Does God lead us into the wilderness?

I spent most of my teen years living on a family ranch in northern British Columbia. We were literally at the end of the road, and our closest neighbors were eight kilometres away. Situated in the foothills of the Rockies, the ranch was surrounded by thousands of acres of Canadian wilderness. Among my favourite memories are the summer Saturdays, when we would saddle up our horses, stow a simple lunch in the saddle bags and ride into unexplored territory for another wilderness adventure. For me, the word “wilderness” revives pleasant memories.

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From pastoral to parachurch ministry: Learning new rhythms and a new identity

Becoming the Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Focus on the Family Canada was my sixth major transition since entering full-time vocational ministry as an assistant pastor over 30 years ago. Those changes have taught me that every new role involves grieving certain losses while embracing new opportunities. It’s a strange feeling to be simultaneously thrilled with a fresh challenge in a new environment while wrestling with missing family, friends and familiar surroundings. And as I’ve gotten older, change has become even more challenging to adapt to.

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How to step back from being a helicopter leader

I was sitting in our adult Sunday school class a while back while our teacher led us through conversations around the book Doing Life with Your Adult Children by Jim Burns. As you can imagine, we had some lively discussion as we tackled topics like:

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The value of energizers when you’re dying for a break

It won’t be a surprise to anyone that at Kerith Retreats we talk a lot about self-care. In the past, I think some leaders thought this was just a phase and that, given time, it would be forgotten, and we could get back to building the Kingdom of God. But it is now widely recognized that if we don’t take care of ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our souls and our hearts – we simply will not have the reserves needed to care for others.

One author suggested that “taking care of ourselves is holy work.” I liked that thought and it has helped many of our retreat guests reframe what they had previously considered as simply selfish indulgence.

While the topic of self-care can take us in several directions, I want to centre in on the importance of routinely adding energizers to your life. Research has shown that one of the keys to staying healthy in ministry is finding ways to offset the stressors we are experiencing with energizers. Now, if you are one of those pastors whose life is stress free, you can stop reading now, but if you’re like the hundreds of leaders we’ve met over the last eight years, stay with me.

Stressors vs. energizers

During one of our sessions at Kerith Retreats, we ask our guests to share the stressors that they are dealing with right now in their lives. Their answers, as you might imagine, run the gamut. And then I ask, “What are some of the energizers you have in your life?” More often than not, the room goes completely silent. Crickets. Guests are looking at each other hoping someone will answer to fill the awkward silence.

I jump back in to assure them they are not alone in not knowing what energizes them. But I also have to remind them that if research is accurate and energizers are the way we offset the stressors in our lives, then many of us in vocational ministry are in trouble.

So, here’s the challenge. On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle and under the heading “stressors,” write down those things that are causing stress for you. It’s likely the list is long. On the other side of the line, under the heading “energizers,” write down those things that energize you, fill your tank, make you smile and that you are routinely incorporating in your life right now.

That’s the issue for most of us, isn’t it? Even if we know what energizes us, we’re not regularly practising them.

Incorporating energizers into everyday life

Here’s the hard truth: Although a three-week vacation in the summer is wonderful, that break is not enough to offset the daily stressors we are dealing with. You need to know what energizes you when you have two hours on a Thursday morning or two hours on a Monday afternoon. These two-hour time slots, practised regularly, have helped scores of pastors not throw up their hands in despair and simply quit the ministry.

Carey Nieuwhof says this type of break “is any activity, hobby or past time that you can do fairly regularly in two hours or less that gives your mind a complete break and refreshes you.” Carey adds that “the time frame is important because most of us won’t do it frequently enough if it takes longer than two hours.”

And while there is no right answer to “what energizes you,” some of our guests, after time to consider, have answered: time in the hot tub, painting, window shopping, a walk by the river, a great cup of coffee, a bike ride.

Obstacles to regular practice

It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why then is this so hard for us to incorporate these practices into our schedules?

Well, here are two reasons I’d like you to consider:

  1. For most of us, when we get busy or stressed the first thing to go missing are our energizers, right? This means that what we need the most in a busy season is eliminated completely because we don’t think we have the time. This is a problem.
  1. Secondly, I wonder if sometimes what we think are “energizers” are really just “escapes.” Sit with that a minute.

My husband and I had to wrestle through this a few years ago. We had just moved to Alberta to take over as program directors of Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Creek. The learning curve after pastoring for 35 years (especially for me) was challenging. At the end of most days, we would eat our dinner on trays in front of the TV, mindlessly listening to hour after hour of Judge Judy yelling at people. After some soul searching, we had to admit that even after a long, exhausting day of work, this was not energizing for us – it was simply an escape.  Here’s the difference: an energizer fills you; an escape fills time.

Now take a look at your list and be honest with yourself. If you have any energizers written down, is it possible that they have just been escapes for you? No judgment on this end! I gave away hours and hours of my life watching an elderly judge holler at people.

It’s our hope at Kerith Retreats that including energizers to your life will both add a little joy and be a reminder that self-care is not selfish. Everyone wins when you practise it!


