Tag Archives: overwhelmed

I Promise

For all the parents out there…hang in there. It gets better. I promise.

Parenting is a thankless job that requires you to act wisely and lovingly even when you don’t feel very wise and you’re starting to wonder why you chose to breed at all.

Parenting requires you to do the right thing no matter how inconvenient, exhausting, or expensive doing the right thing is going to be.

Parenting requires you to hold firm to boundaries and rules even as your children scream that you are ruining their life.

And of course, you are ruining their life…at least the life they think they should have.

The problem with parenting is that there is nothing to give you that smug sense of assurance that you have made the right choices, held firm at the right times, and bent the rules in the right ways. There is no way to be sure that the parenting choices you have made will lead to a happy, healthy child.

In so many ways, parenting is a crapshoot.

Maybe you throw a 7, and maybe you crap out. ***

And the big fear that hangs over every parent is that your child will grow up, look back at their childhood, and declare you a bad parent.  The fear is that they’ll remember the discipline and not the lessons, the punishments and not the good times, the fights and not the nights spent at their bedside when they were sick.

Hang in there, parents.  It gets better. I promise.

Today my oldest daughter called me to thank me, saying that she had recently read that children gain confidence in themselves from their interactions with their parents.  She wanted to let me know how much she appreciated her father and I and how much time and attention we gave her.

I want to make this clear: I was not a stay-at-home mom, and her father wasn’t a stay-at-home dad.

We both worked full time.

Then Phil started graduate school just before I got my call into ministry. I quit my job and went to seminary full-time while Phil worked full time and attended one class per semester at ASU in pursuit of a Master’s in Computer Science Engineering.

Five years later, we graduated within 7 days of each other, having done a ton of creative things to get through the grueling 5 years it took for both of us to graduate.

My seminary was in California, so I had fly to school every week. I was gone for two days each week while Phil had to do everything and I do mean everything: he had to deal with both kids, his job, and all of his homework. It damn near killed him and there were many semesters when he was so busy that he felt exhausted and on the edge of tears almost every day.

And the kids?  They don’t remember how tired and emotional their father was. They remember that when I was gone at school, their father would pick them up from aftercare program and take them straight to the library where they would return last week’s books, pick out new books, and then listen as their father read to them for a good hour. Then they would go the park next to the library and play on the playground, where Phil would morph into the Tickle Monster. He would chase the girls and they would run (and scream…you can be certain that they screamed enough to drive a grown man crazy) until they were tired and hungry. Then he’d take them to Taco Bell for tacos or burritos and then home for a bath, more reading, and bedtime.

Trendy parents might scoff at the quality of the food he fed them for dinner, or the repetitiousness of the playtime. Other parents might complain that dad seemed more like a babysitter doing the “good time” stuff while mom got the laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping.

What my daughter told me was that while I was away, she and her sister soaked in their father’s undivided attention and adoration.  They became dyed in the wool “Daddy’s girls”…and both of them still idolize their father to the point that I actually apologized to my son-in-law when he married my daughter.  That might explain why he almost immediately moved her to Oregon. Hmmm…

ANYWAY…

You might wonder if my relationship with my daughters is tense and distant considering that I’m the one that kept leaving the state to go to school.

Nope.

In fact, I am very close with both my girls.

My oldest daughter said that she remembers spending summer breaks with me. I took her and her sister to swim team and dive team every day and then we’d rush home to watch I Love Lucy while we ate our lunches.  They’d spend their afternoons playing inside while I did laundry and cleaned house in between spates of doing homework.  When I had free time, we would make homemade jam or bake brownies together. Basically, I made food while they made a mess and then I got to clean it up.  My daughter said she could not imagine how I didn’t go crazy sitting there for hours in the heat and humidity (hello indoor pool) waiting for them, while they got to swim and dive and have fun.  Then she spent twenty minutes going on and on about how much fun it was when we would buy bagels from Einstein’s, and then go home and make homemade veggie cream cheese.

Listen parents: what I’m trying to tell you is that you are harder on yourself than your children will be when they look back. They won’t remember how crazy busy you were, not if you took a minute or two to braid a friendship bracelet with them, or to be the Swim Mom, or to be the library Dad. They will remember the times you danced in the Walmart aisles because a good song was playing, or the times you played nail salon, or the times you watched their favorite movie again and again.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent.

You don’t have to give them everything they want.

You don’t have to let them break the rules and get away with murder.

All you have to do is…

Be yourself.

My husband and I didn’t do these things because we are such spectacular parents. We did what we did because it made it easier for us in the midst of a very difficult time of our lives. It’s what helped us smile even as we were crushed under the load of work, kids, housework and homework.

