Tapped Out

Chaplaincy

I did an unthinkable thing today – I told my boss that I was “tapped out.” I didn’t have more to give.

This is a first for me, at least for as long as I can remember. “Stick-to-it-tivness” was a theme in my family. You work until the job is done. This, of course, has about killed me on several occasions. I just don’t have good boundaries. I have a terrible time saying no.

It’s not that I don’t WANT to do it (whatever “it” is) – I very often do! In fact, most times, I could do it better than it’s being done and I want to help. But, there are only so many hours in a day and I only have so much time to give.

Self-care. It’s never been a strong suite with me. I’m something of an “on or off” person. For the last ten years or so in ministry, the spiral works something like this:

Get the new job or assignment. 

Work like a mad fiend. 

Be very impressive because I just don’t ever go home. 

Get lots of kudos for my workaholism. 

Feed on the kudos and work more. 

Start to feel the burn. 

Work harder. 

Crash. Burn. Let the ball drop. Depression. 

Recover. 

Repeat. 

Now, the thing is, my career path has not helped this natural tendency in me. Since I joined the Army, I have had a change, move, PCS EVERY year! Every year, I would go through my patterned cycle and every year about the time I was at my worst (always hidden from my leadership and Soldiers through secret ninja skills I learned growing up a pastor’s kid) I could recover because I knew there was a change coming. There was a moment on it’s way that would give me an artificial shift in my circumstances and I knew that I’d be able to take some time off and recover from my woes.

Until this year.

This year has been the first time I’ve started a new OER (Annual Evaluation) in the same unit and NOT be deployed/coming back from a deployment. This has highlighted the need in my life to actually do something about my spiral. I had never identified this pattern in my life. During my year of CPE, I identified something through group work and this year, my wife and I nailed it – this pattern of exhaustion that torpedos my ministry.

So. I. Made. Change. I broke the spiral. I felt coming on and I owned it. It was the first step. I had to own that I was overwhelmed and starting to spiral downward. Then, I had to do what actually hurt: say no to programs.

Here’s the thing, when you are a minister, saying “no” not only means that you personally will not do something or give up time it also means that OTHERS will not get to have the event because you turned it down. So, as a prison chaplain, it means that my inmates will not get to have a service because I can’t handle doing it and remain healthy. That’s where it gets tough. That’s where the rub turns into a burn. Having to face your commander and your congregation and tell them that you just don’t have more to give goes against everything I have ever experienced for a Soldier AND a pastor.

I’ve heard and read a great deal about “Self-Care,” the idea that we pastors have to take care of our selves in order to properly minister. I have experienced others and myself sighing and affirming that reality. Then, we all go back to work, head into the same meetings and carry on with the business of wearing the hats of “staff officer” and “chaplain.”

Too often, the ones who pay the steepest price are the kiddos, spouses, and families of the minister. I’ve certainly done ministry on the back of my family. This last Christmas season, I made a commitment to NOT do that. This does not mean that I didn’t work on Christmas – I did – however, it DOES mean that when I am home, I am home. When I am playing with my kids, there is nothing taking me from that. When it’s my wife’s time, it’s hers and she does not have to share me with my smart phone or email.

It’s been challenging. It’s been stressful. It’s also been life-giving!

Who knew that embracing my own limitations would be so… liberating?!!

3 thoughts on “Tapped Out

  1. Once a professor of mine told me a bit about St. Francis de Sales, that teaching people about self care was one of his gifts. That was during my senior year in college. I’m just starting to read some of his writings now. (Though not on the topic directly, Introduction the the Devout Life is very good.) I’m appreciating his thoughts and looking forward to learning more about his life!

  2. Oh yes, enjoy it! I find that some authors focus on more esoteric ideas of self-care rather than the simple – “do less” aspect. We’re so production focused in our western capitalistic culture. What is rewarded is production. It drives what we monetarily reward and recognize. However, people do not work this way. We are not factories and machines. This “production centric” focus that we have impacts how schools are run, education is evaluated and even how church works. Not for the better I think.

  3. I totally agree, Jon. What a great observations, and great communication of the ideas. I have had to work on this in my life over the last several years. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily get easier to say no, but the it does get easier to see the warning signs of over-committment coming. I have to work so diligently on keeping my family the recipients of my energy. Because I’ve learned that I’m the only one who can control this, and people will always ask more of you than you can give. It’s just a fact of life.

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