Just for Today

I was walking through the mall the other day when I saw this tee shirt in a store window. “Not Today, Satan” struck me as a humorous and positively rebellious sentiment.

Satan, at its root, means “adversary,” “one who plots against another.” In religious traditions, Satan is the adversary of God who tempts and abuses humankind in the divine drama. To say “Not today, Satan” is like saying NO to your enemy, the person, place, or things that keeps you from being the person you desire to be.

As I walked, I thought about the demons in our lives, and I wondered what it would be like to get up each morning and start the day by saying “Not Today, _______.”

  • Not today, self-doubt.
  • Not today, sadness.
  • Not today, procrastination.
  • Not today, guilt trip.
  • Not today, hurt pride.
  • Not today, grief.
  • Not today, fear.
  • Not today, hatred.

Too often we allow negative emotions to rule our day. They keep us from contentment and accomplishment. They can be overwhelming, particularly when we have been in a period of heartache or depression. These emotional states take their toll on even ordinarily optimistic people. We wonder if we will ever be ‘normal’ again.

What drew my attention to this tee shirt is that the sentiment was expressed as a small step. One day—today—I will not let the demons get to me. It does not require making overwhelming commitments that we may not be able to keep. It only requires that we give one day to reject our adversaries. Maybe then one day can turn to two days and two days to three. And eventually, being “normal” is not so hard to reach anymore.

Dana was feeling overwhelmed by her fear of losing her position as a first-call pastor. She had been serving the small rural church for two years. In just a matter of months after she started she began to realize that the church was not a good fit for her. She worried that leaving so soon would make it difficult for her to find another call. “What if no one else wants me?” she asked during a coaching session. As we got further into the session I asked, “What would happen if just for tomorrow you decided to let go of your fear? What would that feel like?” By breaking it down to just one day, Dana was able to imagine more courage and joy. She listed things she would do that day, and the things she would not do. I could hear more animation and energy in her voice. Her fear was not so overwhelming any more.

We all experience demons in life, those emotions and negative thoughts that seem to plot against us. Some are caused my external things that happen to us, others by inner voices that sabotage our true selves. We can allow these demons to control us or we can choose to put them in their place.

To say it in a positive and proactive tone, we can proclaim: “Today, I choose _______!”

  • Today, I choose self-confidence!
  • Today, I choose joy!
  • Today, I choose to get it done!
  • Today, I will let go of the guilt!
  • Today, I choose forgiveness!
  • Today, I choose consolation!
  • Today, I choose courage!
  • Today, I choose love!

Either way you put it, give yourself permission to be the person you want to be, if only for today. Boldly proclaim it. Don’t let your demons choose for you.

12 Ways Pastors Can Pay for Coaching

Pastors are turning to coaches to help them navigate the challenges of ministry. Coaches prompt motivated pastors to discover within their own wisdom, passions, and desires the keys to living healthier lives in the fulfillment of their callings. Coaching is a valuable resource for a pastor and congregation and is well worth the investment of finances, time, and energy.

However, many pastors don’t turn to coaches because of the cost. As professionals, coaches charge a fee for their services, which can be prohibitive for a pastor’s salary. However, the outcomes of coaching can be invaluable in helping pastors succeed in their desired goals.

Fortunately, pastors often have access to resources to help pay for coaching:

