Tag Archives: anxiety

What’s Your Pain Tolerance? Essential Questions for Leadership

I meet monthly with a group of pastors to talk about ministry, leadership, family systems stuff and more. (We also catch an occasional Nats game.)

Today our facilitator shared this handout which inspired much discussion:

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The most effective leaders strive to be in quadrant B: high “pain tolerance” in self and in others. Pain tolerance in this case means willingness to experience discomfort in order to move a system forward, fostering growth and needed change.

I’d argue that quadrant C and D leaders are rare—if you have a low pain tolerance for yourself, you’re not likely to want to attempt the work of leadership. But many of us probably cluster in quadrant A: willing to endure plenty of personal discomfort, but less willing to inflict it on others. We squirm when we have to hold people accountable and support them as they risk and grow.

Being a pastor undoubtedly compounds this quadrant A dynamic: we are tender-hearted types who want to comfort the afflicted. And news flash: everyone’s afflicted. (Philo reminds us to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle.) So quadrant A leaders can come up with every excuse in the book for letting people off the hook.

And yet, for us Christians anyway, transformation is the name of the game, and that means some pain. Flannery O’Connor writes, “All human nature resists grace, because grace changes us and change is painful.”

What do you think? And where do you see yourself in this diagram?

Source: Leadership in Healthy Congregations


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Fight the FOMO!

FOMO pc1(1)Do you have Fear of Missing Out?

I take a tech Sabbath each weekend, which for me means no social media from Friday night until Monday morning. I have three basic things I do:

1. I delete the Facebook app from my phone. I have a wicked long password that I can’t remember, so no dipping into the mobile site either. (I don’t run Twitter on my phone.)

2. I turn off my laptop. If I need to use the computer over the weekend, I will activate the Self-Control program which blocks a bunch of sites that suck me in the easiest.

3. I do allow myself to check email, but I don’t respond unless it’s an absolute emergency. Everything else can wait until Monday.

It’s rough and imperfect most weekends. And I’ll admit, I peek into FB maybe once a day for a couple minutes, because there are times that something urgent and important comes in that way. But there’s probably some FOMO at work too.

FOMO is nothing new—it seems like an inevitable by-product of human consciousness. And what is FOMO but a twenty-first century iteration of “the grass is always greener”?

Martha Beck wrote recently about FOMO in Oprah magazine. She suggests three strategies, all of which I connect to Sabbath:

One: Recognize FOMO as the deception that it is. Beck points out that sites like Facebook are filled with the greatest hits of people’s lives—amazing meals, the kids’ soccer trophy—but they’re packaged as everyday activities. How can our real lives compete with everyone else’s carefully-chosen Instagrams?

Sabbath, among other things, helps combat the deception that everyone is doing this life stuff better than we are. We want to provide for our families, engage in meaningful work, give our kids every advantage, care for our homes and communities—all good impulses. But so much of our striving is grounded in fear that there will not be enough, that if we will fail to crack the code of The Good Life we will be left behind. We live in an anxious age. But Sabbath is a reminder that the world does not implode when you stop striving—in fact, there is great peace to be found in practicing contentment.

Two: Make up your own FOMO. Beck suggests a new acronym. Instead of Fear of Missing Out, she suggests some whimsical ones, from Feel Okay More Often to Flocks of Magic Otters (hey, why not).

May I suggest Find Other Modes of Operation. The mode that works for me is to unplug from technology for an entire weekend and to have a period of full-out Sabbath nestled in there somewhere. I will say that after a couple years of tech Sabbath, I don’t feel as much FOMO as I used to. But I still have to do it every week because I’m dense and a slow learner on this stuff.

What mode would work for you?

Three: Stop. Beck tells a story about having her adult kids visit. She was going crazy suggesting things they could do until her daughter said, “Stop.” Everything was fine… exactly as it needed to be.

Well that pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Shabbat literally means stop. End. Cease. Rest.

Do you have Fear of Missing Out? How do you fight the FOMO?

We Fight Back with Beauty

We had a great day yesterday at Tiny—week 2 of the Harry Potter series-within-a-series. (This Sunday’s installment of “parables and pop culture” is about reality TV and I have NO idea what I’m going to say. Anyone? Anyone?)

After yesterday’s worship and last week’s Young Clergy Women conference, today is a quiet, even melancholy day. I’m sad about the shooting in Wisconsin at the Sikh temple. (Read this.) A friend of mine got very disappointing news. A family I care about has been walking uphill in a health crisis for way too long.

