Rob and Shini Abraham lead Soul-Care retreats internationally with Sonscape Retreats. They have lived and served with YWAM on 3 different continents and have over 26 years of international experience as missionaries. While including American missionaries serving abroad, Rob and Shini focus much of their efforts on the several often forgotten missionaries that God is raising from Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. Many of these “forgotten missionaries” have little if any support systems, resources, and soul-care training opportunities in their nations. Rob and Shini are based in Colorado where they enjoy the outdoors, hanging out with friends and experiencing as many cultures as possible.
The Importance of Sacred Rhythms
“I love God and love serving Him. But I’m always overwhelmed and exhausted…” is something we hear pastors and missionaries say frequently. Try getting together for a meal with someone in ministry – a pastor or missionary. “Our schedule is full this summer!” or “Let me look at my calendar to see when there is an opening and I’ll get back to you.” or “We are so exhausted and really need a break!” are all common answers.
Having served in missions for over 25 years and having travelled all around the world, we have learned firsthand that people in ministry are some of the busiest in the world. They are also the ones that are most likely to burn out in their line of work.
According to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model (https://www.stress.org/ holmes-rahe-stress-inventory/) when an individual scores 150 points or less, the score implies that the individual is currently experiencing a relatively low amount of life change and has a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown. However, 150-300 points imply a 50% chance of major health breakdown in the next two years and more than 300 points raises the odds to 80%.
In 1999, Drs. Lois and Dodds studied the levels of stress missionaries faced. Using a modified version of the Holmes-Rahe scale, they discovered that the typical missionary scored over 600 points and often lived long-term with sustained levels of over 300 points. Missionaries in their first term had levels that peaked at 900 points.
Note: the Holmes-Rahe scale does not include stress factors that long-term workers face (such as learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, raising and maintaining financial support, raising children in a foreign culture, etc.). Add all these factors and the points scored will climb even higher!
What does this cumulative stress do to long-term workers? The statistics are scary. 80% of missionaries face burn-out. 46% face emotional health issues and 87% of those are diagnosed with depression.
There are many factors that cause us to ignore the seriousness of this issue. Maybe we were raised in a Christian culture that taught us to “burn out for Jesus.” Maybe, practicing godly rhythms of rest and renewal in the midst of a busy ministry life are judged as laziness or frowned upon by supporters. Maybe we are trapped in performance-mode, seeking to satisfy the expectations placed upon us by our churches and supporters. Maybe our sending organizations do not make member-care a priority and soul-care is not a part of our ministry culture. Maybe responding constantly to urgent demands in ministry have displaced a life in which regular intimate times with God are the norm. Etc.
Most of us have a “calling story,” a glorious account of that moment when we felt called into ministry. It would be fair to say that we deeply value God’s call to serve, and have no problem obeying His call on our lives. But, do we obey God’s call to rest and renewal with equal vigor?
We see God’s call to Sabbath rest from the very beginning of time. He created the Sabbath as a rhythm of rest and renewal for us. A pause in the midst of the busyness of life. To rest from work. To reflect on everything that was achieved in the past week. To celebrate accomplishments. To tweak and reset goals, if necessary. To search our hearts and make sure we continue to stay in alignment with our Creator. To savor time with Him. He modeled this for us by resting on the seventh day after creating our world and everything in it.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Jesus reiterated this invitation and holy call to rest and renewal in New Testament times. Most of all, He modeled this well for us.
“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
If we are honest, the truth is that most of us have trouble obeying God’s call to rest. We have trouble embracing it as part of His plan for us. As a part of the goodness He extends to us: His heart for us, His desire for us, His best for us. As a part of His plan for us so we can thrive and not just limp through life. His intention for us to live the abundant life so we represent Him well in the midst of life’s challenges and hardships.
We struggle to see times set aside intentionally for rest and renewal as sacred space.
God’s invitation to rest is clear. And it requires obedience on our part. A willingness to stop. Intentionality in setting aside time for rest and renewal. The discipline in committing to this on a regular basis so it becomes a steady rhythm in our lives.
A rhythm is intentional, steady, predictable and consistent. It sets a dependable foundation for everything else. We are surrounded by examples of rhythms God has set in place for our good: day and night, seasons, etc. We see nature follow these rhythms. Bears hibernate in the winter and then emerge in springtime to have their young ones. Birds follow migration rhythms. Planets maintain unique rhythms of rotation and revolution. We human beings seem to be the only created beings that seem to have a problem with embracing and establishing these healthy, god-ordained rhythms!
And the consequences for not resting are serious.
“This is the resting place, let the weary rest”;
and, “This is the place of repose”—
but they would not listen.
So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured.”
We cannot ignore what the statistics reveal. Stress is a normal part of life. It cannot be avoided but it can be managed well. Experiencing stress does not mean we are weaklings, or not spiritual enough. We are limited beings that need consistent fellowship with God as well as other human beings. We require work as well as rest. As we take on the challenges that come with our calling, let’s ask God for wisdom in establishing healthy rhythms in our lives!