Hang in there, parents! I have good news!

You are enough after all, and the likelihood is that your kids will one day tell you so, right to your face.

Hang in there. The good stuff is coming, I promise.

 

*** In case you’ve never heard of Craps    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craps#Rules_of_play

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Here Comes The Truth

Honesty.

I always tell my clients that honesty is at such a premium in this world that being a truth teller is a skill worth developing. People thirst and hunger for truth, for words that are plain and simple, without sugar coating or gentle couching or even padding. Basically, there is so little honesty in this world that we are starving for it.

Don’t believe me?  Just think for a moment about how many times you have talked to one of your friends and had them read you a text or email to see what you think it means.  We have been become experts at analyzing words and phrasing in texts and emails, hoping to decipher what the person really means, what they are actually saying…which makes it painfully obvious that we don’t trust people to speak the unadulterated truth.

I mean it when I say that truth is so rare that we are starving for it.

However…I have to distinguish being truth-telling, and beating someone with the truth.

Sadly, I have heard plenty of people speak sentences full of barbed words, swinging sentences like a bat aimed at the other person’s head. After they finish speaking, these people all say the same thing: I’m just telling the truth, that’s all.  And they are, kind of, but not really.

You see, the truth—if you want it to be heard and accepted—needs to be spoken in love.  The kind of truth that sets you free is truth that is given as a gift, delivered directly and bluntly without sugar-coating…and without any barbs or knives.

I call it the open-handed truth.

Basically, I tell my clients to hold out their hand, palm up, whenever they speak the truth. This is to signify to them and their listener that the truth they are telling is offered as a gift. The listener is free to take that gift or leave it, but there it is: honesty and truth, offered to them as a gift.

I ask them to do that because any move away from giving a gift to delivering a barbed truth will cause their hand to suddenly shift from an open palm to a pointed finger. You know what I’m talking about: that finger-shaking, “I’m going to give you a piece of my mind” gesture that we use when we are slapping someone across the face with our words.  I tell my clients that the difference between an open-handed truth and a finger-shaking truth is the difference between honesty as a gift and honesty as a 2×4 upside the head!  It’s an effective metaphor, because who the hell wants to speak the truth as a 2×4 to someone’s head?

The answer to that question is: any member of the media when speaking to Donald Trump, but that’s another blog post entirely.

Why am I busy talking about the truth?  Well, when I started as a counselor, I found it very hard to speak certain truths to my clients, especially if the truth was particularly ugly. I also shied away from telling my clients when they were engaging in unhealthy behaviors, even when they were engaging in unhealthy and unwise behaviors right in front of me.

In short, I have been an incredible wuss for years.

And then recently I decided to try something for my stress. Being a counselor is very stressful. Clients can be very demanding, and the need to help them can leave you feeling like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders. It can be overwhelming, and it does overwhelm me occasionally. It really wouldn’t matter that much, but I have chronic health issues, and stress makes them worse. I am at a point where something has to change or I am not going to be able to keep up with my practice. I am not willing to let stress derail my health…and I’m not willing to let my health end my ministry.

The thing was that no matter what I was doing, nothing was reducing my stress level.  Exercise was helpful, but not enough. Diet changes were helpful, but not enough. Hobbies, vacations, meditation…all of it was helpful, but not enough.

Then I remembered something I learned from watching my daughter get sober. The 12 Steps are powerful and deeply spiritual, and without them people often fail to overcome their addictions because the biggest problem in addiction is that we keep trying so hard…instead of relying on a God who is so much more powerful than we are.

And that was my epiphany.

I began reciting the first three steps (as best as I could remember them) in relation to my clients.

I admitted that I am powerless over my clients—powerless over mental illness and trauma—powerless over my client’s lives—and that trying to be a healer is becoming unmanageable.

I remembered that there is a Power greater than myself who can restore both me and my clients to sanity.

And then I made a decision to turn myself…and my clients…and their problems…and their healing…over to God’s care.

I cannot tell you how liberating that felt. Every time I’d start to get stressed about my clients or my practice, I’d remember that I am powerless over mental illness and trauma, and utterly incapable of healing anyone. Then I’d remind myself that God is more than capable of handling all that and is willing to use me along the way to bring that about…and I’d calm back down and my stress level would drop and I’d start to feel less overwhelmed and exhausted.

But there was this funny side effect of all this: I’m not a wuss anymore!

All of a sudden, I find myself saying things in session that are blunt, open-faced truths that I was unable to say before.

