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Archive for April, 2015

Taking care

Each month, I meet with a group of colleagues in an “accountability group” — think group therapy sorta but not really. It’s a professional group (it’s our clergy job we have in common and not much else). It’s designed to keep our “system” skills up to date so there is some study/homework involved. Mostly it’s designed to keep our stress level down and thus our boundaries in shape. We bring our case studies and the group helps us clarify how we’re reading situations and how we’ve reacted. We have two professionally trained facilitators/consultants. It’s not easy and it’s not always even pleasant — to have your shortcomings pointed out to you (however politely and professionally), and we pay for the privilege. To participate in such a group is one of the minimum standards recommended for the profession to ensure that we clergy-types aren’t working out our “stuff” or “issues” on our parishioners. But many clergy don’t seek out such a group.

It’s Stress Awareness Month (I know, who knew there was such a thing?) and one of the ways the experts suggest we can become more resilient to stress is to surround yourself with trusted colleagues. So I’m glad that while I often don’t think I have the time, or money, or energy for my group, I go anyway! Because it takes time and practice to develop relationships and trust with others and you just can’t wait until a crisis happens and then expect for such a relationship to magically appear to bail you out or throw you a lifeline (or whatever metaphor works for you).

Here’s the article from the UM health coach (Virgin Health Pulse) on ways to improve your resiliency to stress:

April is Stress Awareness Month, and you’re probably going to see all kinds of articles about how to reduce your stress levels. But a lot of stress isn’t avoidable. It just happens – a job layoff, a divorce, an illness, a death in the family.  Those events are incredibly stressful, and you can’t do much to plan for or prevent them.

What really matters is how you react to them. Psychologists call this reaction “resilience” — a measure of how well you bounce back from stressful or traumatic events. A resilient person is still plenty stressed and upset in the face of big upheavals – and they experience just as many negative thoughts as a less resilient person, but resilient people handle their stress differently.  They focus more on the positives than on the negatives, they take care of themselves, and they take comfort from friends and family.

And the result? They recover more quickly and stress – which can wreak havoc on your health – is less damaging to these resilient folks. Fortunately, resilience is something you can learn and the more you practice, the more resilient you become. So, instead of focusing on lowering your stress, think about ways to improve your resilience:

• Focus on the positive.  You can (and will) still experience negative emotions – but the ratio of positive to negative matters.  The more positives you can find, the happier and more resilient you’ll be.

• Reach out to others.  A supportive community makes all the difference when you’re struggling with stress.  Stay connected to your loved ones and social circle – no matter how busy and stressed you feel.

• Take care of yourself.  Eat well, exercise, and make time to enjoy the hobbies and pastimes you love.

Find the lessons.  Learning from a difficult experience brings meaning to the event – and that makes you feel stronger, more confident, and more appreciative.

• Make a plan – and act on it.  Stress can sometimes paralyze our decision-making ability – which adds to the original stress.  Taking action is the cure.

No matter what you do, you’ll never eliminate stress.  But you can control how you handle stress and the more you manage your stress, the more resilient you’ll become.

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“The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness.The Gospels are far from clear as to just what happened. It began in the dark. The stone had been rolled aside. Confusion was everywhere. There is no agreement as to anything else.

If the Gospel writers had wanted to tell it in a way to convince the world that Jesus indeed rose from the dead, they would presumably have done it with all the skill and fanfare they could muster. Here there is no skill, no fanfare. It doesn’t have the ring of great drama. It has the ring of truth. The narrative is as shadowy, incomplete as life itself. When it comes to just what happened, there can be no certainty. That something unimaginable happened, there can be no doubt.

He rose. A few saw him briefly and talked to him. For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same again. For some, neither has death. What is left now is the emptiness. There are those who, like Magdelen, will never stop searching it till they find his face. ”
–Frederick Buechner in Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary

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