In the last few years (non-coincidentally, right about when I started pastoring), I've become much more aware of how I handle stress, and how I let things in my life affect me and stress me. I've become more intentional in handling stress, because I've found that when I don't pay attention to whatever is causing me anxiety or worry, I can become really weighed-down, letting this stressor work away at me in a corner of my mind without my really paying attention to it. Whatever stresses me isn’t necessarily at the center of my attention, but in the background, creating an underlying feeling of anxiety that affects the rest of what I’m trying to do or trying to think about.
This anxiety can get out of hand. In college, my advisor once suggested, after a string of times being sick with flu or bronchitis or similar, that I might be making myself sick. I don’t think he meant I was making it up or anything – I definitely was sick – but he meant that I was getting so stressed and overloaded that I was getting sick. I think he was right. The sickest I ever was during college was my senior year – I was graduating a year early, and stage managing a theatre production, and going to General Conference 2000, and it was all too much. I needed a way out of something, but I couldn’t say no to anything, didn’t want to quit anything. Result? Worst flu I’ve ever had.
Now, when I realize I’m anxiety-filled, I’ve found that the best thing for me to do is stop and review what’s swimming around inside my head until I can pinpoint the issue that’s causing my stress. Usually once I do this, I can think over the issue and put it in its proper place, and move on. For example: last week I was feeling that anxiety, and tried to think of what was causing it. I realized I was anxious because of the CNN.com headline about the Time article on global warming – polar icecaps melted by 2060 (not to worry, though – CNN headlines only remain top stories for about 5 minutes). Yep. Anxious about polar icecap melt. Now, I think this is a real concern. A real threat. An extremely important issue. But is it something that should cause a gnawing stress in the pit of my stomach? Probably not, since that anxiety isn’t going to cause my action – it is only going to cause my inability to act.
In the ministry, I’ve found that a million things can cause this anxiety in me. Someone mentions that the service went 15 minutes too long, or that we’re still struggling financially, or that I didn’t call someone who was in the hospital, or I see that attendance is down again – if I’m not careful, these things can cause me a great deal of anxiety. This past week, I’ve been on vacation, and I’ve spent most of it sick, worried about this, that, etc. Most of what I worry about is outside of my control. Jesus’ words about worry run through my mind. How on target, and how in opposition to how we live today. We don’t like not being able to control things. Maybe that’s what it all comes down to.
So, after my rambling post, I ask – how do you deal with stress? Are you an anxious person? A worrier? If you are a pastor, how does stress affect your ministry?