Over the years, I have discovered that Holy Week and the last week of Advent are times when interpersonal dynamics can get a bit overwhelming. Conflict might arise among family members, but most often, I have experienced that these kinds of stressful situations often come from left field in the pastoral ministry ballpark. Someone might respond in a surprisingly negative way to something that was probably misunderstood or poorly explained. You might be on the receiving end of criticism or a complaint that feels more personal than practical. In other times, you might be so blindsided by everything else that is on your plate that you respond on impulse and your response is uncharacteristically unrefined.
Has anything like this ever happened? The best way for me to avoid holiday melt-downs are to do a few things year-round that set a stable groundwork for success.
Throughout the year, I go and talk to a therapist. Your mind is part of your body. Do you judge someone for checking their blood-pressure or learning about different types of cholesterol? No. So why should anyone be ashamed about learning about their own mind and the minds of others? Modern psychology has taught me so much about human nature, and helped me to live an affirming and joyful like.
The most important thing that I discovered is that root of most conflicts stem from something very basic: insecurity. When your self-esteem is threatened, what are you going to do? You are going to try to protect it, right? First you need to ask yourself: who am I and what am I doing here? If you are in a position to do your very best, you have no reason to worry.
I remember that I had the hardest time feeling good about other people when I couldn’t feel good about myself. I couldn’t handle criticism because I was so focused on what the world thought about me. As I’ve come to see myself as a treasured daughter of God, I’ve discovered that I don’t need to be in control, I don’t need to win and I don’t have to have the last word in anything. If I do everything with love, I will be fulfilled, and I can handle any challenge that comes my way.
Self awareness engenders awareness of others. Try to see the strengths of those around you and genuinely affirm the things that they do well. Help them to grow and edify their self-esteem.
Listen when your teammates start talking about their families- the stress of being a parent, or caring for a parent can put a tremendous strain on ministry. I remember a good friend telling me that she was committed to giving her best to care for her dying father because she did not want to miss his last months on earth. It’s easy to feel guilty about not spending time with family, and its especially easy to be filled with regret when the opportunity no longer exists.
In the medical profession, there is a related phenomenon is called Syndrome of Daughter in California. An adult child might feel guilty because they have not been able to do enough for their aging parent, and so, they direct their insecurity at their parent’s doctors, caregivers or at other siblings. Subsequently, the elderly parent, feeling quite abandoned, might lash out at the adult child when he or she finally shows up in the parent’s life. I noticed that something similar happens around the holidays in my own family. I also noticed that sometimes, these dynamics spill over into the pastoral realm, especially around Christmas and Easter.
Even when this kind of situation does not apply, the stress of hosting company, or visiting the in-laws might just be enough to push an otherwise reasonable person to over-react to something that is normally inconsquential. Furthermore, recent loss can also make these times of year particularly challenging..
…To be continued.