Posted on May 18, 2022 by Toni Larson, LISW
Church Worker Wellness
While this article was written for pastors, teachers and other church workers, the information and tips are certainly applicable to all!
As I write this, it is a gorgeous day in north central Iowa. It seems the season of winter jumped over spring entirely and presented us with sunny, balmy summer weather. The changing of the seasons is met by some with anticipation and wonder. Warm weather, sunshine, beautiful flowers are admired and enjoyed. For others, the change is unwelcomed and dreaded. High pollen counts, worries about sunburn and skin cancer, make enjoying the outdoors difficult.
Church workers’ transitions run the gamut of exciting, joyful, frightening and stressful. In addition to the usual church year transitions, there are transitions from one call to another and one home to another. For Lutheran school teachers, the transition is growing one class of students, saying goodbye, then welcoming another class a few months later.
Preparation can be helpful in handling life’s changes to reduce stress and expedite adjustment. In her article, “Ten Tips for Handling Life’s Transitions,” author Nylse Esahc (Ibelieve.com, March 10, 2019), suggested the following points with accompanying Bible references, followed by my observations.
Oftentimes we try handling life’s changes by struggling to keep everything the same; often without knowing that is what we are doing! Change is inherent in our lives from the day we are conceived. We change physically as we age, our abilities change, and our pursuit of vocation changes. Even in retirement, our lives are continually changing. If we can accept this, and know that the One who created us never changes, we can be soothed.
Anxiety is one of the chief complaints of my church worker clients. Understandably so as they face pressures and changing situations and are on-call 24 hours a day. We need to be reminded that we will be taken care of, that God knows our every need, that we must do our part, but ultimately the situation will work out to His plan.
Change and transitions can have us feeling as though we are slipping and sliding our way through life. It is important to reassure ourselves that we will find solid ground again as we progress through the change. What we tell ourselves is a key element of coping in a healthy manner. To be able to say, “This is uncomfortable and unfamiliar now, but it will get better and I will adjust” is an important step.
Finding a trusted confidante, perhaps someone who has been through our same struggle, is critical to coping with the stress of change and transition. Having a friendly listening ear allows us to process what we are thinking and feeling. Hearing stories of what our confidante found to be helpful gives us options and the knowledge that we are not alone. Connecting church workers with each other for the purpose of wise counsel and support is a manner in which transitions can be smoothed and church workers can stay healthy.
Like the changing of the seasons, life presents us with birth, aging, launching children into the world, illness, disability, and a myriad of other changes and transitions. We can make plans and predictions but can never know for sure what is going to happen in our lives. Fifteen years ago, I had no idea that I would wake up and be unable to walk, undergo emergency spinal cord surgery, and be in the hospital for 2 ½ months. In retrospect, I can appreciate the life lessons I learned and am still learning related to this experience.
If I could accomplish only one goal in my role as a Christian therapist, it would be to instill hope. No matter what the circumstance, there is always hope. Not necessarily the way we would like it to be, but it is always there, thanks be to God. When my sister was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the initial hope was that she would be cured and survive. When it was clear that was not to be, the hope was that she would not suffer physically. The hope that was certain was that she would be held in the arms of her loving Savior as she traveled the journey and be welcomed by Him.
We humans can be very self-focused when we make plans. We look at the pros, the cons, the impact on others to try to make the best decision. Too often, we leave out exploring and trying to understand what God’s plan is for us as we make our decision. Praying about and exploring what signs God is giving us through his word and our circumstances needs to be a focus in relation to handling life’s changes and transitions.
Fear can be paralyzing. Being fearful, but moving forward anyway, is a sign of courage. Remembering we are not walking alone into our new wilderness helps to bolster that courage.
When fear takes over, it is difficult to think clearly. Trusting that God walks with us, leads us, and sometimes carries, us can tame that fear.
Change and transition can be strength depleting. Returning to the well of God’s word and prayer frequently during our journey can bring renewal and strength to continue on our path.
Christian counselors at Lutheran Family Service are available to assist church workers who are struggling with transition and change in their personal or professional lives. If you need someone to talk to, practical tools to better cope, and hope for a better future despite the changes that will come your way, reach out anytime through our online web form: https://lutheranfamilyservice.org/contact/
Toni Larson, LISW
Director of Church Worker Wellness
Lutheran Family Service
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