What happens when we need to take a break due to sickness?

Over the past few months I have been very sick, not only sick enough to take a break from this blog and ministry but sick enough to spend some time in hospital.  Without going into all the gross details of my illness, I had an inflammation of the large intestine that had me in hospital for treatment on two separate occasions.  The second trip to the hospital lasted nine days followed by twenty days of treatment at home by a community nurse.

In the past I had heard about ministry leaders getting sick but it had never happened to me.  I knew ministry leaders who suddenly had to take time off because of illness or a family crisis that needed their attention.  In this blog post I won’t focus on the break you need to take due to burn out, I have written on that before.  My thoughts have turned to the fact that being a ministry leader doesn’t except us from getting sick, sick enough to take a break for a few weeks even months.

Since the start of the year my ministry load hasn’t been that heavy, I help out at my local church where I can and I work a few hours a week in the ministry training centre.  At the same time I am completing my Masters of Divinity so there is lots of reading and writing to be done.  Yet when I got sick all of this had to go on hold because I couldn’t concentrate, I would often need to rest in bed or I was in doctors waiting rooms; ministry, study and blogging became the last things on my mind.

To make things more complicated the church where I serve could really have used my help over the past few months.  Whilst it can survive without me, two of the ministers were leaving so all the lay people had to step up to fill in until their replacements come in 2014.  So I could have been really useful to have around, instead I was either in hospital or at home receiving treatment.  As someone who has been in ministry for 20 years it was the first time where I knew what ministry needed to be done but was unable to help due to serious illness.

God uses everything to form and shape you, even when we don’t know why things turn out the way they do.  Even though I wasn’t able to be involved in ministry during this time I learnt a number of things throughout my illness.  I thought I would share these with because I have been off the blog for a number of months now so I wanted to update you on what I have been reflecting on.

  1. The church will cope without me – my church were great at swapping my spots on the rosters and finding replacements for the roles that I was meant to fill.  Everyone likes to feel invaluable but in reality most ministries can and should be able to survive without you.  Someone always steps up to cover the hole that our absence makes because even ministry leaders get sick.  As a ministry leaders we need to trust God and trust our church that they can cope whenever we get sick.
  2. The church should care about me as a person – my church were great at caring for me as a person, asking me how I was going not just about who was covering for me when I was away.  Many people were worried about me as a person, they didn’t just pray for me so I would get back to ministry quicker.  People offered to cook meals for my family, pick me kids up from school and all kinds of other helpful things.  If you ever get sick I hope that you are involved in a church where people care about you as a person and don’t just see your illness as a problem to handle.
  3. There is still a bit of guilt – it is hard to let go of the things that I regularly do in ministry.  I felt guilty about letting the blog writing fall.  I felt guilty about have to swap out of a sunday roster.  I felt guilty about not being able to help the church.  Yet a number of good friends in ministry reminded me that it is good to rest and recover.  Self care is more important that pushing it for a few weeks.  Being sick reminded me that the correct theological perspective about work and ministry is that I am more than my work and ministry; whilst I may feel guilt at times, when I am sick I need to move beyond the guilt to focus on rest and recovery.
  4. Illness helped me to refocus on God – sometimes I get so swept up in ministry, blogging or theological study that I forget the daily practices that draw me closer to God.  When I was sick I had the time to read and meditate on scripture.  I had time to listen to christian worship music just to listen for God’s voice.  I decided that I didn’t have to blog every week or check twitter everyday.  My time away from ministry helped me understand that God rescues me everyday from a whole range of things whether I am serving in ministry, spending time at home with the family or sitting in a hospital bed recovering from an illness.
  5. There is always hope – when I was sick I would often read psalm 107 where God rescues a variety of people from a variety of circumstances, you should read it.  Two things struck me:
    1. In this psalm God rescues those who ask for help without demanding they change their behaviour before he helps them, check the psalm yourself.
    2. In this psalm God rescues people yet there is evidence that they still take some time to get out of their circumstances.  For examples the exiles are rescued but will still take some time to get back to Jerusalem.

In my case I knew that God was healing me and would rescue me from this illness, I just had to wait a few months for full recovery.  Perhaps you will get sick and need to take a break from ministry to recover, don’t worry there is hope.

Perhaps you haven’t ever had a major break from ministry due to illness but my guess is that you know someone who has.  Perhaps you had to step up and cover for a fellow ministry leader who got sick.  In reality if you stay in ministry long enough you will at some point have to take a break due to illness.  My hope is that you can honestly and peacefully take a break without feeling guilty.

It is ok to take a break

It is ok to rest and recover

It is ok to fall behind on email, twitter and blogging

It is important to trust in God that the church/ministry will survive without you.

Please leave a comment.

mrmarkmcdonald, markoffaith, markoffaith.net

Four types of breaks you need to take

There are many reasons to take a break from ministry to recharge the batteries and clear your head.  If you know the purpose of your break before you depart then you will enjoy your time off and come back feeling refreshed.  If you are unclear about the purpose of your break then you feel frustrated and you will return feeling as tired as you were when you left.

