I just posted a blog called difficult. It was a small glimpse into one of the darkest and most challenging times of my life. If you haven’t read it, you can read it here. I figured it might be worthwhile to talk about what helped me to get out of these challenging times and overcome the stress that had consumed my life. I hope that it might help someone else in the same situation.
Say no. You have to start bringing balance back to your life. Learn to say no. Do it because you can. It might be something that you have always done in the past for someone, but you need a little extra time for yourself right now.
If you are like me, I have a hard time saying no because the request I am saying no to is often something good. I have learned that looking for a third way is often helpful. We tend to see requests as black and white, yes I can do it or no I cannot. Look for ways to help people that still protect yourself, while avoiding a flat no.
For example, the other night I had a mechanic working at my house. He was helping me fix something that another person had messed up and he was here until almost 9pm. He asked if I could give him a ride to town. It wasn’t a bad request. It would have been a half hour walk and at night it can be dangerous. But I was tired, hungry, and annoyed because it took so long because of the other person’s incompetence. I said no, but then I arranged for a taxi to come and pick him and I paid for it. I protected my needs while still helping. Focus. I had a helpful talk with a close friend. He asked me what I was doing that was different from why I came to Kenya as a missionary to begin with. He reminded me of my calling and my goals. We all have something that guides us, whether it is a spiritual calling or a job description. We cannot do everything and we shouldn’t try. This is also a good time to consider what your gifts are.
I started to focus on what I was good at and what I had come to Kenya to do. I have learned that my time is best spent in training. If I take on a new duty, the first thing I look for is who can I train to do this. The goal is for everything in our ministry to be Kenyan led. For you it might be different, but learn to utilize the talents of those around you and focus on what you need to get done. If you are a design engineer, let someone else manage the manufacturing. If you run a small business, pay someone else to build your website. If you are a school janitor, value your job, because you allow the teachers to focus on teaching.
As I talked to my friend about my calling, I saw 2 major areas that were different than why I had originally come to Kenya as a missionary. The one area I realized was a way that my calling had shifted and I should continue doing it. The other area ended up being outside what I was in Kenya to do and I realized it was the leading source of my stress. Getting rid of it was hard, but it has put me on the road to recovery.
Don’t be the dumpster. Follow Paul’s example. At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes the people for allowing immorality so bad that it is “of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans.” He tells them to remove the involved party from their midst immediately. If we stop and think for a moment, it should seem strange that the church did nothing to address such an appalling sin within their group. It was so public that word reached Paul who was far away.
The likely answer is that the new church leaders that Paul had left behind didn’t want to deal with the tough issues. We know that Paul had no problem rebuking people. The leaders he left behind were probably waiting for Paul to come back and take care of the problem. They might have even been the ones who let Paul know about the problem. Paul refused to have the issue dumped on him. Instead of running back to Corinth to put people in line, he spent more time rebuking the church leaders than the ones who were in sin. He made them deal with it because it was their problem and not his.
Don’t be a dumpster. People are all too happy to let you deal with all the problems. Don’t fall into the temptation to always catch things before they come crashing down. It is hard. I was running an orphanage because the local people responsible refused to care. I was stressed to the max but couldn’t abandon orphans. The children probably suffered more because I was the “leader” but too far away to meet their needs. The moment I quit is the day that the right person for the job took over. I had to get out of the way no matter how hard it was. When you stop being the dumpster, it forces others to clean up their own mess.
Pray, pray, pray! I do not know whether to put this one first or last. It should probably be in both positions so I put it in the middle. I learned through this hard time that my relationship with Jesus is vastly more important than my list of achievements as a missionary. The way that we relate with Jesus is through prayer. It is how we find peace and guidance. It is how we know what to say no to and it is our source of wisdom in trying times.
In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus tells a terrifying story of a very religious person (he called Jesus “Lord, Lord”) who is rejected from Heaven. This persons lists the incredible things that he had done including prophesying, casting our demons, and many other “mighty works.” Jesus’s response was “depart from me, I never knew you.” It is all about relationship and not what we do. This is so liberating because many of our difficulties come from a compulsion to do.
Even if you are not a Christian (and I strongly encourage you to try praying to Jesus), it is still proven that prayer/meditation is helpful. When you are stressed, you cannot think straight, you become forgetful, and it is hard to plan ahead. The immediate consumes you. Creative thinking happens best when your mind is clear. It is amazing how much clearer I can think after I pray. Finding quiet time is essential to getting unstuck.
Take vitamins This might seem like a strange point, but it is the thing that helped me get over the hump. As the stress settled in, I lost my energy and was getting sick all the time. It culminated in chest pains so bad I thought I was having a heart attack. Even when I started to find better balance in my life and the stress levels returned to normal, my energy did not come back. I was fatigued all the time which made catching up on work and life that much harder.
One night I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed and went to look for something that would make good background noise on the TV. I didn’t want something interesting so I turned on one of those crazy, fringe documentaries about food and health. It started talking about using vitamins to cure sicknesses, even cancer. I am not a doctor, and please see your doctor for serious medical conditions, but I decided to dust off the multivitamins that my wife, Abby, had bought. It couldn’t hurt, so I decided to take one in the morning and in the evening. Within a couple days my strength returned. It was amazing how much of a difference it made.
Exercise Along with making sure that your body gets the nutrients it needs, exercise is really important. I was an athlete growing up, but the busyness of life, especially during difficult times makes exercise one of the first things to go. I was too busy to get out and play soccer with our school students like I normally do.
Over the years, I have tried different workout videos to keep myself in shape. I like going to the gym, but the first gym I found here in Nanyuki was a pile of weights in someone’s backyard. There are better ones now, but they are expensive. I was into insanity for awhile, but when I tried to get back into it after stopping for a couple months, I threw up from pushing too hard. I hate waking up painfully sore too. Abby likes T25, but it feels too much like running. I have settled on PiYo, which is a combination of pilates and yoga. The stretching has improved my breathing and helped my back pain. I wake up the next day feeling sore enough to know I worked out without being miserable.
The point of my rambling is to say find an exercise that fits you. I have started looking at mountain bikes because it will get me outside for cardio. I hate running. Get into a new workout slowly so that you don’t burn out the first week. You don’t have to kill yourself to have a good workout. It is also not bad to try different options. There are too many great resources available these days to have any excuses not to exercise, and the endorphins your body releases are a great way to start the day and combat the feeling of depression.
Remember your family Having a supportive family (or friends) is key to getting through hard times. Abby was incredible through all of it, but also remember that your family needs you. It was a constant temptation to want to fall into self pity and shovel my problems onto those around me.
When you are struggling, do not be afraid to communicate your needs to your significant other. It is impossible to hide when you are super stressed, so it is better to have it in the open. But facing challenges in work or others areas of your life is not an excuse to quit your responsibilities at home. You do not need to add relationship problems to your list of problems.
For parents, play with your kids more (if you are single, some people find great strength in getting a pet). My daughter never cared how stressful or busy my day was. She just wanted to play with daddy. Being around her helped me forget my struggles and laughter is also good for helping your mood. Kids see the world through such incredible simplicity and pureness.
The bottom line is that, if your are there for your family and close friends, they will be there for you.
Difficulties will always be there. I have learned that hard times in life often simply serve to prepare us for an even harder time down the road. Still there are those times that are unbearably hard. These are some of the things that helped me survive one of the hardest periods of my life, and I hope you have found something that helps you one day.