Missionary Burnout with Laura Howe

Jun 13, 2024

 

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On this episode, we’re tackling a crucial topic: burnout among missionaries, and we’re joined by Laura Howe, founder of Hope Made Strong.

We explore the unique pressures of cross-cultural ministry and examine what sustainable self-care looks like. There’s even a burnout quiz you can take to see where you’re at. You’ll hear real-life examples and actionable strategies to help you make great choices and keep your passion for ministry alive!

 

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Ways to Connect With Laura Howe

 

Last Week’s Episode

Understanding Gen Alpha with Dr. Jolene Erlacher

Transcript From the Episode

Welcome to this episode of the Modern Day Missionaries podcast. Today, I’m thrilled to have Laura Howe joining us. Welcome, Laura.

[00:02:03] Laura: Thank you so much. I am so excited to be with you today.

[00:02:07] Stephanie: And you were just telling me, actually, before I even introduce you, you have a missions connection. Like this has been on your heart since the beginning.

[00:02:15] Laura: Oh my goodness. This feels like a full circle moment for sure. My background is, I went to school to be a social worker and at the very beginning I was doing local missions in my hometown, working in, you know, the youth centers and, and drop ins and trying to volunteer locally. And, but I’ve always had a heart for missions.

And so when I went to school, my full intention was to do community development work overseas with missions organizations doing strength based work and capacity building work. Um, but then I met a boy and we got married and we were both settled in at home with a ton of school debt.

And it’s so weird. I’ve always wondered, God, why? Why did that dream never, you know, flourish. Why, why did that not come true? And, you know, he’s so much smarter and wiser than we are, uh, lo and behold, that my, my skills and my strength, what I didn’t know at 18, because even though we think we know everything, we know nothing. We’re just babies. Um, what I thought I knew is that I wanted to be, you know, helper and frontline worker in, in missions. What I found out is that my strengths was admin and project management and coordinating and collaborating. And those were not the. first skills I think of. Maybe, hey, maybe you all as listeners on this are like, no, that’s 100 percent what we need.

But God had other plans. And now in my work that I’m doing with Hope Made Strong, I get to connect with those cross cultural workers and those on mission all the time. So this is a really special moment.

[00:04:02] Stephanie: I love it. I mean, think about our two stories. I swore I’d never be a missionary. You were convinced you would be one. And then we found ourselves on the opposite side of things and God brought us together. And now we just get to be collaborative today. Laura, it takes all of us working together, right?

[00:04:17] Laura: Yes. Yes. I love it. It’s so good.

[00:04:20] Stephanie: Well, and you mentioned Hope Made Strong, which you founded now five years ago, and that exists. care ministries within churches, organizations to be able to empower helpers to help themselves and help others. Well, correct.

[00:04:37] Laura: Yes.

[00:04:38] Stephanie: Can you explain that?

[00:04:39] Laura: You did a great job. I need to take notes from you. No, no. I love it. You know, what we start out with, what we hope to do when we start out always doesn’t always come as we obviously just talked about. And Hope Made Strong is no different. I started out wanting to help ministry leaders who are struggling with burnout and compassion fatigue because I have that in some of my story.

Definitely went some through some seasons and, um, what churches, where kind of people were coming to me for is how do I help others? without burning out. And I was like, Oh man, I’ve been doing this for 15 years. Let’s go. And so now I have the absolute privilege to come alongside ministry leaders, churches, organizations, nonprofits who want to impact their community and develop cultures of care and help to do that sustainably, strategically, and without burning out.

[00:05:32] Stephanie: I love that sustainably, strategically, and without burning out. I am all, all about that behind that a hundred percent, because you think about missionaries. We are these frontline workers, cross cultural workers are in the thick of it and burnout is so high. That’s actually what we’ll be talking about today.

We’re about burnout is one of the topics that we’ll touch on. And you know, some people might recognize you, Laura, because you did the church mental health summit. Uh, well, you’ve done it now multiple years, but last year, Modern Day was a part of it. And I was so grateful because of the four tracks that you had, one was specifically for missions.

And so recognizing that there is a different type of burnout. In one sense, there’s similarities. We all burn out in different kinds of ways, but when you step into ministry, it’s a whole different kind of burnout, and then you add cross cultural piece to it, and that just adds even another level.

Laura, you mentioned you’ve been through burnout yourself.

Is that part of what helped get you passionate about helping others?

