1. Find fresh spiritual disciplines. A conference in California has the theme ‘One Hundred Ways to Pray’. Well, find about three or four, and ’shut the door’ as Jesus said (i.e. put in a telephone answering-machine), and learn the art of relaxing, contemplative prayer.
Then, as the New Testament suggests, don’t be surprised when trials come your way. Jesus promised us trouble! So, as psychotherapist M. Scott Peck points out in his brilliant book The Road Less Traveled, when you expect life to be difficult, it is much less difficult.
2. Take regular time off. You aren’t called to work harder than your Creator.
Develop a way of being ‘through for the day’ (at least most days). Take your full four weeks’ annual leave in one stretch (and make alternative arrangements for weddings, etc.). Encourage your denomination to include two weeks’ extra, all-expenses-paid study leave each year. On your day/s off, do something very different from what you do the other days. (Wednesday or Thursday is best for preachers – away from the adrenalin-arousing Sundays). Listen to Spurgeon: ‘Repose is as needful to the mind as sleep to the body… If we do not rest, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her Sabbaths, and so must we’. Jesus said, ‘Come apart and rest awhile’. (If you don’t rest awhile, you’ll soon come apart!).
3. Get proper exercise and sleep. Exercise fairly vigorously 3-4 times a week. Walk, swim, play tennis; perspire and regularly breathe deeply. Allow adequate time for sleep. Dr. Hart again: ‘Adrenal arousal reduces our need for sleep – but this is a trap; we ultimately pay the penalty. Most adults probably need 8-9 hours’ a night!’
4. Relax. The relaxation response is the opposite of the fight/flight response. Just 20 minutes a day when we’re free from the tyranny of ‘things present’ is enough to counteract the harmful effects of stress. Two ways to relax: tighten each set of muscles from your feet to your face, counting to five before relaxing them; or begin meditation by repeating a one-word or one-phrase prayer (’Maranatha’, ‘Lord have mercy’), repeat it slowly over and over and enjoy the ‘other side of silence’.
5. Join a small support/prayer group. Ministry peers will better understand your needs; a cross-denominational group will enhance trust and provide other spiritualities. Then there’s the classical discipline of ’spiritual direction’ (or spiritual friendships). Who is Paul to your Timothy? Who teaches you to pray aright, as John the Baptist and Jesus taught their disciples? To whom do you confess your sins (James 5:16)? Luther said every priest ought to have such a ‘father in God’. Congregations can help their pastor by praying more than they criticize him or her; having open communications re goals and expectations; recognizing that the pastor is human and will make mistakes like all of us; being as generous as possible financially (e.g. encouraging study leave); and protecting the privacy of the pastor’s family life.
6. Cognitive restructuring (i.e. changing one’s thinking). Take a personal audit. Reassess your goals; like your clothes, change them sometimes. Improve your self-attitudes. Learn a healthy assertiveness (e.g. by using the middle two letters of the alphabet – NO – sometimes, without apology). Know your gifts, and your limits. Face your fears; don’t avoid them by pretence, or bury them in an addiction. Above all, avoid states of helplessness: take time to develop coping strategies for difficult situations. Learn not to make catastrophes out of ordinary events (increasing paranoia – ‘they’re out to get me’ – is a sign of burnout). Be a growing person: if God has yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word, what new understandings have you experienced recently? Freudenberger suggests: ‘Discard outmoded notions. Don’t wear points of view just because you used to! Like old-fashioned clothes, they may become ill-fitting and ridiculous as time goes on’.
7. Have fun! To belong to the kingdom you have to be like little children. They aren’t bothered about piles of correspondence or running the world. They get absorbed in things, even forgetting to run their own lives! So develop a few ‘interesting interests’: buy a bird-book and identify 100 native birds; collect stamps; play indoor cricket; take your spouse to an ethnic restaurant; give each of your kids an hour a week, where you do together what they suggest; build something ; audit a course. But do something! And laugh sometimes! Did you know your body will not let you laugh and develop an ulcer at the same time? Remember, with humourist Kin Hubbard: ‘Do not take life too seriously; you will never get out of it alive!