Stress and Easter: Special Edition
I had someone challenge me years ago by telling me that what I was doing wasn’t sustainable. He said, “If you’re always giving a hundred percent, then at some point, you won’t have anything left to give.” At the time, it didn’t totally make sense to me. I was a lot younger in ministry then. I had a lot of drive and believed that ministry work was all about sacrifice. So, over the years I’ve thought about what he said.
As I’ve reflected on it over the years, I realize I was pushing a lot harder than I thought. GO, GO, GO was the way things were. I would especially take that thinking into seasons of the year where more attention is given to the church around points of celebration, such as Christmas and Easter. The planning, the preparation, the people, and ultimately the expectations. These types of services must go especially well. The demands are high on leaders and teams. Music needs to be at its best, the preaching needs to the greatest, and technology needs to perform at its highest level.
- the packaging of the service
- the branding
- what we print in a bulletin
- what goes into an advertisement goes into the community
- the bumper video that we play online
All of it must be at its best. Visitors need to feel the MOST welcome.
The Stress Around Easter
Looking at it through hindsight, I’m sure what I was striving for in those seasons was perfection. Knowing full well that it was unattainable, I think that was still a goal. When I talk to people in ministry and we talk about these types of seasons, I think there a lot of shared feelings, both good and bad, about how hard we push ourselves to do a good job.
We get to these moments in various points of the year that are highly celebrated. In these moments, people hear about God in new and exciting ways, and we celebrate what has been done. All the planning, time, lack of sleep, and extra stress we carried feels worth it for that season.
We are wired to think about church this way. These seasonal events in church have a big effect on people. I know several people that have come to know God at an Easter event or the Christmas Eve service. You likely do as well. But there is something interesting that happens after we come out of these high points. Somehow our perspective of giving one hundred percent shifts. In the non-chaotic season throughout the year, we still feel very busy. We still feel like we’re getting hundred percent. But the reality is: that’s not true. We push so hard in different seasons, and we naturally must pull back for our own survival.
That mentor who challenged me all those years ago told me that if we’re always giving that level of effort, that some point we reach a limit of our effectiveness for the rest of the time. When I reflect on this, I realize that I would come off of Easter feeling so incredibly exhausted that I really didn’t want to do anything for the next several weeks. But I still had a job and it required me to be there the next Sunday and the next and after that and the next Sunday. You get the idea.
So. how do we keep our production high beyond these exhausting moments? How do we keep our enthusiasm for ministry high when we’re so tired? I’m going to give you a word that you have heard a thousand time. Balance. Let me say it again. Balance. We are right at Easter this year, so if you are working in a church, you might read this and think, “Balance, that’s a nice idea. Tried that before and it didn’t work. I’ll have to try it again someday when I have more time.” That is understandable. I did that for years. Honestly, it is still a struggle for me, but I have some personal check points and indicators that help me find more balance now than I used to have. Here’s what works for me and what I recommend.
Create a stress measurement for yourself. This has been a great tool for me over the years to self-identify how much I’m handling. I create a numerical value to how I’m feeling about things at any moment. I have a scale starting with a 1 that indicates no stress, no burden and then on the opposite end, a 10 which represent an absolutely unhealthy place where I am angry and unable to manage my emotions. At various points of any given week or month, I will ask myself “How am I doing?” My scale for that answer is this:
1 “I might be evaluating myself in my sleep :)”
2-3 “I’m doing great. I have great balance. I need to remember these moments and strive to put myself into these moments more often.”
4-6 “I’m still doing well. Balance is manageable. Think about taking a little break in a couple weeks.”
7-8 “I’m not breaking yet, but I don’t have much room left.” Dial the workload down now. Let someone know you are feeling the pressure and need some help. Delegate.
9-10 “I am in a bad place and need to do something immediately before I react in unhealthy anger.”
The point of this is to get a better understanding of yourself. You might even want to tell someone else your stress scale so they can check in with you about it. Having a good understanding of this will help as the seasons of higher ministry stress come because you will have a way to gauge how you are feeling and managing before-hand.
Create a stress measurement for yourself.
Turn off your phone (or turn it to silent). This is difficult one for me and I fail more than I succeed. Research tells us more and more that people have anxiety related to activity on their phone. So much of our life revolves around the connectivity a mobile offers us and the immediacy of access to information, people, and more. Finding space through a day to disengage this and gain some quiet can be incredibly helpful in finding balance, both in stressful times as well as calm or moderate times.
Find something to do that gives you fulfillment. I have always struggled with this because I grew up thinking that I always needed to be doing something. The idea of taking an hour to go to a guitar store just to play some instruments without an overall purpose felt so wasteful. While I’m not always good about taking care of myself this way, I am more intentional about it than I used to be. I’ll play some music for myself, cook dinner, or make something in the garage. I don’t see these tasks as wasteful anymore. They are actually quite the opposite. They are life giving and recharging. By being more proactive about this in both busy and slow seasons, I find that I am less stressed now than I used to be.
I truly hope this helps. Easter is the reason you’re a Christian and in ministry to begin with. Don’t let the superficial stress around it and other things be the reason you get out.