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FIRST PERSON: How do I get past my emotional exhaustion?

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Over the past few weeks, I’ve talked to many ministers as they’ve worked tirelessly to comfort their congregations in the aftermath of Sept. 11. What they’ve said is they feel extreme exhaustion from helping emotionally distraught church members while silently coping with their own grief and fear. Some counselors call this compassion fatigue.

Here are three suggestions for handling emotional exhaustion:

First, release your frustrations.

Stress and exhaustion create all kinds of negative emotions in your life. They bring on anxiety, worry, fear, guilt, shame, and depression. And the most common thing we ministers tend to do with our negative emotions is stuff them. We think we’re being better Christians if we never admit to our own fear, anger, and depression.

But God created you as a human being with emotions, and He wants you to be real-to let your emotions out by expressing them to Him. If you don’t do that, they will eventually come out in other ways, perhaps inappropriate ways.

So tell God how you feel. The Bible says in Psalms 62:8 “Pour out your heart to God, for He is our refuge.” That means just lay it all out. “God, here it is! Here’s how I feel, the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m stressed. I’m tired. I’m grieving. I’m angry.” Whatever you’re feeling, the Bible says, “Pour out your heart to God.”

Next, receive help from others.

We give so much in ministry that often it’s hard for us to receive from others, but if you’re going to survive the emotional strain of the next few months [perhaps years], you’re going to have to find some people who will support you, warts and all. People with whom you can let you’re your hair down.

The temptation in moments like this is to isolate yourself by building a wall or crawlingly in a hole. That’s a very big mistake. When you are at your breaking point, you need people in your life. You need people who will give you strength, and most of all, who will give you perspective. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 “Encourage each other and give each other strength.”

Finally, refocus on Christ

When you get under stress, your life gets out of focus. In fact, when you get under stress you start looking at your problem, and you stop looking at Christ. You become very preoccupied with yourself, and all you can see is your pain. Your focus just gets narrower and narrower when you’re under stress.

What you need to do is get the focus off the problems and back on God. Think about Jonah-now there’s a guy literally swallowed by his problems!

But God says when your problems swallow you up, refocus on Him. Jonah finally learned this: he prayed, “When I had lost all hope, I turn my thoughts once more to the Lord.”(Jonah 2:7)

The key here is to stop focusing on what you can’t do and start focusing on what God can do.

Are you at the breaking point today? Or maybe the stress level is rising in your life. Some of you say, “You have no idea what I’m going through right now!” I don’t know the pain in your heart, but God does. God is aware of the stress in your life, and God cares about the stress in your life. God can help you in the stress in your life–if you will take these steps … take it all to Jesus and say, “I put it in your hands.”

Jesus said it like this, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.” Matthew 11:28-29.

Let me pray for you today:

“Dear Father, in heaven, You know the level of stress and exhaustion in my heart and life right now. You know I’m at the breaking point. I’ve bottled up my frustrations, and I’m about to explode. Jesus, thank You for understanding how I feel and loving me no matter how I feel. Today, I need to get refocused. Help me to remember and be grateful for the good things You’ve brought in my life. Help me to read Your word for strength. Help me to rely on Your power Today, Jesus, I’m putting everything into Your hands. I can’t do it. There’s so much to do and with many things, I am powerless to change them.

I’m trusting You to give me the strength I need now. With Your help, and by Your power, I’m not going to give up. And I’m not going to walk away. Instead of giving up, I’m going to look up to You. I believe that because of Your help, I’m going to make it through this tough time. I’m going to stand and watch You work. I’m going to stand–not in my own strength–but in Yours. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in the country, and author of “The Purpose Driven Church,” which has sold more than 1 million copies in 18 languages. For Warren’s free e-mail newsletter, visit his website, www.pastors.com.

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  • Rick Warren