[00:06:33] Laura: 100%. You know, we are provoked to change and provoke to action for so many different things. And one of those things is when we have our own story, our own lived experience. And that was definitely part of my story and what happened. A clinical social worker here in my hometown in Canada for 15 years, working with those who struggle with serious mental illness, crisis, case management, walking, counseling, and just, you know, supporting individuals who are struggling in my hometown and I, did a fantastic job compartmentalizing all of that trauma that I was exposed to because trauma is very, very sticky, whether we like it or not, it impacts us, whether we know it or not, it impacts us.

Definitely learned that the hard way, and I was thought I was doing really, really well until some sneaky red flag started popping up and, and impacting my life personally, my health, my own well being and mental health, and when it started impacting my work. That’s when I actually took notice. You know, my family was struggling, my relationships were struggling, but you know, those are fine.

We can just sweep those under the rug. Those are behind closed doors. But when my work started being impacted, where I wasn’t showing up as my best person, where I was putting limits on conversations that were not helpful, when When I started, um, desensitizing, becoming really numb to things that were previously really impactful.

That’s when I saw, Oh, I am struggling. And, so to make a long story short, I took some time away with the support of my supervisors. And I ended up taking two months away. Now I didn’t think I’d do that at the beginning. I thought, okay, I’m just going to go home. You know, check off my to do list, take a few naps, walk my dog, and maybe organize some closets and drawers that have been bugging me.

I’m going to take two weeks off, refresh, and get right back to it. But man, oh man, does our body ever keep score? Does our soul? You don’t realize how depleted your soul is until you see it. stop and, and, you know, take a look, take a look inward. And in those two weeks, I really, it hit me like a ton of bricks of how depleted I was emotionally, relationally, spiritually…completely burnt out, crispy fried.

And, um, and in that season I was just like, okay, Lord, how can you redeem this? You know, I’m on the track to wellness. I’m seeing a counselor. I’m doing the things that I need to do. How can you redeem this? Can I ever do work for you?

And, and in this capacity again, and he just began opening my eyes up to see how I, as a frontline worker doing all of these things, I had all the protections around me. I had supervisors. I had sick time. I had benefits. I had, um, counseling all available to me. I had, um, family and, and coworkers who I could be very vulnerable with. But I began to see that ministry workers who had all of the exposure to trauma, all of the demand placed on them, the even more so when you look at, you have to, you know, the expectations of being available for someone 24 hours a day and the whiplash someone must feel from going from doing premarital counseling and being really excited or a baby blessing all the way to doing funerals and hospital visits in one day.

My gosh, that is a big spectrum to be exposed to and. Pastors and ministry leaders and those on mission don’t have the privileges that I had to get well as quickly. They don’t have sick time maybe, or benefits, or they don’t have the, the relationships that they can be vulnerable with because they tell someone and their job could be at risk, right?

There’s that vulnerability and that struggle there. And, and so my heart just broke open for ministry leaders. And so I started Hope Made Strong with the passion and drive to support ministry leaders as they were navigating burnout to try to provide prevention strategies and even create tools and resources that could potentially help, um, mitigate some of those struggles and, and help people find wellness.

[00:11:09] Stephanie: I appreciate in your story too that you don’t say, Oh, they should just stop their jobs and change professions. I mean, that can just seem like the obvious choice for somebody not working in ministry. Well, just quit, get a new job! But there’s this calling when you’re in a helping profession, when

[00:11:28] Laura: It’s part of your identity.

[00:11:30] Stephanie: It’s part of what God has so called you to do. And there’s times where, you know, that’s not an option. There’s no way I’m not going anywhere else. But you said in your story, even with all of the necessary tools to be able to take care of yourself surrounding you, you still experienced burnout. And I think, affirming for those listening to go, okay, so I don’t have any of that available. And so, how much more is it likely for me to experience burnout?

So if we dig into that a little bit more, what are some symptoms of burnout? You know, I think sometimes, like you said, we get to the point where there’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back and we know we’re in straight up burnout, but what would be some of the symptoms leading up to it so we can catch ourselves before we completely fall over?

[00:12:19] Laura: Well, that is the funny thing about human nature. We often don’t do all the preventative care and the preventative recognition before we, you know, jump off, like not jump off the cliff, but like fall into burnout. Um, it’s, but there are some signs and symptoms. Now the work that I do, I often talk about compassion fatigue and burnout on the same track.

They’re very similar, although they are different. So the signs and symptoms that I’m going to share can be for. either, or, and we can talk about the differences in a few moments, but the signs and symptoms would definitely be, um, no matter how much sleep you get, you always are exhausted.

There’s this always dragging feeling of exhaustion, no matter how much you prioritize sleep or get a good sleep. It’s this dreaded exhaustion, heaviness, the weight of it. Um, there’s a lot of around sleep. sleep, um, the exhaustion, but also difficulty going to sleep, waking up in the night. Um, but also things of the jaded or numbness.

So, you know, we all have that caring face. We lean in, we furrow our brow a little bit, we nod our head. We want to show someone that we’re attentive and we’re listening. So we have the external, um, communication tools telling someone that we’re listening and leaning in, but. Sometimes when we are burnt out or experiencing compassion fatigue, our internal conversation is thinking, when is this conversation going to be over?

I don’t have time for this. What am I going to make for dinner or all of the to do lists that we have? And so we become numb or jaded or desensitized to the, to the work and to the care that people are, are asking from us. That’s a big one. , I could go on and on and on. Decision fatigue. You know, how many people after work or after a busy day in ministry, you’re in the grocery store and you’re like, there are too many breads to choose from too.

I can’t make choices. I, I’m struggling with even the simplest things and we, we feel foolish. We feel silly. I am a smart individual, but why can I not make a decision or, or struggle with communicating my needs? Definitely a common one. Our relationships are often, uh, strained. We’ll say quick to anger is sometimes a trigger.

That was certainly what mine was. So there’s, I’m not seeing all of these. I’ve experienced quick to anger where someone asks you, get them in the door and you’re asked like 500 different questions, especially if you’re a parent and you’re quick to anger. Man, if I could go back in those years, I would love to be able to be more patient and kind with my young, young children, or have tolerance for my husband.

I know that sounds awful, but it’s so true. You know, I would be exposed to so much trauma at work and hurting people and my husband would be like, Oh man, I had a rough day. You know, the internet wasn’t working well or my computer was acting up and I’d be like, Oh, you sweet poor baby, you princess, you couldn’t have your computer.

And it was awful. Like I was not a kind of person, um, because I would just be, I would lose my empathy for others because of how much empathy I poured out. in my ministry. Not only did I lose my empathy for others, but I also lost it for myself. I would be my worst critic. I am not a good mom. I’m a terrible daughter.

I’m not a good friend. I’m backing out on plans. I’m not a great wife. All of these things. I would have no compassion for myself and what I’ve experienced and just beat myself up. So I think that is a trademark. And a hallmark sign of compassion fatigue is when you lose your empathy for others and you lose your empathy for yourself.

[00:16:09] Stephanie: Wow, you’re mentioning the effects of burnout are both inward and outward, which is important to remember. Like what, who is burnout hurting? It’s hurting myself. It’s hurting my family. It’s hurting those around me. When ironically we usually get into burnout because we’re trying to help people even that much more.

[00:16:31] Laura: Yes.

[00:16:33] Stephanie: Ironic. I love the analogy. I used to say to my husband back in the day, I don’t remember when this came about, but he was in a really intense season of ministry. And I remember saying to him, even a surgeon has to put down the knife sometimes. There’s always people going to be coming in on the table. Because if we keep going, at that point, that knife is going to cut someone. That knife that’s meant to heal is going to hurt.

So what are some of the examples that you’ve seen, maybe in the missions space, of people hurting themselves or others?

[00:17:12] Laura: I’ll share my experience and see if it’s relatable because I think as helpers, um, that is a heart is to care and to help heal and to come alongside others. And, and in those best intentions, we inadvertently hurt others were because we’re coming from a place of hurt. And so when you’re a caregiver, it takes a lot of intentionality to be reflective and know how you are so that you don’t mistakenly harm others. And, and one of the things that I, um, started noticing is that I would really limit other people’s, um, time with me. which is unfortunate. So I could, I was, I was putting up protective barriers and boundaries that, you know, we need to, we can’t give 100 percent to everyone else.

But I was starting to get really, really limited, where when someone would share with me a story and I said, Oh, oh, And I literally would put my hands up in front of me in a stop position, creating more space between us where I said, I don’t know if it’s super healthy to go through all of this. Now my role as a therapist, that is a hundred percent my role, you know?

So as a ministry leader, as a missionary, cross cultural worker, knowing the function that you are providing for that person, a cheerleader, a support person, a listening ear. When we start to notice that we are limiting that, that is a yellow flag to, to identify We might be stepping into, you know, limiting and, and, and creating barriers that are not necessary there.

Um, there’s also this sense of responsibility or this exaggerated sense of responsibility we can have as caregivers. This sense of God put me in this position for this person and only I can help. And so nothing else matters. Um, family becomes second. And our own. walk with God, our own soul care becomes second because God placed this person at this time in our lives.

And, and I think we become, uh, this exaggerated self, uh, responsibility to this person and to our importance in their life. And, um, you know, I’m trying to balance out the conversation a little bit. So I might be a little bit further on the one side where, um, We will, we will become enablers rather than empowers.

So we will, uh, do more work than the person we’re helping is doing. So if they need something, we will meet that need without them learning the pain of the word. The consequences of their choices. So we will enable someone and, and become, um, I think overbearing might be the right word, but we will, we will engage on a deeper level than may be necessary, uh, for, for individuals.

So I think that could become harmful, um, to, to those that we’re serving.

[00:20:22] Stephanie: That’s really significant, and I think that’s something that we’re probably most of us listening have done at a certain point in time. Laura, how can you recognize when you are enabling rather than empowering?

[00:20:39] Laura: If you’re doing more work than the person is doing is, is kind of the cue that I often have taught, um, students at along and, and other caregivers is that if you are doing more work than the person you’re helping, then you are crossing boundaries that and you’re enabling or you’re, or you are, making it easier for people.

Now, I’m not saying that people should suffer. Absolutely. We don’t want to sit back and watch, but if someone needs to get connected to services, don’t make the phone calls for them. At the very most, sit with them or have them sit with you as you make phone calls or you sit beside them as they make the phone call.

If someone needs groceries and they are able bodied, then they come with you to get groceries or if someone needs to do some research around services or resources, they do the research and then you come back and connect with them or you do it together. So I think people learn a lot of resiliency skills when they need to work through their issues or work through their struggles because you don’t want to become the hero of their story. They need to become the hero of their own story. They need that self reliance and those skills and the resources that they learned through those. Absolutely. We want to come alongside. Absolutely. We want to support, encourage, and have compassion. We want to be cheerleaders, but we don’t want to over support, if that’s even a word. Yeah. So you don’t want to work harder than what people do.

[00:22:17] Stephanie: Yeah, and that takes a lot of self awareness and humility to say, I’m trying to be the hero of everyone else’s story. And there is that perception sometimes, I think with missionaries is that missionaries are these heroes. And so how easy is it for us to step into that? Because it’s what’s expected of us.

You know, the people sending me think I’m the hero and I want to be the hero here. Heroes. I mean, look at, look at how that goes for sometimes those heroes in the stories. First of all, none of us are demigods. You know, this is not Percy Jackson or Greek mythology here. We are actually human, so we can’t do that.

But yeah, how’s that going to end up for us? Letting them be the hero of their own story. That’s so cool. Good, Laura. That’s so good.

[00:23:04] Laura: Yeah. And it’s this learning of self reliance on Jesus, rather than reliance on you as the, as the, as a individual, right? We are, you know, and I think of my parenting role. My job is to create kids who can hear, and obey the voice of the Lord. And we want to do that with all of those who we support and care for.

And if we become that voice, if we become that, um, trusted advisor, then, then there’s a vacuum or there’s a gap and we are no longer able to be a part of that person’s life. So we want to build those resiliency. We want to build those skills of trusting in the Lord and hearing from the Lord. And it is harder than actually doing it.

It is harder to hold back and see someone struggle through their own solution than it is for us to step in and provide the solution. Um, but it really is, uh, it’s better for us. You know, we don’t want to burn out and it’s better for them.

[00:24:06] Stephanie: Yeah. Okay. Say more about that then. So you just identified a really healthy way, a step that people can take to begin to experiencing less burnout by empowering people, by taking a step back, by training them rather than trying to do everything for them. What are some other healthy ways that missionaries can begin to take better care of others and themselves?

[00:24:27] Laura: Yeah. I think being in community is probably one of the largest ones. Have at least one relationship with your truly vulnerable that are, you know, real talk. Not, maybe not your funder. Or your denomination or, you know, member care. I think there is a direction in these organizations to create safe spaces, but you don’t always feel safe in those spaces.

And I’m recognizing that as a reality. Absolutely. There’s work being done to create those safe spaces. So we will get there. And for some organizations, they are there. But if you, as an individual, find someone where it’s safe, where you can be real authentic, You, you don’t have to be the one who is going in that hero, right?

You can be like, I am struggling. This season has been rough, you know, and having that companionship of someone in your life and meet with them regularly. So some people find this as a counselor. This is why a lot of people find so much support in counseling. Some people find this in mentors, coaches, family members, pastoral staff, um, and peers, friends, who are able to walk with them. And so I’m not describing everyone should go to counseling or everyone needs to have a counselor. I think having a relationship that you feel safe with, that you’re able to connect is absolutely vital. Uh, another one is, uh, there’s seven keys to resilience that I talk about.

Um, but we’ll just point out a couple that I think. You know, we talk about Sabbath and finding rest. I’m not going to talk about those. Cause you know, those, everyone in this call knows those. Uh, but one thing that I don’t think people pay a lot of attention to is having fun. and having hobbies and enjoying just for the pure sake of joy.

And, uh, I know I struggle with that being a little bit task oriented. Um, everything needs to have a purpose or an outcome, or you work towards a project, a box to check off. Man, do I love some Saturdays making the checklist of all the things you need to do. That feels good. Uh, but having fun for the pure enjoyment of it is so healthy and how, what God created us. He created us to have joy in him. We are first and foremost, children of the King. And so I’ve really encouraged people to find a hobby that has nothing to do with caring for people. Absolutely nothing to do with caring for people, uh, and, and find time to be able to just have fun.

[00:27:08] Stephanie: So as somebody who has that kind of task oriented mind and who wants to check things off, Laura, like there’s some people who are listening to you going, yeah, I don’t know how I would possibly have a hobby or enjoy it. Cause my brain is thinking about what I need to accomplish. You can relate because that’s how

[00:27:24] Laura: A hundred percent. It’s hundred percent. What do I do? Oh my gosh. You’re gonna laugh at what I do. I’m like an old lady. I do puzzles. because I’m completing a task, but it has nothing to do. I know I have to complete a task within it. I know it’s the silliest thing, but doing puzzles while listening to music or a podcast is just a great time.

Having a nice hot tea, um, paint by number because I’m not super creative artistically. So for me, I need those puzzles. boxes and those numbers to follow instructions. I know it’s so silly. Gardening is actually a really great way because I see a difference, a change. Um, it’s accomplishing something, but it’s not going towards say a budget line or a ministry to do list.

It’s just for the beauty and the joy of gardening. Right. And so gardening is something that I’ve really liked to do. Um, I walk my dog. And I listen to music or podcasts that have absolutely nothing to do with work and ministry, just for fun and in the woods, get out in nature. And then I love to host and eat really yummy food. And so I love to have dinner parties and invite friends over. And so those are the things that I do because I’m so task oriented, uh, but they don’t serve the ministry. They serve me.

[00:28:49] Stephanie: So you’ve assigned them purpose and, and that’s good because there are a lot of people like you, I think, on the field. I mean, we’re wired very similarly, Laura, so I’m just like, tell me what you’re doing because I need some ideas. Um, but I think And I do the same. I like to assign a purpose to it. And so for people who are listening, going, I can’t justify that.

Or what is that accomplishing? Well, tell yourself it’s accomplishing something for me. It’s making me a better person. It’s making me more able to serve. It’s like you said, you’re walking the dog. You were doing something for the dog. You are putting a puzzle together. Check. I mean, if you need to, if you need to put a box next to I did my hobby, so I checked it off, like do what you need to do. It’s fine. Start.

[00:29:31] Laura: Yeah, I was talking with a pastor and she was just like, I don’t know what to do. This, I, this has not been in my worldview, my even understanding. And I said, okay, well, what did you do when you were eight years old? What did you do? Did you ride a bike? Did you build Lego? And she goes, I actually love to play with my dollhouse and I would love to decorate it.

And I was like, so do that. And she was like, It’s in my attic. And so she got her dollhouse from her childhood years out. She went to, you know, a store, got scrapbooking paper and she redecorated her dollhouse at, you know, 40 something years old. And she was like, I’ve never been creative. I haven’t had an opportunity to be creative.

It awoke something in her where she had, you know, so if you’re really struggling, think about what you did as a child and do that. It’s okay. Just try something.

[00:30:27] Stephanie: It’s the truth. It’s trial by error. If you try it and you don’t like it, then

[00:30:32] Laura: Don’t do it again.

[00:30:33] Stephanie: back up. Try something else. Uh, and there is something for everyone. Like you said, even those of us who are artistically challenged, like we can, my family knows, whenever they get out art, I was like, you guys, art stresses me out. It does the exact opposite of what it does for all of you. So we’ll put on some music that we all like. They will do art and I will sit next to them and I will do something else. Like I’ll find my thing, so we’re together. We’re relaxing. I’m not, I’m just, I’m not doing art.

