Many of our readers are aware that I took 2 ½ weeks off last month to work on a book for church leaders on outreach/inclusion of families impacted by mental illness. Seventeen days represented my longest time away from my day job as a physician since 1986 (when I graduated from med school). During the time away, I time to think and rest and to find myself being challenged by God in ways I hadn’t planned.
The emotionally unhealthy leader is someone who operates in a continuous state of emotional and spiritual deficit, lacking emotional maturity and a “being with God” sufficient to sustain their “doing for God.”
Near the beginning of my break, I ran up to my office to grab some paper and printer ink only to find a big package sitting on my desk chair. Someone had arranged for me to receive an advance copy of The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero along with the accompanying workbook. Since one of the promises I’d made to myself for the break was to take time every day over my break to be available to listen to God, I thought the arrival of these books “out of the blue” with no indication of how they got to me wasn’t a coincidence. I put aside my other reading plans to focus on the books that arrived mysteriously.
While neither of our daughters has any condition resulting in significant disability, I concluded that my personal experiences may give me me some insight into the experiences of the families served by our practice and the families impacted by disability our ministry seeks to serve through resourcing local churches. It’s very easy for a physician/ministry leader to become spiritually unhealthy and I share lots of risk factors for poor spiritual health with the parents we serve. Here are three…
Chronic hopelessness/discouragement: One evening last winter, a father of a kid who was being seen by another of our clinicians was berating a member of our support staff for not doing enough to get their insurance company to agree to pay for their child’s medication when I stepped in to intervene. His comeback to me was “You signed up for this!”
His comment just about put me over the edge. I never signed up for this! My life (and the lives of many of my fellow physicians are very different than what we envisioned during the weeks and months of studying 18-20 hours/day and working for 36 hours at a time as residents. We didn’t sign up to mindlessly enter lots of useless data into computers to fulfill the tens of thousands of pages of regulations governing how bills should be sent to insurance companies , or to pay a member of our office staff to spend thirty minutes on the phone with a high-school educated clerk to get a family’s insurance company to pay for a prescription selling for $3.99/month at the drug store up the street. When I started out, 80% of my time was spent with patients…it’s now under 50% and the majority of my time spent at work isn’t compensated financially. For me, the most draining issue with practice has been the lack of hope that things will ever get better. It’s a month to month struggle to keep the doors open. Three of our best people have left in the last five years for other opportunities that offered better compensation.
At the same time, with a cursory glance at our ministry’s Facebook page you’ll be introduced to dozens of parents who never signed up for their current lives either! Having a child with a disability is a 24/7/365 proposition all too often lived without the ability to see a light at the end of the tunnel. They’re working as hard as they can to find the money to provide the basic necessities of life to their kids and pay for the treatments their kids require with nothing left over to provide for retirement or to enjoy the fabulous experiences their friends and neighbors routinely share through social media.
Mental/physical fatigue: At one point a year or two ago, I calculated that I’d gone at least two years since taking an entire day off for either my practice or Key Ministry. I’ve discovered it’s very easy for folks in ministry to justify working all the time because of the eternal significance of the mission. In my case, pursuing the mission was one factor that drove me. I also recognize that I threw myself into the ministry work as a coping strategy for my sense of frustration and hopelessness with my day job. As anyone with a disability (or a child with a disability) can attest, the healthcare delivery system is in the midst of a radical transformation. We have so much paperwork to complete during our visits that I’ve caught myself (or had parents catch me) making mistakes on prescriptions or in writing down the correct time for an upcoming appointment. The end result is that I’m spending far more mental energy and effort to treat the same number of kids and families compared to five years ago. Burnout has become a big-time problem. I’ve found myself turning down patients I would’ve accepted a few years ago when too much time would be required outside of office appointments.
My fatigue is very similar to the fatigue I see in many parents by the time they arrive at our practice. They’re always “on call” for any and all emergencies. They’re carrying out their ministry at home in many/most instances after a full day at work. They may recognize the importance of addressing their own spiritual growth and development, but they’re too tired to do anything about it when they have time to read the Bible or attend a small group, and they’re frequently too tired by Sunday to face the prospect of getting themselves (and their kids) out the door to a worship service.
Withdrawing from God and the people around us: In my situation, my wife and I typically reserve Saturday night as our “date night” when we either go out to dinner by ourselves or get together with other couples. Saturday is also our busiest day of the week in the office. Over the last year or two, we’ve had more and more Saturdays when I’d come home from the office too tired to talk. As a result, we find ourselves doing less and less with other couples. I’d been part of several men’s Bible studies over the years, but stopped attending a few years ago because I was too tired to get up in the morning. I’ve always gotten to church on Sunday morning, but there have been more and more mornings over the last year or two when I’ve gone because I needed to without the anticipation or enthusiasm I used to experience on Sundays. And I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.
While I’m wrestling with what it means to become a more emotionally healthy leader, I know lots of my colleagues in ministry and lots of parents and family members who follow this blog are wrestling with becoming emotionally healthy in the face of challenges that grow by the day. I thought we might wrestle with some of these issues together this coming fall. We’ll look at some topics out of The Emotionally Healthy Leader to explore how we might become more healthy for our respective ministries…regardless of whether your ministry takes place in a church, an office or in your home.
- Links to all the posts from our recent blog series on depression
- Links to other outstanding blog posts on the topic from leaders in the disability ministry community
- Links to educational resources on the web, including excellent resources from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), a parent medication guide, and excellent information from Mental Health Grace Alliance.