Dare I say…I have become strangely bold?  And I’m not talking 2×4 bold, either. This is calm, open-handed truth that is popping out of my mouth without hesitation or even the slightest twinge of guilt.

Jesus said that the truth would set us free, and the truth I discovered is that I am powerless, and when I accept that powerlessness…suddenly I am far more free to share the truth with others.

The truth about me became the truth recognized by me and spoken to others becomes the truth that sets them free.

If this is powerlessness, sign me up. And we will all be free together.

Amen.

The Apple of His Eye

I met with a client this week who is struggling to rebuild her life as she trudges through an ugly divorce.  Let’s call her Anna.

Anna believes that God has a plan for her life and a path for her to follow so that she can move forward after the end of her marriage, and she is doing everything possible to be faithful to both.  She is doing her best to raise her two teenage girls to be women of faith.  She is working hard to build the realty business she opened when she left her husband.  She is struggling every month to pay the bills but is determined to become financially secure so that she can stop relying on her ex-husband, who isn’t interested in being reliable or remotely honest when it comes to child support.  The thing that amazes me is that in the midst of all of this, Anna continues to give to others even when she doesn’t have much herself. She particularly likes helping low income families get affordable housing even though she doesn’t get much of a commission from that kind of work.  Anna and I both believe that she is doing everything she can to be on God’s path, and we can both very clearly see God at work in her life, so why isn’t it getting any easier?

That is the one thing that Anna just can’t get over: that no matter how hard she works to do exactly what God wants, her life is just as difficult now as it was only a month or two after she left her husband.  Anna sits in my office and cries, just wanting God to reveal to her what she’s supposed to do next. What is the next step on God’s path? Not knowing makes her anxious and fearful about what’s going to happen next.  It makes her fear that she has screwed up and has wandered off God’s path somehow.  In the end, despite her deep faith, she’s incredibly anxious, frequently exhausted, and always at the end of her rope, and she doesn’t think that a good Christian woman should feel the way she does.

I try to remind her at every session that no matter how perfect your life is otherwise, raising two teenage daughters will have you at the end of your rope every day, all the time.

Beyond that, though, I get where Anna is coming from.

My parents have always attended an evangelical, fundamentalist church.  They did when I was a child, and they still do now.  As a child, I remember learning about God’s will and God’s plan for your life.  God had a path for your life and you had better be on it. If you stepped off that path, even one tiny step off of the path, you were in big trouble.  Even more frightening was that stepping off the path meant that you were on your own, that God was not going to be present to you and your needs while you went on your little ‘jaunt’ off the path.  If you realized your mistake later and wanted to get back to a good relationship with God, you had to backtrack to where you left God’s path in the first place, and then get busy moving forward on God’s path because being off God’s path was unacceptable, sinful, and a good reason to condemn you to Hell for all eternity.

I suppose that makes some sense, especially to fundamentalists.  The thing is that it makes God sound awfully petulant and kind of like a narcissistic parent. You know, you better play by God’s rules or He isn’t going to play with you anymore.  He’ll just take His ball and go home and you will be All. By. Yourself.  Oh, and you’ll spend eternity in Hell.

I don’t believe any of that anymore.

I’m Methodist now, and I am a feminist process theologian.  That doesn’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t study theology, so I’ll just say that I really like the idea that my beginning (birth) is fixed in God’s hands and my ending (death) is also fixed in God’s hands, and the life that exists between those two points is a negotiation between God and me.  I believe that God will never leave me because God is not in the business of abandoning His children…not even the disrespectful, rebellious ones.  For me, it’s all the more reason to love Him and serve Him.

What does that have to do with Anna?

Well, Anna was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist church just like I was.  Both of us learned early on that ‘true Christians’ had the peace that passes understanding (Phill 4:7) and that meant that you don’t get anxious if you really love the Lord.  ‘True Christians’ trust God and do not fear circumstances.  ‘True Christians’ wait for God’s leading and are patient because God always acts in God’s time, which is rarely early but never late.  God is all merciful and knows your needs; He has numbered the hairs on your heads, so you have nothing to worry about. (Lk 12:7)

What all that boils down to is that ‘true Christians’ don’t ever have unpleasant emotions like worry, fear, or anxiety.  Anger is pretty much unacceptable as well, unless it’s holy anger at the sin you perceive in the world (or in someone else, but that’s another post.) ‘True Christians’ sail through life so zen that nothing ruffles their feathers; after all, their Father in Heaven is looking out for them, so why worry?

I know devout Buddhists who that aren’t that zen and never will be.

Anyone who reads their Bible…heck anyone who has seen the movie The Passion of The Christ knows that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and was so distressed that God sent angels to comfort Him.

