I wrote this post with ministers in mind. But it really is applicable to most everyone.
The following are some questions that have helped me in times when I have felt overwhelmed and exhausted:
1. What am I thinking about? I ask this question because I know that if I am spending a lot of time rehearsing my worries or my fears that it costs me energy. At one time in my life, I would wake up in the middle of the night and lay in bed thinking one negative thought after the other. It was like I was I was allowing each thought to have its moment on the stage of my mind. Each one would come on the stage and appeal to my anxiety and worry. Such thinking not only kept me awake at night but will drained of energy.
2. Who am I spending time with? I have to monitor just how much time I spend with negative, critical people. Too much time spent with others who are constantly griping and complaining will sure enough drain me of energy. I am not just referring to people who may be critical of something I said or did. These may be people who are voicing some of the concerns I have had about some issue. Yet, I can’t listen to (what seems like) an endless stream of negative talk because it really does impact me.
3. What am I putting into my mind? On a typical day, I talk with people (e-mail, phone call, personal conversation) about matters that are very serious. Someone has learned that they have cancer. Someone else is deeply concerned about their financial debt. Still another is wrestling with marriage issues. At the end of the day, It is easy to go home and immerse myself in the national news, which much of the time is going to be very negative.
As a result, I have to be very intentional about what I put into my mind. I can’t continue to think about sad and tragic situations all of the time. So I often make sure that I watch something funny on television. Or, I might be sure to watch a good ball game of some kind. I might read a biography, especially one that is not filled with tragedy. What I think about really does matter.
4. When do I re-create my body? I generally work out at the gym four times a week. My motivation for doing this is not my weight nor is it because I am a health nut. My motivation is rooted in the way it makes me feel when I am regularly working out versus how I feel when I do not. If I am not getting some kind of exercise, it really does impact how I feel. Not only do I feel more sluggish, I tend to have less energy and motivation particularly in the afternoons.
5. When do I rest? Some ministers get their emotional strokes by talking about how hard they work. They go on and on about what everyone has asked them to do and how busy they are. There are ministers who do not even take a day off. Very, very unwise — in my opinion. Not taking time to rest, to get away, and to recharge will eventually catch up with a person.
6. When do I empty my mind? I have learned much from David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done. I have learned the importance of emptying one’s mind (or doing a “Mind Sweep“. That is, taking everything that is going on in your mind and putting it on paper. Several years ago, I was in one of his workshops. One of the exercises that we did that day was to take a clean sheet of paper and write down everything that we were thinking about. I remember thinking, “This won’t take long, I am only thinking about a couple of things right now.” We took about ten minutes for this exercise. I began my list and could not believe all that I wrote down. I put down everything from “Get the tire fixed” to “Got to call Steve on the way home.” Each time that I wrote something down, I then seemed to recall one more thing that I had stored in my mind.
Allen’s point is that if we do not regularly empty our minds, then stress is the result. He says that you must have a system in place where you can empty your mind and then know that you will come back to what you have written this down and deal with them.
7. Who am I resenting? Unresolved conflict and resentments can be such energy drainers! It is amazing how much energy I can spend thinking about a person who I am frustrated with or angry with. Occasionally I need to ask myself, “How much time do I spend thinking about old resentments or things that long ago should have been forgiven.”
8. Who am I depending on? I deliberately saved this one for last. This is one that I have to think about occasionally. Am I trying to do this ministry in my own power or in the power of the Spirit? Am I depending on myself or on God? Nothing is more exhausting than to try to do ministry via human power and human ingenuity. It will always be inadequate for the task at hand. That alone is exhausting!
Which one of these eight questions do you especially need to consider? Why?