Today is one of those days when I feel squished. Everyone seems to want a piece of me, and I just want everyone to go away. In reality, I am certain that people do not literally want a “piece of me”—what they want is my attention; my services; my assistance. But having this realization does not leave me feeling any less squished, in fact, it makes it worse.
Why do I feel so squished? Why do I feel like I cannot get a real day off? I tried going on vacation, heading to another state or to a nice tourist destination a few hours away, but I found that my phone makes me available everywhere I go. I hear you over there saying “Turn your phone OFF!” but I can’t. I’m on call 24/7 for my clients because I’m a behavioral health counselor in private practice. The law says that I have to be available for those people whose mental health I am responsible for. So as long as I have phone service, I’m available. When I leave the country, I have to find someone to cover phone calls for me because my phone doesn’t work internationally…this is the one and only time I am truly unavailable.
Please understand, it isn’t just my clients that contribute to the feeling of being squished. I have an entire church-full of people that contribute to this feeling. I am United Methodist clergy and my colleagues know that I am also a licensed behavioral health counselor. My colleagues in ministry call for advice on how to deal with the mentally ill, or for referrals when one of their parishioners is struggling. Sometimes they call looking for me to come preach or teach a class, especially if the class is about mental health, sexuality, or family issues. And let’s not forget about the people in my parish…they call for advice and referrals as well, and then some of them just call to talk and receive spiritual services.
When you wrap it all together, it leaves me feeling like I can’t get a breath and that there is always someone tugging at my sleeve asking for my attention, and this is why I feel squished. So what to do about it?
I’ve tried quite a few different things in the hope of relieving my squished-ness. One of my colleagues suggested declaring a Sabbath…a time set aside for play and rest when I did not answer phone calls except from friends and family; when I would not do any work (not even housework), and when I would do only those things that were enjoyable for me. Many Christians consider Sunday their Sabbath, and that makes sense…until you’re a pastor and then Sunday is a work day like every other work day. So I declared Friday after 5pm to be my Sabbath and refused to work again until Saturday morning, and…it was disappointing. Nothing special happened. I didn’t feel rested. I didn’t feel renewed. I didn’t feel different. The phone would ring, and I would still have to check it…and if it was a client that I knew was struggling or who was suicidal, I still had to answer the phone because I am legally responsible for their care. Sabbath was a good way to get me to stop doing housework and paperwork, but it wasn’t real rest. Sabbath wasn’t the solution I needed.
Another thing I tried was exercise. I have found working out to be a great stress reliever, and so I started adding extra workouts when I found myself feeling particularly squished. It worked to an extent, because it is impossible to think about anything else but the choreography when the music is blaring and you’re shaking your booty to songs by Pitbull. I also discovered that you cannot bring your cell phone into the yoga studio, so that hour was blissfully free of distraction as well. Zumba and yoga and Pilates did a lot to reduce my overall stress and increase my health, but once I was out of the class I went right back to feeling squished.
I tried a few other methods: short vacations; a glass of wine; long vacations; a second glass of wine; international vacations; getting someone else to answer my calls for a few days…none of this worked very well. Clarification: international vacations work really well at reducing the squished feeling, but they only work for as long as you remain out of the country. In the end, you still have to come back home and go back to work and as soon as I did, I was back to feeling squished.
Then recently I read a sermon by Nadia Bolz Weber on the feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:9-17) that struck a chord deep within me. She said:
“I am too easily overwhelmed by the hunger of the multitudes and I look around trying to figure out what I have at my disposal that might feed them and I keep coming up short – short on compassion, short on skill, short on will. And I think of how God called me to this and needs me to feed God’s people and so I lean on my own resources and when I do I quickly see how little there is. A few loaves? A couple fish? It’s never enough.”
I find myself right there with her. That squished feeling comes from feeling overwhelmed by everything that everyone else seems to need—and they seem to need it to come from me and I keep coming up short—short on energy, short on wisdom, short on patience, short on just about everything. And when you consider that I believe my counseling practice is my ministry and representative of God’s call on my life, coming up short is a major failure. Coming up short is to fail God and it leaves me feeling inadequate and overwhelmed and…squished.
Obviously I am not the only person who feels this way, and I am positive that most ministers feel this way, since Nadia Bolz Weber is a Lutheran minister and the quote above is from a sermon she preached to other ministers. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this overwhelmed, squished feeling is actually part of the human condition. We want to be more; we want to be the answer to something, to anything, and no matter how hard we try, we come up short and end up feeling inadequate and squished.
Later in that same sermon, Nadia went on to say:
“Maybe the more important and transformative the work is that you do the more you need to know that you are loved by God with or without doing that work. The more you need to know that when Jesus looks out and asks where are these hungry people going to get food (that) he is including you in the category of hungry people and himself in the category of bread…
When I rely only on my strengths which, trust me, are few, when I think I have only my small stingy little heart from which to draw love for those I serve…(when I am) filled with fear that I don’t have what it takes to be a leader in the church, filled with fear that everyone will see nothing in me but my inadequacies, I have forgotten about Jesus—my Jesus who’s making something out of my nothing…
There is not one category of people who minister and (another) who need care. There is just one category: hungry sinners in need of a savior. So together we come away with Christ to sit in the grass and be fed…and you are in as much need of being fed, healed and ministered to as those who you care for. Because the work you do IS important and it is transformative but you, my sweet, dear friends, are loved entirely and completely by God with or without doing that work.”
These words bring tears to my eyes, because in them is the rest that I need so much so that I can stop feeling squished. I am not the well that others are drawing from when they come to me for advice, counseling, resources, spiritual guidance, prayer, or just a listening ear. I may be the body that delivers the services, but I am not the source. Christ is that source. And even more than that, when I am tired and overwhelmed and Christ comes to feed the 5000, I get to eat with everyone else because my needs are just as important as everyone else’s and it’s okay for me just sit and eat and take in the presence of the living Christ without having to be anything or do anything for anyone else.
Turns out that I didn’t need Sabbath as much as I needed the attention of the King of the Sabbath. And so I tug at His sleeve just like other people tug at mine, and luckily He is never short on compassion or time or patience or wisdom or…anything.
If you’d like to read Nadia Bolz Weber’s sermon in its entirety (which I heartily recommend) go to: