Regarding ruling elders: a monthly series for spiritual leaders
As the events of our world seem to swirl into chaos, a question I’ve heard for months: “How do you cope with the news these days?
I know that what I fear most in this world is the death of goodness, or God-ness. And there are times I just want to put my head down and weep. Sometimes I do. Since Jesus wept over Jerusalem, sometimes I think God weeps with me, too.
But what does not seem helpful is letting depression, frustration, or despair immobilize me. I’m not good for anyone that way, let alone God or myself when I am like this.
I am learning, as we all are, my own path of resilience in this time in our beleaguered, beloved world. What follows is just one way I have of helping me to get my bearings so that I can respond in more helpful and Christ-like ways.
At a church retreat several years ago, we were asked to identify ourselves as one of three types: doer, feeler, or thinker. As followers of Jesus Christ, God calls us to be all three, but many of us can identify a dominant mode in which we operate.
I easily acknowledged myself as primarily a feeler. I process the world through my feelings. I am sensitive to other’s emotions, and can easily empathize with others. An older friend sitting across from me that day identified herself as a doer, which didn’t surprise me. She is of the generation that rarely complains, works hard, and has been—and is—rock-solid and faithful. Want a major potluck organized for a community celebration that will host hundreds? She will bake, cook, AND organize this event. And though she may be tired, everything will be done well.
A ruling elder in a colleague’s church is much appreciated as a good thinker. He has the ability to take a step back from a “sticky” issue, and look at it objectively, whether it is a personnel matter, a financial concern, or a major transition in the church. He offers a rational perspective, and can respond in a well-reasoned way. He serves with his mind.
How do you see yourself primarily—as a doer, a feeler, or a thinker?
In the realm of God, all of our types are needed. Our primary ways of being and doing are gifts we offer for the blessing of others. But, as is often true, our primary strengths can also be our weakness.
In times of stress, doers can “burn out” in taking action. Feelers can be overwhelmed by their own feelings. Thinkers can get “stuck” because they have difficulty accessing or connecting with their own emotions.
What I’m seeing in myself and others is that it is good to explore and engage our less dominant modes of being as we navigate hearing the daily news these days—or during any stressful times.
I have found it helpful for me to move out of my dominant feeler-side when I am overwhelmed by bad news. Sometimes I go into my thinker-mode. Recently, I clicked on one of the many “good news” websites. I read about a tea bar in Singapore that offers quiet, contemplative space to stressed-out, tech workers. It is staffed by deaf servers who know silence in a profound, but too often lonely and isolating way. Here the hearing-impaired waitstaff have jobs, dignity, and strength. And the tech workers find peace there. It’s a brilliant win-win concept. I love it when people’s needs connect in redemptive ways.
I have also found that it helps to DO something, preferably using my hands. Even something as simple as sweeping leaves off our front entryway or baking muffins helps. D.H. Lawrence once wrote, “I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.”
As you hear difficult news or deal with other stressful concerns, what parts of your responses are most helpful, and which are not?
Do you sense God's invitation to try and respond another way?
What helps you to center yourself again, to enjoy life in God, and to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?
The Reverend Dr. Diana Nishita Cheifetz is a spiritual director, serving lay leaders and clergy in the San Francisco Bay area, the U.S.A., and internationally. Her website is www.spiritualdirectionforpastors.com.