Whilst you may not have time to take weeks off, you can take a short break over a weekend or take a few days off mid-week.  Here are four types of short breaks that you may take from ministry over a few days or even a week:

  1. Clean up – whilst this may not be everyone’s favourite break sometimes you need to take a break from ministry to clean up and take stock.  If this is the type of break you are seeking then you will be most happy tucked away in your workspace with no distractions.  Some people like to go through their work space or files to clean up months worth of clutter.  A short clean up break will help you clear your mind at the end of busy time or to prepare for a new season in the ministry.  People often take this type of break in late December or early January, but perhaps there is a better time of the year for you to take this break.
  2. Rest – perhaps you are running on empty and you could do with 15 hours of sleep.  This won’t be a very productive break so you need to prepare to get nothing done.  Some people take time off to rest then fill their days with cleaning or visiting friends then wonder why they still feel tired at the end of the break.  If you are run down and tired then sleep in each day and take an afternoon nap.  It can also be helpful to do some exercise in the afternoon to help get the blood flowing and oddly this will help you sleep better at night.  It is important to watch what you eat when you are resting and stay away from heavy foods and caffeine.
  3. Visiting – sometimes you go through seasons when you don’t see anyone outside your ministry, then you are in need of a visiting break. Take a break to catch up with friends and family.  Unlike the resting break, if you are visiting friends then you will fill your day with appointments to see people.  Unlike the person who has shut themselves away to declutter, you want to get out and see people.  You will get energy from other people but avoid people who connected with the ministry.  Perhaps you need to turn off your ministry mobile and focus on the conversations of the people in front of you.
  4. Get away – every once in a while we need to escape by going away.  Some people have found that they never fully switch off if they are in the same city as their ministry, others the same state as their ministry.  Some leaders need to get away to a different culture so that it highlights the environment that they minister in.  If this is your need then it is a little more expensive so save those penny’s.  Perhaps there may even be someone in your ministry that owns a holiday home, caravan or tent.

Whilst you might tend to spend your holidays doing one of these types of break, we actually need all four types of breaks within our annual calendar.  If you balance your time throughout the year across all four types of breaks then you will feel refreshed and prevent burn out.

Michael Hyatt has a podcast and article where he talks in more depth about knowing the purpose of your vacation, which would also be helpful to check  out.  Michael outlines a few important steps before you leave on a break which I encourage you to look at.

If you have any tips on taking a break please share your ideas with other by leaving a comment in the area below.

markoffaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, MarkofFaith

Sabbatical – Part 2 – Rest

When I moved cities from Sydney to Melbourne late in 2011, I planned to have at least four months off full time work. There was so much that I wanted to accomplish in my time off, but as I wrote in a previous post I wanted to see it as a Sabbatical as well. There were so many things that I wanted to do and see. I planned to go to coffee shops everyday and write, read and plan for the next phase of my life. I wanted to explore this new city, meet lots of people and build connections. Yet in just the second week into the move I got sick and had to sleep most of the week. My third week was not that productive either and I told myself it was just the colder melbourne weather. In the following weeks I got frustrated with myself for not doing enough, I thought that I was “wasting time”. This sense of wanting to “do” so much now that I wasn’t working full time would have continued had it not been for one passage of scripture:

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. 11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9-11

It seems that God not only rested from His good work but granted rest to those who were faithful to Him. In my plans for the four months off full-time work I had forgotten to allow for God to grant me rest. My plans were so much about continuing the work that I had done over the past 20 years of ministry. It seems that the adrenaline of doing ministry was preventing me from resting in God, which means a rest from doing the work of ministry. In order to really understand my sabbatical I had to understand rest and enter a time of sabbath rest.

There are a few things that I learnt about rest since being on sabbatical over the past four months:

  1. If we trust in God we take a break – looking back on the last few years of ministry I failed to take a break because I thought I needed to keep the momentum going. In reality I was keeping the ministry in my hands rather than handing it over to God. If we really believe that our ministry will fall apart if we take a break then we are showing no trust in God. The quickest way to burn out is believing this “season” is too busy to take a break.
  2. We need to detox from the urgent – looking back on my ministry I realised that the urgent drew me in as it is exciting. It is exciting to get into things than need to be done “right now”. Sometimes we need to see the eternity of God and detox from the adrenaline buzz of the urgent parts of ministry.
  3. We are more than what we produce – sometimes in ministry I felt that I wasn’t accomplishing anything, that the ministry wasn’t working. Yet when I look at it through Gods eyes, God was growing me as a person. God was achieving more in me than through me. Since looking back I now realise that I am more loved by God for who I am than what I achieve for His Kingdom.
  4. If God wants to achieve something, it will get done – who am I to think that God needs me or the church will fall over? There is an arrogance in the thinking that I have to achieve everything right now, perhaps I need to be more in tune with God’s timing than the desires of my own heart. Looking back over the past few months I have discovered that God’s timing is perfect, I was just too busy doing ministry to see that.

So that is just a little bit of what I have learnt since being on Sabbatical. In the past four months I haven’t been to as many coffee shops or done as much writing or built as many projects as I thought I might, but God has strengthened me through the sabbath rest that He has granted me. Looking back I see this past four months as a great blessing.

Whilst I have learnt these few things I am still not out of the woods. The challenge is to implement what I have learnt when I get back to work and back to ministry. In the coming months I will begin the real difficult time of trying to regularly enter sabbath rest when ever ministry gets “busy”. My one encouragement for you and for me as life gets busy is to take a weekly sabbath rest. Perhaps it can’t be Sunday as you are working, but find some time in your week to stop doing and listen to who God is helping you to be.

Please leave a comment on how you have rested during the busy times in ministry. What do you do to relax and enter into God’s rest?