And so that’s okay. We can find what it is. We just got to try it out.

[00:31:07] Laura: Yeah for me it was paint by number because I had something to do, a task, a box to fill.

[00:31:12] Stephanie: Yes, I’m going to, I’m going to try that. And then I can tell my family that I do art. So there we go. Thank you. You gave me an idea. This was a bonus, Laura.

Okay. So what do we do now when guilt starts to set in? Because guilt is huge for humans and for missionaries. And I’m thinking of guilt in two ways. Um, guilt, personal guilt, like I shouldn’t be doing this.

I don’t have time for this. But then also guilt when people get upset with us when we begin to put up some boundaries and say no or say, Hey, I’m not going to do that for you again. I’m going to teach you how to do that. So what do we do with the guilt that we self generate and the guilt that comes when other people would like us to feel guilty?

[00:31:54] Laura: there’s no simple answer here because you’re right, it is going to come, especially when we say no. And I think we’ve spoken in the past about this. Um, when, when you, when you just say no to someone, They feel they could feel rejection. You are rejecting me. But when you tell people what you’re saying yes to, it removes the attack.

It removes the rejection. It removes the you know, me versus you. There’s no competition here. You’re just following and fulfilling the agreement, the yes that you already said. And if that yes is your appointment with yourself and your pillow on a Sunday afternoon, then that is your appointment that you’ve said yes.

And so by telling people, um, thanking them for asking you to connect with them, that is an honor that people are inviting you into their lives. Uh, however, you’ve already booked a time or you already have an appointment or you’re already scheduled to do your commitment to do that. Um, whether it’s your kid’s field trip, you know, family dinner or something like that.

Um, people feel. less angry or push you. And so then you feel less guilty about it because you’ve told people what you’re doing. You’re not rejecting someone, but you’re honoring your commitment that you’ve made. Um, the guilt that you feel through by, you know, by following through with some self care, man, um, it’s going to be there. But there’s no, like, just do it. Pick the easy thing. Like, don’t try to, like, go on vacation or go get the spa. Like, start with something small, like going for a walk or eating dinner or your lunch at a table instead of in your car or at your desk. Like, start with the small things and just grow a tolerance for, it feels good to treat myself like a friend would treat me.

If, like, that’s, that’s what we want to get at. And I think, um, Your tolerance for this will grow as you see that your capacity to care for others grows because the less time you spend on yourself the less capacity you have for others and so you want to grow your capacity, then you need to grow your self care and so the guilt and shame is going to be there.

So start small. So there’s low exposure at the beginning and build up to it. There’s no magic wand to take it away. There, you know, there’s prayer, there’s giving it to the Lord, there’s reading scriptures, there’s, you know, all of those things that we know are beneficial to our well being and to our, our soul.

But I don’t think you’re going to be able to escape the shame, sorry to say, and the guilt, but lean into how this is helping you be a better person to your family, your relationship with the Lord, and your capacity to care for others.

[00:35:00] Stephanie: Thanks for being honest about that because those feelings, I think we feel guilty then for feeling guilty. I mean, it’s just, it’s ridiculous. It is, but we, we know we’re not supposed to feel that way and we know what God doesn’t want us to feel that way. And so then we feel bad about it, but they’re going to hit because they’re just feelings and emotions are neutral.

They come at us. And that’s what the Bible talks about renewing our minds. To your point, as we do these little things over repetitively, it gives us the opportunity to renew our minds, to let God help us see ourselves and others in a different way. And even that you used little examples, like just actually sitting down to eat a meal rather than eating it in the car, eating while you’re working. I mean, there’s times where I feel tempted to eat while I’m working so I can get one more thing done instead of just being a human and sitting down for a second and, and eating like a, I don’t want to say like a normal person because I think a lot of people eat while they work.

So maybe that’s a new normal and that’s not good, but little things like that. And so we always on the, on these episodes like to talk about what are small practical steps people can put into place. And so you’ve just given a few, maybe it’s taking an evaluation of your life and going. What are some things I am doing that are feeding into this frenziedness?

And what is one thing I could stop, uh, that would give me a pause in my day? You know, I’m trying to think what we think together.

What might be some other examples of small changes people could make where you’ve seen people, uh, live more frenzied?

[00:36:27] Laura: I think looking at your commute so I work from home So my commute is walking my dog in the morning That’s my commute to work My change but we using opportunities of commuting to work when you’re going somewhere when you’re going to an appointment or going to church or going to the office or the office down the hall.