  1. Some judicatories offer funds for pastors to receive coaching. Check with your diocese, presbytery, or denominational headquarters for grants or scholarships.
  2. Church boards or councils will often approve funds for their pastor to have a coach. Talk to your board, diaconate, or session.
  3. Use a portion of your continuing education funds for coaching. Most congregations provide continuing education support for their pastor. Coaching is an excellent use of these funds.
  4. Pay out of pocket. Invest in yourself by hiring a life coach to help you with ministry, family, and your well-being.
  5. Create or join group coaching. Group coaching enables a small number of pastors to share coaching sessions. These work best when the pastors want to work on similar issues or are in similar ministry settings. Each participant pays a portion of the coach’s fee.
  6. Hire a coach to work with your leadership team. A coach can help your congregation work through a particular ministry challenge. The congregation can apply for a grant from its judicatory or denomination, or from a foundation that supports vital ministries.
  7. Most coaches offer a free consultation to explain their coaching philosophy and determine if they are a good match for you. Take advantage of this opportunity and interview several coaches. Once you have decided which coach you want to hire, ask them about fees and payment options.
  8. Negotiate a payment plan or package with a coach. Many coaches offer packages that reduce the cost. If you are willing to make a long-term commitment to working with a coach, s/he may be willing to cut the per-session fee.
  9. If you are negotiating a new call, ask that coaching fees be a part of your salary package.
  10. Look for grants that will cover services like coaching. For instance, if you are applying for a sabbatical grant, include coaching in your sabbatical plan.
  11. Sometimes, church members want to do something special to say thank you to their pastor. In this event, ask that a fund be set up in the church budget to pay for coaching. Not only will it provide a wonderful gift to the pastor, but it would also be an above-board way to show appreciation.
  12. Seek out opportunities for pro-bono coaching. Some coaches participate in pro-bono services through an organization or their professional membership group. If you already have a relationship with a coach, s/he may be willing to give some free sessions while you are in-between pastoral calls or you have a particular financial hardship.

Contact me if you would like to learn more about individual and congregational coaching. It is a free, no-obligation consultation.

Asking for Help

Do you have trouble asking for help? I do. It may be because I am an introvert, or I learned at an early age that I could depend on myself more than others. It could also be that I am a minister. People in helping professions often have the hardest time asking for help. They consider themselves to be givers, not receivers.

There are a lot of reasons we give for not asking for help.

1. I don’t want to be a burden.
2. I don’t want to look weak or helpless.
3. I want to be independent and self-reliant.
4. I don’t need anyone else.
5. I can do it myself.

Some of these reasons are conscious decisions. Others are sub-conscious messages left over from some past relationship or event, such as messages received growing up in a toxic environment. For others, it might be an experience of being abused or taken advantage of by a loved one. Whatever the trigger, we learn to distrust others’ motives or kindnesses, and we think that the only way to succeed is to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and do it ourselves.

Consider alternative reasons to ask and receive help from others.

  1. Most people are kind, and they typically want to help. Being in a relationship means caring and doing for one another. It is how we show affection and concern. Refusing to ask for help only isolates us from one another.
  2. There is strength in numbers. Even those known as loners (the Lone Ranger and numerous superheroes) had sidekicks or supporters. We show strength when we engage others and share in accomplishments. Asking for help is helping ourselves, and we can enjoy our tasks much more when we do them together.
  3. Employers want employees who can work with a team. In today’s world, collaboration and group-processing are essential to success. Mutual dependence and reliance are vital for creativity and innovation.
  4. Diversity improves creativity and performance. Other people help us expand our horizons and think outside of our box. We also need others to care for ourselves. Loneliness causes depression, self-doubt, despair and even death. People who believe they are better off by themselves or working on their own hurt their potential for success and happiness.
  5. Working alone for long hours leads to burn out, depression, and ill-health. It is also a sign of poor boundaries. We suffer, our work suffers, and our families suffer. By asking others to help, we not only give them an opportunity, but we lighten our load. We can set more reasonable expectations for ourselves and others. It also enables us to be more present, energized and focused on the tasks at hand.

Understanding the positive outcomes of asking and graciously receiving help makes it easier for those of us who are uncomfortable doing so. It takes intentionality and practice to let down our guard and allow ourselves to be dependent on others. As we get more comfortable with the practice, we will reap the benefits and learn that we are our best selves with the help of others.

helping hand

 

A Happy Ending

I started writing a novel when I was in the eleventh grade. It was about a teenage girl named Angie (The name came from the Rolling Stones ballad.) who falls for a twenty-something man with a drug addiction. She has a difficult home life and eagerly accepts his invitation to run away with him. She believes that with enough love she can cure him of his addiction. She soon learns that love is not enough, and that she cannot change him. She begins to seek a way out of her predicament.