Merrie Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with her husband, Marshall. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

© 2024 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

When couples need extra help in their marriage

There is something about a Canadian spring that makes me want to garden. After a long, cold, restricting winter, it’s hard to resist the beautiful colours of the annuals on display at the store or the fresh green blades of grass as they burst forth all around my yard. This rush of excitement and euphoria must be carefully thought through, though. You see, planting in spring means nurturing, weeding and tending all summer long if I want a garden that brings me delight. Similarly, marriage usually starts with lots of excitement and warm sentiments toward a spouse in those honeymoon years or months, but a marriage that is not nurtured and prioritized soon becomes a chore we cannot easily get out of without hurting the ones we love.

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Book Review: Trust by Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Henry Cloud is an acclaimed leadership expert, clinical psychologist and New York Times bestselling author. He has written 45 books, with the Boundaries series probably being the best known. But his latest book entitled Trust may be, in my opinion, his finest or at least one of his most important offerings to date.

The book is almost 300 pages but isn’t weighed down with theory and research that you have to slog through. It’s a practical resource on the importance of trust, and why it’s essential in life, leadership and business.

Over the years Dr. Cloud realized this theme of trust was occurring repeatedly in both his clinical work and in his role as a business coach with CEOs and leadership teams. So, it would be fair to say, Trust has been in the works for decades, quietly taking shape behind the scenes.

As a pastor for over 35 years and now in my role at Focus on the Family Canada, I concur with Dr. Cloud when he writes, “Trust is a key component in every relationship we have.” He goes on to say, “Trust is the fuel for all of life. Nothing in life works without it.”

I think this is one of the reasons why the book resonated so deeply with me. This topic of trust permeates every area of our lives. We want it in our marriage, in our friendships, in our churches, at work and around the board table. Many guests who’ve attended a Kerith Retreat have openly shared about relationships where trust has been broken and they are left wondering how they can rebuild it – or if they even want to try. This book is a timely guide to help them answer those questions.

In this book, Dr. Cloud breaks his material into five sections:

  1. Trust makes life work
  2. The five essentials of trust
  3. Growing in trust
  4. The model for repairing trust
  5. Moving forward

I’ve chosen one or two quotes from each section that were important takeaways for me:

Section 1: Trust makes life work

“We can become better and better at knowing who is trustworthy and who is not. And we can get better at deciding when and with whom we will put ourselves at risk.”

Section 2: The five essentials of trust

“Trust begins not with convincing someone to trust you; it starts with someone feeling that you know them.”

Section 3: Growing in trust

“Remember, trust is the key to life, and the way to have a full life is not only to find trustworthy people, but to be able to enter into relationships with them well.”

“But we do have to acknowledge that sometimes, I cannot trust very well because of my own issues with trust. The great news is that a torn or defective trust muscle can be repaired.”

Section 4: The model for repairing trust

“Trusting again is an open-eyed, informed decision based on good, objective criteria. You will need solid reasons to trust again.”

“When you choose to trust again, begin with little steps.”

Section 5: Moving forward

“Being able to talk about something that bothers us, quickly, keeps problems from growing larger and prevents us from trusting people who are not trustworthy.”

“Learning not to repeat mistakes of misplaced trust is about learning from experience. This is called wisdom.”

Let me add that Dr. Cloud makes it clear that repairing trust is not clean and orderly. As he explains, “[People will] cycle back and forth through these stages in a messy process. At the same time, it is important to not skip steps.” He is also very clear that sometimes when trust is broken you work through the steps to only repair your trust muscle and maybe not to repair the fractured relationship.

In one sentence I think Dr. Cloud’s book can be summed up by its subtitle: “Trust is knowing when to give it, when to withhold it, how to earn it and to fix it when it gets broken in life and business.”

Trust for me will be a handbook that continues to offer both candid truth and hope-filled possibilities.

If you’re one of those people who is making a list of the must-read books in 2024, I highly recommend you put Trust by Dr. Henry Cloud on the top of the list.


Marshall Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with his wife, Merrie. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

© 2024 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

Why your church needs a care ministry (and how Hope Made Strong can help)

Let’s be honest: ministry can be tough. Between sermons, meetings, counselling sessions, and the never-ending to-do list, it’s easy to feel stretched thin and forget about one of the most important aspects of our calling: caring for our flock.

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Ensuring Christmas remains the most wonderful time of the year

Christmas used to be my favourite time of year. As a child and even into my young adult years, Christmas meant family time. It meant vacation. Christmas was about the never-ending stream of amazing meals, baked goods and festivities. There was list of movies to watch and there was the music, of course, which played on a continual loop in the background. It was – at one point – quite literally the most wonderful time of year.

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Why psychological safety is essential for leading teams

When I became a lead pastor in 2008, after 20 years as an associate pastor, I knew I had a lot to learn about leading a large staff team. So, rather than trying to figure everything out on my own, I reached out to one of my board members for some help. Her job, with a well-known corporation, was working with numerous, diverse teams to show them how to have more effective staff meetings which, in turn, would lead to increased productivity for her company.

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Assessing the value of Kerith Retreats: Summary of a doctoral study

The demands that are regularly experienced by pastoral leaders can be overwhelming and soul draining. Studies have shown that the past three to four years have been particularly difficult for most ministry leaders. Today’s leader may find him or herself weary, discouraged and joyless. Yet this is not a post-pandemic phenomenon – King David modelled a godly appeal for divine assistance (a model we attempt to highlight as part of the Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Retreats).

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