Sometimes we, you know, have music on, pump yourself up, you’re excited, but when you’re transitioning out of your work day, and we need those transitions out, uh, be quiet. So when you’re going towards an event or towards a commitment or work. you can, you have the stimulus and the excitement, but when you’re transitioning home and your commute, turn off the music, turn off the podcast and just check in and reflect how you are so that you’re able, when you hit that front door, you’re able to say, Oh, okay, I’m, I’m ready for home life.

And when we blur those lines between home and work life, and I’m sitting here in my house, Beside my kitchen. So my lines are very blurred. Um, it can be, it can be tricky. You don’t know when to turn it off and that happens a lot in ministry. So have a clear, um, transition between home and work and be very intentional about what you do in those times I think is really, really helpful.

[00:37:48] Stephanie: You know, you saying that makes me think of a concept called attention residue that I learned about when reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. And. the concept, there was a researcher that wrote about it, I cannot remember her name, but the idea was that when we switch between tasks, like you said, our brain doesn’t fully come over.

It still is hanging on to little pieces of that previous task and if we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to transition well and just go straight from one thing into another, we’re not fully present. Our brain is still a little bit back there and so he advocates for, it’s something that I started doing that’s been very helpful to me is a 15 minute shutdown at the end of the day.

Now I know missionaries, all of you who are listening like my day doesn’t end. Well, yes, we have a lot of evening activities for many of us. That’s super common. Like I get that. But at some point your day has to end. Or I know for us, it was a lot of times we would work in the morning and our rest time rather than in the evening was in the afternoon.

But the point is that you’re pausing or stopping your day. And when you’re doing that, you do this kind of shut down routine. That’s 10 or 15 minutes. And you’re going, all right, I’m going to close all these open loops so that for the next couple hours in the afternoon or in the evening when I’m stopping, whenever it is that you’re stopping, you’re closing enough loops that you can actually wind your brain down like you were saying, Laura, not by listening to another podcast, not by cramming in one more thing, but by quieting yourself so that when you engage with your family or when you enter into your hobby or your activity, you’re entering in and that residue has been able to be washed away.

You’ve been able to leave that behind, which is significant. So I appreciate you bringing that up. that up because it’s been a game changer for me. I feel like I’m so much more present with my family because of that shutdown, because of those transitions. So there’s something right there people couldn’t put into practice.

How are you doing your transitions between work and personal life? And are you giving yourself that buffer to wind down and to shut down so that otherwise people like me and you, we get into our hobbies and you’re like, did I do that? Did I do that? I have to do this next. I have to do this next. I have to do this next.

And just like guilt. I mean, that’s going to come. Those voices are going to come. The noise is going to come. What are some of the ways you are able to quiet your brain down when it’s overactive with all your to do list?

[00:40:09] Laura: I have a notes or in my calendar and I write it down and I leave it there. So I don’t have to remember it for future. It’s written down. It’s removed last night. I could not fall asleep because I was like, okay, I have to remember to do these three things. And the first thing in the morning, I was like, I know better than this.

So I picked up a notebook or my phone or whatever’s beside my table. I always have something. Um, and I wrote it down and I was able to quiet that because I know I had something to look at. Later. Uh, but we do this, oftentimes I call this like micro moments of reflection. Um, in our day, like when we sit down to pray…I mean, when we sit down to eat, we have this instinct to pray over our food and give thanks.

And this is an external reminder to do an internal work. And so find something in your day that is an external reminder, whether it’s changing your shoes, opening up a door to your office. Whether shutting off your computer, something that is an external reminder to do an internal reflection, those 15 minutes, um, that you were talking about.

And it is so, it can be so helpful. It checks in with how we are doing. It helps us transition in our day and we can recognize when we are not doing well, much faster that way. And I think so 500 miles an hour, and not even recognizing that we’re not well. At least that was my story. I didn’t even know for months that I wasn’t doing well until something hit me in the face.

And so having these moments where you’re calm or quiet or reflective, um, can really help us prevent us getting into a crisis mode.

[00:41:53] Stephanie: Yes, even if it’s just the bathroom and not

[00:41:56] Laura: Yes. Oh, that’s a good one. Yeah,

[00:41:58] Stephanie: I mean, like for people who don’t know where to start because it’s hard.

[00:42:02] Laura: Start there.

[00:42:03] Stephanie: Just drink a lot of water. So you have to go to the bathroom a lot. And there you have got built in little pauses in your day.

