...self care is never a selfish act- it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Fountain of Life from St. Columbanus

O God, you are yourself that fountain ever and again to be desired, ever and again to be consumed...Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your Spirit; wound our souls with your love, so that the soul of each and every one of us may be able to say in truth: "Show me my soul's desire," for I am wounded by your love.

These are the wounds I wish for, Lord. Blessed is the soul so wounded by love. Such a soul seeks the fountain of eternal life and drinks from it, although it continues to thirst and its thirst grows ever greater even as it drinks.

Therefore, the more the soul loves, the more it desires to love, and the greater its suffering, the greater its healing. In this same way may our God and Lord Jesus Christ, the good and saving physician, wound the depths of our soul with a healing wound- the same Jesus Christ who reigns in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.

"For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with out spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him." Romans 8:15-17 NRSV

Monday, May 11, 2009

How is Spiritual Direction Different?

The best definition of spiritual direction I've seen, especially as compared to pastoral counseling and therapy: "Psychotherapy is interested primarily in self-understanding, pastoral counseling in self determination, and spiritual direction in self-surrender to the discerned will of God."

from James Fenhagen, Invitation to Holiness, p.47

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Taboo of Clergy Burnout Addressed in New Release

A spiritual director once asked me the most difficult question I've had to answer as a pastor: "Who listens to you?" God and/or spouse were not one of the choices. At the time, I was on an individual spiritual retreat in the mountains far away from my parish, and she was asking one the basic questions that many church leaders, clergy and otherwise, avoid. Are you leading on empty? is another way to ask the same question.

That's why I am so grateful for the bent of Wayne Cordeiro's Leading on Empty. Cordeiro is a successful church planter and pastor. He speaks around the world. The book is a multifaceted approach to the costs not taking care of ourselves, such as burnout and depression. In continually referencing his own story of recovery from suffering a nervous breakdown, Cordeiro, doesn't attempt a "one size fits all" paradigm for health, but rather, offers wisdom and insight as someone who's been there. Moreover, his continued recovery- and struggles- adds authenticity to his account.

Cordeiro's willingness to share his experience is what is so helpful. His physician told him that, in order to recover his health and heal his energy reserves, he would need to take a year off from any ministry role. Arguing that one year was out of the question, Cordeiro's physician then told him to take six months off. They finally both agreed on a three month time line. This fit into the summer season. Much of the book, then, is about what Cordeiro has learned in the recovery, and choosing life-changes necessary for long term health and functioning in ministry.

For example, instead of waiting for a crisis, which most highly functioning pastors will probably experience sometime after seven years of ministry, monitor your energy level. You can do this by finding an aspect of ministry, a mission, that you really enjoy- where the energy seems to flow almost naturally.

Although doing our passion offers a God-given immunity from depleting our reserves, the fire can also burn us up, so certain disciplines are non-negotiable, according to Cordeiro. One is daily time for a spiritual discipline. The book suggests starting with reading a chapter of Proverbs a day for a month. Try the SOAP model daily (read the Scripture text, record or journal your Observations on the text and Actions in response to it, and finally, let the text lead you in what and how to Pray).

Some other non-negotiables are time away, family time, and spiritual counsel. Time away should be a regular practice, and the book suggests something equal to a full day of sabbath once a month, combined with a two- three months each year. Sabbaths are not the same as a weekly "day off." A suggested schedule for the sabbath day includes journaling, reading, study, setting priorities, and calendaring strategically. No phone calls or emails, or text-ing though. Another non-negotiable is time and connection with family and vacationing with them once they are young adults. Seeking the guidance of a therapist and/or a spiritual mentor, companion or director will provide you with what you are offering to others: someone who listens to you in love and who can see what you cannot see in yourself.

We cannot, finally, offer what we do not have. That, to me, is the gift of Leading On Empty. Everyone wants to be able to give from a full cup. Isn't it better to maintain that reserve rather than running until we hit the wall? Cordeiro's book invites us to begin and continue that journey toward wholeness and holiness. Just don't wait for the crisis as he did.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hanging by a Thread

My one-time allergist looked at my nose and just quipped, "OK, but you're hanging by a thread." Living in Houston since late '86, I've found many ways to cope with vulnerability to sinus problems. I've tried a little of everything to avoid various infections. At the time of the exam, I thought I was doing much better than just hanging by a thread!

The doc's rather rude awakening is the gift of being brutally honest, one we all need at times I'm sure. Spiritually though, maybe the best thing we can do is to let go of whatever we're holding onto so tightly. Like the young boy who can't jump down from the tree he just climbed, we'd be free if we only we'd let go. Our world, our horizon would burst open as a result. And we'd be on the ground, safely home.

Someone told me to tie a knot when I feel like I'm dangling by a thread, but for some reason, that doesn't help me. I can hear those words in the mouths of Job's friends. I tell people to hang in there all the time, so that's also a judgment on me. I've come to see that hanging or tying knots are not really the best metaphors for the spiritual life, even if they might be used by a good physician.


In serving others, I surrender control of the situation. Jesus' own example of washing the smelly and dung encrusted feet of his disciples in John 13 embodies this particular kind service.

One of the most difficult things for most, not all, is to be on the receiving end of someone else's service. When I was very young, I remember getting up early and trying to prepare breakfast for the whole family. I only remember pouring juice, milk, and getting cereal out. To jazz it up a little, I rifled through the buffet and set some party favors out. When the family came down, they showed a mixture of dismay, laughter, and maybe one or two thanks. "Don't do that again" was the message. I didn't shake the juice and it came out in various shades, which I thought was fine.

But receiving service is awkward, especially for people who've been out there giving and in control all their life. The change in roles can be difficult, even devastating. When I worked among retirees and the infirm, one of the most asked questions was just "Why am I still here?" And part of the answer is that in receiving most of the time, we give others an opportunity to share their gifts. We are created for both giving and receiving love; sad we do one often at the expense of the other: either burnout or isolation.

It's appropriate that this week's practice is to spend some time with the Covenant Prayer. In it, we surrender our agendas, power, and control. Remember that Jesus' disciples often tried to manipulate the situation for their own advantage. True service, however, sets us free and usually has the same result on the recipient.

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Why Clergyspirit?

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Having been in ordained ministry in the UMC for 34 years, I've experienced the truth that although, clergy are frequently present for others, no one can offer what they don't have.That's why if you're a clergy person, you need someone who will listen to you. Not the random next closest person available, but rather someone like a spiritual director, a therapist, a peer who can be fully present to you. I hope the links and posts you find here will give you ideas, humor, hope and encouragement. Scott Endress

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If you want a formula for making the best of the less-than-perfect and making the most of what you have been given, then begin to compare your lot to what you were before you were born, and it will empower you with wonder every time. John Claypool

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