing, still strong, still energised, confident, protected, sharp!

I like working hard. I like resting too, walking by the river, curling up in bed early. I like the Psalms, and night prayer, relinquishing my work and worries into the everlasting arms, hiding under the soft wings, being touched again by peace at the end of the day. Praise God I can take off the robe of fatigue – who needs it??

Three keys to sustainable ministry:
As you get to the end of the term how tired are you? What might you do differently next term so that you sustain your energy and care for yourself better?

Key 1: Work from your strengths and joys. Do more of what you do best, and give away as much as you can of the stuff that you dislike and find stressful.

Key 2: REST. We aren't so good at the 4th Commandment: "6 days you shall work but the 7th you shall rest". Take time, make time, carve out time ... to relax, breathe, be lazy, potter, chat, snooze, read, walk, pray.

Key 3: Support. Ask for help. Meet for coffee. Talk about your struggles. Make sure other people are praying for you. Laugh about it together!

This blog was written by Rev Silvia Purdie, minister of Milsom Combined Church in the Wanganui Manawatu Presbytery. Silvia is an avid Kids Friendly supporter, encourager and practitioner.

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