By Rick Lawrence
Vibrant Faith Executive Director
In conversation after conversation with ministry leaders around the country, I hear the same word repeated over and over: EXHAUSTION. After constantly re-inventing everything you thought you knew about ministry while breathing in the toxic fumes of a culture that’s been exposed as fundamentally imbalanced, it’s no wonder that your soul’s fuel tank is barely above empty. Stress, anxiety, and depression are epidemic.
In the middle of this emotional stew, I finished writing a new book (with Dr. Daniel Emina of the Amen Clinics) called The Suicide Solution—in it, we explore Jesus’s strategies for intervening in the downward cycles of despair in ourselves and others, and discover that His paths into freedom are (not surprisingly) supported and spotlighted by the emerging “best practices” of the scientific and psychiatric communities. Some basic “wholly living” practices emerged from our deep dive into the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God that Jesus reveals, and the lifestyle practices science has discovered as healthy for a soul under duress.
Here’s a teaser overview of some of our discoveries (the book comes out in early September: https://tinyurl.com/3j7vc692)…
1: Engage Your Body—There are powerful connections between physical movement and emotional health.
- Active instead of passive activities.
- Things that make you sweat—physically.
- Screen-away time—family walks, bike rides, hikes, ping-pong, croquet, etc.
- “Machine-Free”—things that require bodily movement without devices or machines that do the work.
- Play as warfare—throw a frisbee, play fetch, jump on a trampoline, go roller skating or bowling.
2: Immerse In the Natural World—The Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of our connection to the natural world (Romans 1), and how to “practice the presence” of nature.
- Find excuses to walk—dog-walking, biking, stream-exploring, picnicking, scavenger hunts, walkable vacation destinations.
- Hike nearby trails—go to alltrails.com/us/ and search for trails in your area.
- Eat outside as often as possible.
- Forego a lawn service—instead, spread the chores to family members for outside time.
- Walk or bike instead of drive.
3: Pay Attention to the Present—Our obsessions about the future and the past drive us into the darkness—a focus on the present moment offers us light.
- Do hard things—when the thing you’re doing requires all of your attention, it forces your focus onto the present.
- Life does not begin when you get admitted to the school of your choice or the perfect job or the home of your dreams—pay ridiculous attention to the people, blessings, and experiences of the now. Savor more.
- Ask more questions of people, be more curious about your surroundings, pursue more deeply those interests and hobbies that capture you.
4: Change Your Interior Narrative—We sink or swim according to the narratives we embrace and perpetuate about ourselves—we need to learn how to tell a better (and truer) story about who we really are.
- Expose our interior narrative to the light—talk to someone about the conversation you’re having with yourself. Ask “why” questions, over and over…
- Compare the messages and beliefs of your interior narrative with the messages and beliefs of the Kingdom of God, as revealed by Jesus (Matthew 5 is a good start). Pay ridiculous attention to what Jesus says and does, and why He says and does the things He does.
- Invite others to offer “truth sonar” to our soul—let trusted people mirror back to us the truth. And make it the norm to tell your own interior story—your narrative of struggle and challenge.
- Recognize: The beliefs we embrace are the beliefs we become.
5: Fight Darkness with Light—Our physical environment really matters—here are simple ways to impact your emotional health by changing your surroundings.
- More incandescent and warm lighting in your home.
- More candlelight.
- No screens in bedrooms of your kids—phones, iPads, TV, computer.
- Take “light breaks” that expose you to sunlight.
6: Look Out Instead of In—Outward-focused habits of generosity can keep us from descending into rutted patterns of destruction.
- Get a pet to take care of (or volunteer for pet rescue or horse therapy).
- Develop family habits of service.
- Get regular exposure to people in need (refugees, special needs, learning impaired, poor).
- Find ways to give close to home—house cleaning, garage cleaning, lawn care, gardening.
The first step toward health and wholeness and recovery is simply to admit what has happened to your soul over the last year and a half. Drag what you have kept in the darkness into the light. Then, as you read through the menu of possibilities above, choose just one to lean into…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.