By Jana Detrick
This past year has proven to be one of rich relationships and bittersweet transitions for me. I've been blessed to meet weekly with a group of seven young women who all went to the same college and are all involved in ministry. We have shared our joys, our struggles, our defeats, and our frustrations. We have been an exceptional support, cheering section, prayer team, and encouragement to one another through this unique "adjusting to the real world" season of life.
However, as with so many things in life, some great blessings are just for a specific season. One by one, we've been moving away and moving on. Christina and Jaclyn are off to California; Amy is newly married and starting a life with her spouse in a new state. Jenilee is moving to Washington, DC., and Lindsay will be spending time in India. And here I am in Seattle, wondering what God is doing with this season of my life. It can be a very lonely place in ministry when you lose people you've become quite close to, colleagues and dear friends.
In 2009 alone, not only those friends, but also the children's pastor, receptionist, and youth assistant from the church where I serve (each of whom I was quite bonded with) have moved across the country, across the state, and across the sea, respectively. I know that much of life has to do with being adaptable and flexible in the face of unexpected transitions. The Lord has to be my sustainer with everything changing around me. Yet, that doesn't make it easy. I'm not trying to throw a pity party, but these things have definitely been very personally stretching for me, and I know I'm not the only one affected/afflicted by this. Over and over again, I hear the same things from dear friends of mine in ministry positions, whether married or single, full-time or part-time, and regardless of what role they are playing, the same theme occurs: "I just feel so lonely."
I truly believe being misunderstood by people we're ministering to and with contributes to much of this loneliness. Often, people place extreme expectations on us because of what they think should be typical of our roles. Often, as women in ministry, we wear many hats: administrator, counselor, chauffer, mentor, wife, friend, mother, pastor, chaplain, teacher, wrangler of people, event coordinator, small group leader extraordinaire, musician, you-name-it. It's easy to lose sight of priorities when we fight against that current of "urgency" that so commonly overshadows the truly important.
Here are some lessons I'm learning to help me process this sense of being overwhelmed, misunderstood, and lonely:
1. Boundaries. I cannot do it all. Therefore, boundaries are essential to keep in our busy lives. When we're burned out, discouraged, and feel alone, we are much more susceptible to depression, lethargy, and various schemes of the enemy. I need to regularly ask myself, "Are there things I'm doing that are not on God's to-do list for my life?" I can't let expectations (from others or even those that are self-imposed) set the agenda for my ministry.
2. Margin. This sounds a lot like the first, only it is an intentional time set aside to stop the spinning wheel of activity that becomes spiritually draining, and to mentally, emotionally, and physically rest. Have we forgotten that to keep the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, and it still applies? When you work in a church, Sunday is probably not any kind of Sabbath for you, so you'll need to look at another day of the week to set aside for the Lord. I've recently been reminded that God himself took time to rest and consider the goodness of His good labor. We should not consider ourselves immune to the need for restful space and dependence on Him to recharge our souls.
3. Godly Counsel. I went to counseling in college, and am again seeing a Christian counselor who understands and is helping me gain tools to deal with the struggles of life and ministry. I feel extremely blessed to have that support. My counselor challenges me to meditate on the truth of God's Word more deeply and relentlessly, and I highly recommend counseling with a Christ-following counselor. Forget the stigmas - it is an incredible help.
4. Inspiration. What do you deeply enjoy doing that helps you unwind? For me, music is often something that inspires and encourages my soul. I love to write music, play piano and sing, and I also have a "go-to" playlist on my iTunes® with songs that speak to my spirit and stir up a passion and hunger for Jesus. Other people love to write, read, exercise, or experience the beauty of creation. Whatever "your thing" is that brings health and joy to your heart, plan time to do it - regularly.
5. Pray and Journal. Praying and journaling through the journey of life is one of the greatest ways to prepare to be used by God. My amazing lead pastor, Bob Stone, has a quote that challenges and inspires me: "Out of great healing comes great ministry." I truly believe that, and I know that we must run to God even when our instincts are to retreat from Him.
6. Keep cultivating relationships. When others we've loved and been close to move away or change, it's easy to put up walls that we think will prevent us from feeling that sense of loss again. But God created us for community, and close "unfiltered" friendships are vital to healthy lives and ministries. Be willing to invest in those around you to start new friendships or deepen existing ones.
Ministry is an amazing calling and privilege, but with all that it requires of us, it can leave us feeling extremely depleted and alone. Thankfully we are never alone, and God is in control of our every season, whether it feels full or empty. Loneliness doesn't have to be permanent either, and it can actually be a catalyst for us to cultivate new levels of companionship with Jesus, make room for new friends, and motivate us to continue connections with those who are further away. Yes, this does require more risk and vulnerability, but the reward of deep relationship is always worth the risk.
Jana Detrick is the outreach pastor on staff at Shoreline Community Church in Seattle, Washington. She loves Jesus and enjoys drinking coffee, deep conversations, singing, songwriting and sushi. She blogs at www.redcouchworship.com.