Seriously? Jesus sweats blood, but somehow our faith in God is going to insulate us against the icky feelings that we don’t like?

No, that’s not how it works. Faith in God is not a magical pair of rose-colored glasses that will make our lives all sunshine and puppies.  Faith in God is not an extended release Valium for the soul.

Don’t get me wrong. Please, seek God’s will in your life and then do your best to live by it.  And when following God’s will leaves you exhausted, disappointed, and anxious, know that you have stumbled onto all the things that Christ experienced as he led the disciples for three years and then walked the path to His own crucifixion.  Definitely check in with God daily to make sure that you are following the path He has set before you, but plan on a few nights where you sweat some blood and need some supernatural help to make it through to the morning.

And if you are going to trust in something, trust that the God who delighted in creating you also delights in watching over you, because His son has made it clear that this is a difficult world to live in and we need all the help we can get. The God who created you loves you beyond what you can ever understand and will never leave you because it would break His heart to do so.  You are, in so many ways, the apple of His eye and He adores you.

If that doesn’t make you love God, I’m not sure what will.

A Litany of Fear and Hope

Last night, my husband and I talked about fear.  Both of us think that the nation has been overcome by fear of violence; fear of terrorism; fear of refugees; fear of the government taking their guns; fear that the government will take their rights; fear that foreigners will destroy our freedoms in the US; fear of the unknown.  Can you blame people for being afraid? The litany of violence is overwhelming:

December 2, 2015            14 dead, 21 wounded in San Bernadino, CA, shot by a US citizen and his wife.

October 1, 2015                9 dead at Umpqua College in Roseberg, OR, shot by a US citizen.

August 26, 2015                2 dead, shot while broadcasting the news in Roanoke, VA, killed by a  US citizen.

July 23, 2015                       2 dead, 9 wounded at a Layfeyette, LA theater, shot by a US citizen.

July 17, 2015                       9 dead, 1 wounded in a church in Charleston, SC, shot by a US citizen.

October 14, 2014              4 high school students dead in Marysville, WA, killed by a US citizen.

April 2, 2014                       3 dead and 16 wounded at Fort Hood, TX, shot by an active duty US soldier.

Sept 16, 2013                     12 dead, 3 wounded at Washington Navy Yard, shot by a US citizen / former US Navy sailor.

Dec 14, 2012                       26 dead, 20 of the children, at Sandy Hook Elementary, shot by a US citizen.

July 20, 2012                       12 dead, 70 injured in a theater in Aurora, CO, shot by a US citizen.

Jan 8, 2011                          6 dead, 13 injured, including Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford, shot by a US citizen.

In case you are wondering, all of these guns were obtained legally, either by the killers themselves or by their parents (in the case of the Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza, who used his mother’s legally obtained weapons, and in the case of the Oct 14, 2014 shooting by 15 year old Jaylen Fryberg, who killed students at his high school.)

You may have noticed that this list is missing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris at Charlie Hedbo and the Bataclan as well as the shootings in Denmark. Why do I list these only these acts of terrorism? Because…all of these acts of terrorism were committed by US citizens on US soil with legally purchased weapons.  So much of the fear that I hear is of ISIS and foreign refugees.  It seems to me that Americans have developed a short and selective memory.


As a child, I remember watching the news with my parents.  My parents felt that watching the evening news, especially the World News, was something akin to a duty.  In my parent’s world, there was no excuse for being ignorant of the world around you.  My father repeatedly reminded me that those who were ignorant of history were doomed to repeat it; my mother echoed his sentiments by encouraging me to read about history and do my best to see the needs of other people, especially the poor, no matter where in the world those people were living.

All those nights watching Frank Reynolds broadcasting the World News gave me a view of the world I wish I didn’t have to remember: the 1975 LaGuardia airport bombing; planes being hijacked and diverted to foreign countries (so many I cannot remember all of them); Israelis taken hostage and killed at the Munich Olympics; US citizens held hostage in Iran for more than a year; people hijacked and then held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda.  This doesn’t include the many acts of terrorism that I witnessed after I became an adult, including the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building by Timothy McVeigh that killed 168 people in Oklahomah City, OK in 1995.  I sat the couch nursing my newborn daughter Katie, horrified by the carnage that I saw on the TV screen.  I watched the television for hours on end, cuddling and nursing my baby girl that day, shaking my head and crying.  Again…this act of terrorism was committed by a US citizen, carried out with products purchased legally that created bombs of mass destruction, killing hundreds of American citizens.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?