That’s where I stopped writing. My interests went in other directions (probably a boy), and the notebook was stored away. Years later, while cleaning out the closet in my old bedroom I found the notebook among some others. I read a few pages and contemplated what I should do with it. I don’t know why, but I was afraid someone else would find it and read it. I don’t remember thinking it was terrible. It was more about keeping something so personal to myself, or not wanting to be judged. I decided to trash it.

I think about that story every so often. I regret throwing it away because it would be fun to read it again. In many ways it was my story. I never dated a drug addict, but I did run away with a guy, the year before I created Angie. The character shared my gloom and my idealism. Thinking back on it now, I realized that Angie learned something that I must have known but had not yet internalized. We cannot love another into being better, and that we can only change ourselves.

Its easy to see this in retrospect, after many years of relationships and self-examination. As a survivor of childhood abuse, I had to do a lot of work on myself to find acceptance and healing. I tried to find it through others for too many years. I am grateful for teachers, mentors, coaches and friends who have helped me along the way. Simply stated, I learned that acceptance and healing could only come from within me. I had to let go of guilt, anger and self-doubt and embrace the person that God created me to be.

I also had to forgive. I had to forgive my abusers and those whom I thought complicit in the abuse. I also had to forgive myself for being a victim and for all the failed attempts at trying to find what I needed in the wrong places. Victims of abuse always blame themselves, for being vulnerable and not fighting back, and for not telling. We must be able to forgive ourselves before we can truly forgive others and complete the healing process.

One of the reasons I am grateful to be a professional coach is the opportunity to help others accept and love themselves. Very few of my clients are victims of childhood abuse, but they have other issues — parents who were too harsh and too neglectful, unhealthy relationships, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome …. Through coaching, I can help them to discover the amazing person that they are within, the wisdom and passions that are too often buried underneath negative self-talk and lack of confidence.

Unfortunately, there are very few people in this world who live a charmed life. We all have family-of-origin issues. We all struggle at some time with upsetting relationships or self-doubt. The good news is that we do not have to stay in the gloom. We can make the personal choice to be different, to be happy.

What kind of life do you want for yourself? What barriers are keeping you from having that kind of life? What are you willing to invest to find healing and wholeness? The first step in having the life you want is to name that which holds you back and decide what you want to do with it. You have the power to overcome victimization, negative self-image and doubt. You can choose to be happy.

Contact me for a free consultation to find out if coaching is right for you.

To Be Let Go

Congregations and denominations talk a lot about mission. It is a broad term that can mean different things to different people. We also like to create mission statements that define our unique calling.

At its root, mission means to let go or to send. The Church has a mission. In the Great Commission (commission meaning to give authority to represent), Jesus directed his followers to go into all the world. Since its beginning, the Church has been a “sent” people.

What the Church has paid less attention to is the notion of being “let go.” What does it mean for a congregation to be let go? From what are they being let go, and for what?

In a recent interview with Faith & Leadership, Sister Maryanne Stevens talked about the turnaround at St. Mary’s College in Nebraska where she serves as President. She spoke about the importance of knowing your mission:

My philosophy of leadership is to focus on what’s core to your mission and make sure people are well-versed in that so they can choose whether to give their all or else, basically, to go away.

What a bold statement! Know your mission, get on board with it, or leave. It seems to be working for St. Mary’s and Sister Maryanne.

Unfortunately, most congregations are unable to be this bold. They create broadly focused mission statements with which everyone can agree. They explore mission possibilities, then choose those that make the most people happy or satisfy the squeaky wheels. Very few congregations define their core mission, proclaim it, and invite people to get on board or leave.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order states that the “Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life” (F-1.03). Sometimes taking the risk to be faithful means letting go of programs, policies, and people who hold a congregation hostage and prevent it from being who God calls it to be.

I recently worked with a congregation with a desire to do something different to reach out to their community and grow their congregation. As I listened to church members’ many hopes and frustrations, I realized that they would never discern their core mission because they were afraid to take risks. They were fearful of offending members or losing what they have.

Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. For a people who should be emboldened by faith, fear cripples many.