Last week at the conference we explored many of the blocks to Sabbath-keeping. One of these, a big one, is the undercurrent of anxiety in our culture: anxiety over money, aging, time, you name it. This anxiety tells us that we can never stop. We cannot submit to the inevitability of getting older, we must resist it with products and self-punishment. We rest only if we’ve earned it.

To represent the pervasiveness of this anxiety, we made collages that we displayed on a big board:

(Incidentally, finding “anxiety” within newspapers and magazines is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s their currency.)

The next day I told them the story of Mario Batali’s restaurant after 9/11, how he stayed open and offered hospitality to shell-shocked New Yorkers as an act of defiant beauty. (I have talked about that story before on this blog.)

We fight back with beauty, I said. We fight against the chronic anxiety of our time with sabbath moments and a posture of trust. We fight back with unhurried glimpses of magnificent beauty.

I had placed colored paper on the tables and had people write moments of beauty they had witnessed or participated in. Then they placed these over the anxious messages.

It ended up looking like a crazy quilt of small and sometimes silly moments:

The anxiety does not go away, does it? It still peeks out. But it’s not the first thing you see.

So I will let today be a quiet, melancholy day.

Worry is the Work…

Many years ago, I ran across this pithy quote:

Worrying is like being in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but you don’t ever get anywhere.

I have no idea how it came to me. I was a young teenager and my parents were separated. They later divorced, and we kids moved to Dallas with Mamala. I was to enter a new school halfway through my eighth grade year.

Remember junior high? The painful awkwardness? Add a traumatic family experience, then throw in a dash of being the new kid amid people, many of whom had known each other since kindergarten. And do all that with just a semester to get one’s bearings before high school.

There was plenty about that that was worrisome.

But I tried to put it all out of my mind, because it doesn’t do any good to worry, right? Even Jesus says so.

Wrong. (Sorry Jesus.)

Fast forward almost 20 years, when I was pregnant with Caroline. My favorite book about pregnancy and childbirth had a chapter called “Worry Is the Work of Pregnancy.” In it the authors made the following counter-intuitive case: Worry is actually useful and helpful. And when well-intentioned people advise us not to worry, they are actually keeping is from doing very important psychological and spiritual work; namely, to mentally picture ourselves in that situation, to plan for contingencies, to prepare for the unexpected.

This chapter was a tremendous relief.

I am a talented worrier, and there are all sorts of worrisome aspects of pregnancy and labor. What if the fetus isn’t healthy? What if I get preeclampsia? What if I don’t have the kind of birth I want? What if the baby needs to go to the NICU? What if we can’t ever get breastfeeding to work?

Making worry one’s work means taking these fears to their logical conclusions by asking, “Well… what if I need a C-section? What will that be like? What do I need to know in order to feel good about that outcome?” That felt so much more sensible than trying not to think about all those unlikely scenarios because “there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.” Yes, there is. Even the practice of seeing one in the situation is a help. Even if the worst-case scenario never comes to pass, it is not wasted effort. You are stronger for looking at the fearful possibilities and saying, “Here is how I will handle that with strength and courage.”

As you can see, this is a productive kind of mental exercise. Worry is not the same as fretting. It’s not healthy to let one’s life be consumed with anxiety. Rather, worry is engaging Shel Silverstein’s Whatifs and saying, “Show me what you’ve got.”

I know a dear family with three sweet children. Their oldest contracted a disease that required a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, his body was too compromised, and he died. Their other son also has this disease, though he was asymptomatic for a long time. One night the mother asked the father, “What are we going to do if this disease progresses in J?” The husband answered, “We will go back to Minnesota and go through the bone marrow process again.” He was kind, but matter-of-fact: That one’s easy.

And in fact… they did have to go back to Minnesota. And things are going very differently for their other son. It’s not my story to tell, but he’s doing well.

I had my first mammogram last week. On Friday the doctor called and asked me to come in today for some additional views of a spot they couldn’t see clearly. Statistics were on my side; genetics were on my side. I knew that chances were good that the additional tests would reveal nothing of concern. And that’s exactly what happened.

But I did spend some time with the Whatifs. What would I do if there was a problem? Whom would I tell? What would I need? And those questions did not consume the days between the doctor’s call and the appointment. They gave me something firm to stand on today.

So I guess you could say, I worried…

But because I worried, I wasn’t afraid.