I heard that somewhere. And, gross. I’m sorry but it’s gross to take your phone in the bathroom. Anyways, I’m like, why am I taking my phone in the bathroom? And I’m only saying, cause I know lots of other people do it too. Uh, but yeah, like I, I stopped taking my phone in the bathroom and I thought, Oh my gosh, here’s like two minutes where I can just be quiet and be with Jesus.

And do whatever I need to do. But if we don’t start taking those pauses, to your point, we train ourselves. We train ourselves to not have pauses. Pauses just mean more work. There are no pauses. We need to have pauses in our day. That’s, that’s a part of that burnout.

This was so practical, Laura. Thank you for all of the, like we talked macro and we talked micro, like really micro, down to the bathroom.

We went there today. So what are some resources that Hope Made Strong has that would be helpful to missionaries who would like to learn more?

[00:43:01] Laura: I recognize there’s people who are listening, who are rolling their eyes at this conversation right now saying, you don’t know what I’m experiencing. You don’t know the depths of burnout that I’m in going to the bathroom and spending two minutes. How is that going to help me transitioning, getting hobbies?

Like, come on, I am struggling. I am dying. Deep, deep in despair here. And so I want to recognize people who are in that space where the, the tools of the practical strategies that we’re offering is preventative or maintenance, where what you’re needing is something more intensive. And so I kind of have a low, medium, high, um, Approach to what you’re experiencing and I want you to self reflect on where you’re at.

The low is what we’ve been talking about. These are the practical ongoing strategies that we can use to maintain our well being so that we don’t become burned out.

And so the next area or the next level would be like the mid range where you know you’re struggling, but it doesn’t impact all the areas of your life. You can kind of compartmentalize it to where you’re at, but you know you’re just struggling. not at your best. And this is where I really encourage people to find a mentor or someone and regularly talk to someone or find a DIY resource like a book.

Or I have a course called Finding Hope in Helping, and it’s an online self guided course that you’re able to work with. Now this is one thing, but there may be many other things available within your organization. So if you don’t know where to start, feel free to check out Finding Hope in Helping.

Otherwise, there are a lot of books and podcasts and resources around to help ministry leaders who are struggling and more of a DIY. However, if you were like myself, who I was in the depths of, uh, burnout where I was struggling, it was impacting my health, my relationships and my work, then I strongly suggest, or I recommend that you connect with a clinical, uh, mental health worker, whether that’s a counselor or a therapist and take some extended time off.

Now, I needed to take two to three months where that might not be available to you. So maybe take two to three days and do that regularly, you know, every couple of weeks. weeks, take some time away to really see how you’re doing so that you don’t have to walk away from ministry to be able to find well being, right?

We don’t want that. No one wants to that, do that. And so that low, some of the strategies we’re talking about today, medium, those DIY resources, and I have a course on that. And then those, if you are, um, having some significant struggles, then I would say connect with a counselor or therapist.

[00:45:39] Stephanie: Yeah. Thank you for that, Laura. Yeah, burnout does not have to be the end. There are ways to find healing. There are ways to prevent it from happening. So wherever place, whatever place you find yourself in, like, like Laura just mentioned, We want to encourage you to take steps to get better because, and that’s what we always say about this podcast.

It’s, we want you to be well so you can serve well, and we want you to be well because we want you to be well because God loves you and he cares about you, um, and we know your heart is to serve. And so we want you to be able to do your best and stay in this for the long haul.

And Laura, another thing that you had mentioned to me is the Church Mental Health Summit will be coming up again here this next year. Would you be able to share that with everybody? Absolutely. I am so excited. This is going to be our fifth church mental health summit, meaning that for the last five years, we’ve offered an online free resource for ministry leaders all over the world.

So last year we had a close to 11, 000 people register from 125 different countries. So our goal is to make this accessible and easy for people to connect. to learn and, and, you know, get new resources. So, uh, if you go to churchmentalhealthsummit.com, you’ll see the next event and comes up October 10th, and this is online only.

It is free for that day because it’s World Mental Health Day. And I’m excited to be able to provide resources around missions and culture, uh, community mental health, church mental health, and leadership mental health. So I hope this is helpful for, for your audience. Yes, it was so good last year. So we loved getting to be a part of it.

And like you said, it’s free. So if everybody can get their, the date on their calendar now, then they can get all signed up.

So we appreciate you all joining us today.

We’re going to be posting resources to all of the things that Laura and I mentioned, and we just encourage you to take whatever next step God spoke to your heart today. So thank you for joining us and we look forward to seeing you on our next episode.