What would it mean for your congregation to risk losing its life to be faithful to Christ’s commission? Are our buildings, budget, and programs more important than our proclamation? Are we so worried about losing who we have that we cannot reach those who need to experience the love, mercy, and acceptance of God? Can we let go of whatever is preventing us from being sent?

A New Year, A New You?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. They are fine for people who believe in them, particularly if they have the perseverance to stay with them throughout the year. I prefer on-going self-awareness and evaluation that leads to improvement and habit-change throughout the year.

Still, approaching a new year does cause us to reflect on the past year, and think about things we would like to be different in the coming year. I offer here a few questions that may help you with this kind of self-reflection:

  • What happened in my life this past year that gave me the most energy or joy? How can I create more of these kinds of happenings in the coming year?
  • What in the past year has drained me of energy? How can I have less of these kinds of experiences in the next year?
  • What did I accomplish this past year that gave my life more meaning?
  • What do I want to do next year that will give my life more meaning?
  • What did I do this year to help someone else have a better life?
  • What would I like to do next year to make the world a better place?
  • Of what do I need to let go next year to create something new or be more focused on what I really want?
  • What can I do (or not do) each day/week/month to be more self-aware and more engaged in the kind of life I want for myself?
  • What wrongs do I need to forgive, or bridges do I need to build, to have better relationships in the coming year?
  • If I could accomplish only one thing next year, what would it be?

If coaching is one of the things you would like to consider doing for yourself, contact me for a free, no-obligation, no-pressure consultation.

Stressed Out?

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out.

Many of us can relate to these words from the Twenty One Pilots song Stressed Out. We don’t like stress. We try to avoid it, and when we feel it we try to get rid of it. We blame stress for keeping us from doing things that challenge us. We use it as an excuse when we don’t want to take on another project or activity. Stress has become a buzzword in our conversations:

  • I’m so stressed!
  • The stress is killing me!
  • Don’t stress me out!

Actually, stress is a natural part of who we are. It is simply a physiological change in our bodies when we experience fear, discomfort, or challenge. Stress can be bad for us, but it can also be good.

In her book, The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal talks about the benefits of stress. “The latest science reveals that stress can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful. It helps you learn and grow. It can even inspire courage and compassion.” She adds,

The best way to manage stress isn’t to reduce or avoid it, but rather to rethink and even embrace it.

This seems contradictory to everything we have been taught about stress, and is therefore difficult to believe. However, the research supports her claim.

My own experience tells me that she is right.

I remember being afraid to speak in front of groups, and even more fearful of dealing with conflict situations. However, my career depended upon me doing these things on a regular basis. When I learned to think differently about the stress I experienced before any of these activities, I found that it gave me more energy and focus. The stress didn’t go away. Even after years of doing these things, I still feel stress. But instead of be avoiding it or trying to get rid of it, I try to embrace it.

How do you make this shift? According to McGonigal, its quite simple. You change your mindset about stress. “Adopting a more positive view of stress reduces what we usually think of stress-related problems and helps people thrive under high levels of stress.”

Dictionary.com list these synonyms for stress: significance, meaning, emphasis, consequence; weight, value, worth. When we feel stress, it is a sign that what is causing the stress has meaning for us, or else we would not be stressed about it. Studies also show that people who experience stress have a more meaningful life and a stronger sense of purpose.

If you avoid stress, you will never accomplish anything of significance.

Try shifting your thinking about stress with these five ideas:

  1. When you feel stress about something, ask yourself, “What is the significance of this for me?  or What is the value that it holds?
  2. Take a values assessment. You can find one here, or create your own. Knowing your core values will help you rethink why you experience stress.
  3. Put this message on your laptop or bathroom mirror, “A little stress can be a good thing.”
  4. When you have to do something that makes you stressed, embrace the stress as a positive energy to help you succeed.
  5. Find a coach to help you shift your thinking about the stressors in your life. A good coach will guide you through a process of changing your mindset about your fears, self-doubt, and barriers to success. Contact me for a free consultation to learn more.

We all get stress out. It is how we view that stress that can either help us or harm us.