Turning “ticked off“ into “curiosity”
Do you ever have one of those days that moves along really well? You’ve had a great night’s sleep. Things are going according to how you expected. The kids got up and ready for school without a fuss. Everyone made it out the door with a smile on their face. You get to work and open your email to find a note of encouragement: “Hey Pastor, just want you to know that I’m thankful for you and praying for you today.”
Your day continues in the same way. You have some meaningful conversations with some staff, you’ve got a great direction for your next message. Or maybe the women’s outreach group had some new moms join today and you really hit it off and you had time to sit and enjoy coffee with a friend. It just feels like the sun is shining bright; all is right with the world.
You get home and reconnect with your family as you sit down for dinner, and you hear that “ping” on your phone. As you take a quick glance you notice who the text is from and get a little peek at what the message is about and bam! You can feel the tension rise, your heart rate increase. You can’t fully pay attention to the conversation around the table because you are preoccupied by the text you just received.
Your family continues on in their normal dinner banter and it starts to feel annoying to you. So many people are talking at once, dinner isn’t your favourite, and your reaction to the story that took little Johnny forever to tell was a bit sharp, harsh and seemed out of proportion.
You are ticked. Something in that text message set you off and you can’t seem to shake it. Unfortunately, those that are on the receiving end of your reactions have no clue as to what is going on and they are trying to figure out what just happened. And let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much these days to set us off. It seems like it’s happening more and more frequently.
Does any of this feel familiar? Are you wondering if I have some hidden camera in your dining room capturing what happened last night? Well, let’s just say that same camera has captured the same thing in my home at times and it’s not pretty.
Understanding emotional health
Emotional reactions are things that we navigate all the time. Sometimes they come fast and hard and it feels like our ability to regulate them is way out of our reach. Other times they feel expected, manageable and appropriate for the situation that we find ourselves in.
At our Kerith Retreats for ministry leaders, we open up the conversation around our emotional health without shame or judgment. We want to know how our guests are doing amidst the season of life that they find themselves in. Do they have the ability to regulate their emotions in a healthy way, or are they being stretched so thin that the slightest thing feels like far too much to take?
One of the ways in which we do this is by having our guests complete the Taylor-Johnson Temperament Analysis assessment (TJTA). This allows us to get a snapshot of their emotional health at the time they fill out the assessment. If our guests are married, we also have their spouse complete the assessment on how they have observed them. It then produces two reports; one report is on how the individual was feeling at the time they filled it out, and the second report is how their spouse is observing their behaviour around those same emotions.
As you can imagine, this creates some wonderful open dialogue with our guests. For the most part, people are not very surprised by their results. As they have shared their stories with us, they may have already described some of the stress, conflict, crisis and the resulting exhaustion. Others have been in an easier season, and they are retreating as a proactive part of nurturing their own soul care, and their TJTA report shows that they are navigating their emotions in a healthy way.
Courageously looking at our emotional ill-health
Regardless of what season guests find themselves in, one thing seems to be very common: It can be difficult to look at a report that may highlight areas in our life that are unhealthy. Even when we know that we are not doing as well as we would like or feel we “should” be, there is something about looking at something that affirms our emotional ill-health. At the same time, it can affirm and validate how difficult things have been.
I had the opportunity to experience this first-hand 12 years ago. It was when we attended Kerith Retreats as guests. We had been serving in pastoral ministry for almost 20 years and I was very tired. My emotional ill-health was about to teach me something that I never knew before. Going through our TJTA results were hard but they were very accurate.
The problem was that I no longer had energy to manage my emotions well and I was becoming more and more angry, confused and frustrated. I knew something was wrong and had to change. I prayed often that God would give me more strength, energy and compassion for ministry, but I did not even consider the fact that his answer would be learning to rest, recover, regroup. Those things sounded like failure, weakness, and something akin to disobedience. I was overextending myself and expecting God to supernaturally make my body do what my body was not designed to do. So rather than accept the truth that I have human limitations, I directed my anger and frustration at God for not supplying what I thought was needed.
Obviously, this messed-up belief system of mine had to crumble, and I can say today that I am very grateful it did. I am thankful that God was patient and tender in how he opened my eyes to see that he is pleased when I work hard and when I rest well. They are not meant to be in competition with each other. They are meant to work hand in hand.
Turning anger into curiosity
As I began to make changes, those episodes of being “ticked off” became further and further apart. Today when I feel those familiar feelings showing up, I try to give myself time and space to get curious again. Take responsibility for what I feel and how I react. Change wasn’t easy, but it was life-giving.
What are your “ticked” episodes trying to tell you? I encourage you to get curious, be honest and allow your heavenly Father to do some deep change! The alternative is to ignore it, but your emotions won’t go away. They will only get more uncontrolled and cause damage to yourself and to those you hold dear.
To learn more about Kerith Retreats for ministry leaders, visit KerithRetreats.ca.
Pauline Doerksen and her husband, Sam, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.