Do I leave? Do I stay? What about the students? God, have you really called me here?
If those questions have ever crossed your mind, you are not alone. No leader or environment is perfect, and sometimes sin will create an environment that is not the best. Can you still thrive while in the midst of that? Should you stay? While this post will not answer your question of whether to leave or stay, it does provide four tips for how to care for yourself while in a toxic environment:
- Read Scripture
This may sound cliche, but it is vital. If truth is not entering your mind, then you will be focusing on the lies that you may hear throughout the day in a toxic environment. Even hearing others complain can drag you down. Renew your mind with truth. You may be thinking, “I am exhausted and do not have the emotional energy to study scripture.” Keep it simple and Pick one verse each week. Read it at some point during the day. Let that one truth sink into your mind. It may seem small, but it will help you focus your mind elsewhere.
- Practice Sabbath
Setting aside a day where no work is done and rest is top priority changes your life. If necessary, let those you work with know that you are practicing sabbath. And don’t check you email! When I worked for a ministry with high demands, this practice kept me from falling apart. A day dedicated to honoring the Lord in rest gives you energy for the week ahead. I did the things in life that brought me joy. For me, joy was found sitting in a coffee shop with a latte and my journal for a few hours. What is it for you? Is it going for a walk? Playing sports or games with your kids? Find what those activities are for you and enjoy them on your day of rest.
- Start a habit
A challenging work environment can be draining. It leaves you feeling empty and the emotional toll can be physically exhausting. In those moments when you come back to your office and feel like collapsing on the floor, I would encourage you to go on a quick walk, grab a cup of coffee and then remind yourself that God sees you. When I’m stressed I move toward the coffee pot. Coffee reminds me of God’s joy. That He always fills my cup with His presence. We can feel abandoned in moments that are hard. Stopping to remember that God is near and physically doing something that reminds you of that truth may sound silly, BUT it can help you remember that God is present.
- Get community
When you work in ministry, those you work with are often your friends. While that is awesome, it can also be a challenge. Try to find 2-3 people outside of your ministry context in whom you can confide. They should be people who you can ask or vent anything to and be confident in their confidentiality. These are close friends not counselors (they should be close enough that they could recommend you see a counselor though!). The idea is to find a group of friend with whom you can be prayerfully transparent. Such friendships provide a space for you to be honest, vulnerable, and known. Get together with that group of people every other week. It could change your life.
There you have it. Four tips for how to care for yourself in the midst of a toxic environment. I know, these tips will not change your circumstances. They can change how you approach them.
Keep pressing in and may the God of all peace guard your heart and mind as you discover spiritual practices that keep you grounded.