Right now, thousands of Syrian refugees are praying that the US will grant them safe haven inside our borders.  At the very same time there are people who swear these refugees are terrorists waiting to destroy our country.  They will tell you that admitting 9,999 legitimate refugees is unacceptable if even 1 member of ISIS comes across our borders into the US, hoping to harm our citizens.  I am here to tell you that you have more to fear from your own fellow citizens than you do from any foreigner, to remind you that your own countrymen have taken up arms against you and slaughtered innocent US citizens in the name of their politics or religion, and that US citizens will continue to do so whether you admit thousands of Syrian refugees or not.  No matter who you ban from this nation, there will be plenty of people waiting to shoot you, hijack you, hold you hostage, or blow your body to bits and each and every one of them will be a US citizen.

Ted Kaczynsky (nationwide bombing campaign, 3 dead, 23 injured). Ted Bundy (30 homicides in 7 states). David Berkowitz (New York City, 6 dead, 7 wounded). Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City, 168 dead, 600+ wounded). Jared Loughner (Tucson, 6 dead, 13 wounded).

Is the litany of violence getting to you?  I’ll bet it is.  And yet…

The sun rises every day, revealing beautiful sunrises and later that day, another gorgeous sunset.

The world is filled with kind and wonderful people who love and serve each other daily. If you don’t believe me, go to your local food bank or your local hospital and watch as people come and go throughout the day.

Neighbors watch over each other, banding together in neighborhood watches so that the entire neighborhood can be safer.

Families take care of their children and adult children care for their aging parents, leading to ‘circle of life’ moments that are beyond beauty and that give testament to the depth of love we have for one another.

And it isn’t just at the macro level that we see kindness, generosity, and selflessness.

My daughter, who could be earning six figures working for a local micro-factory (yeah they really offered her that much money) instead chooses to open a business that helps other startups who are crowd-funding and prototyping their product; she and her partner and putting 2% of their profits into a vacation fund for their employees to encourage their staff to take their days off and be emotionally and physically healthy.

My friend, who could be a totally self-centered lawyer focused on earning a salary that would pay off her student loans, instead chooses to focus on serving Native American persons and joins the board of United Food Bank.

My colleague, now retired, spends her days volunteering at a hospice to help the dying and working with local Jewish leaders to create a new Synagogue where progressive Jews can gather and worship.  Her husband, a retired professor, spends his days rocking premature infants so that new moms and dads can take a break for a shower or a nap while their child gets the most loving care possible.

Another colleague, still busy with a full practice, works in the Buddhist community to create as much peace and reconciliation as she can create between wounded factions.

I provide low-cost (and almost no-cost) counseling to people who fall through the social safety net because everyone, no matter what their income level, deserves the right to mental health care.

My husband sits on the board of a local outdoor behavioral health organization, raising funds so that low-income families can receive the same high quality treatment for their children that the rich families get for their kids.

I suppose that I could list each and every person I know who is choosing to be a part of the solution instead of the problem, but I’d be here writing all night long.

THERE IS NOTHING WORTH GIVING IN TO FEAR.

There will always be terrorist, hijackers, murderers, haters, bigots, racists, and people who simply vote for anger and hatred over peace and reconciliation.  But that doesn’t mean that you and I need to give in to fear and despair.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”    Christianity    1 John 4:18

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  Christianity    1 John 4:18

“When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union.”  Hindu Bhagavad Gita 6.28-32

“Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, let him cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world: above, below, and across without any obstruction, without any hatred, without any enmity.”  Buddhism. Sutta Nipata 143-151, Metta Sutta

“Have benevolence towards all living beings, joy at the sight of the virtuous, compassion and sympathy for the afflicted, and tolerance towards the indolent and ill-behaved.”  Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 7.11

“A man is a true Muslim when no other Muslim has to fear anything from either his tongue or his hand.”   Islam. Hadith of Bukhari

“Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”  Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.”   Islam, Surat al-Ma’ida, 48

“Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed.”  Islam, Al Quran 16:91

“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”    Gandhi

The world’s religions say it again and again: have compassion and love for one another, not fear.  When we let ourselves soak in fear of “The Other”, no matter who that other is: foreigner or citizen, male or female, rich or poor…none of it matters…when we let ourselves soak in fear of the “The Other” our decisions are made by fear, driven by pain, and not one of them is wise.

Only in unity can we be greater than all the bombers and mass shooters and terrorists that can darken our days with their violence.  Only in unity will greed be overcome by generosity.  Only in unity will we find the peace and contentment we seek.

For perfect love casts out fear…let his thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world…(have) compassion and sympathy for the afflicted…the enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but it is fear.

Squished…

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:

Sermon on the feeding of the 5000