We were broken people when we came home from the field in 2014.
Like so many departures, ours wasn’t pretty — filled with contention and conflicted emotions.
It was a tough time.
It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback these times in our lives. (Especially when “Monday morning” is eight years later!)
Could we have stayed?
Would things have turned out differently if we had made different, or better choices?
Should we have stayed longer or left sooner?
Most who leave the field ask these questions along the way.
I have no question today. Leaving the field was the right move for our family.
But there are ways to leave the field without being so completely broken, unsure, and insecure. Asking better questions of ourselves and of people along the way can make an enormous difference.
Have you found your “sweet spot”?
In 2018 I became a Growability® consultant, coach, and trainer, where I learned of a leadership tool called “Your Career Sweet Spot” — and have since used this with hundreds of cross-cultural workers to help them understand and determine how their holistic health is aligned with their vocation. Like most of the tools I use, they design this assessment in the business world to help people like us in the ministry world!
While this tool might be a great help to you, remember two caveats.
Caveat 1: Because you answer these questions in the negative or feel there is no alignment in one or more of these life areas does not mean your time is done!
Results here should not be the determining factor for leaving your work and ministry and starting a plumbing company in Boise. This is an alignment check. When the tires on your car are out of alignment, you don’t always solve the problem by getting new tires. Most of the time, you just need to make a few adjustments.
Obedience to the call of God is, of course, something to be considered here. There are sometimes seasons in life where alignment is not possible. Do whatever you do for the glory of God. But even in these seasons, it is good to recognize when there is no alignment. You may not have a deep sense of “this is right where I’m supposed to be” right now. Be aware and continue to listen. Awareness and attention could lead to change. Or awareness and attention could lead to confirmation that this is exactly where you need to be.
Either way, knowing where you align and where you don’t is critical to the process.
This is a five-question self-check you can consider regularly. I encourage clients to do this annually, at a minimum. A quarterly rhythm is ideal. These are open-ended questions, with a clarifying sub-question designed to help you think well about the alignment between your health, work, and calling.
How does work affect your spiritual health?
What can you do to grow?
Spiritual health affects every other area, from your relationships to your mental and emotional state. It’s always best to start here. Does your work provide a positive impact on your overall spiritual well-being with God? Or is your vocation working against your spiritual health and development? Make a list of some adjustments you can make to be spiritually healthier. Implement one thing on the list.
How does work affect your relational health?
What can you do to add balance?
As we left the field, we had many relationships in an unhealthy place. We needed time away to heal and restore the relationships most precious to us. This would have never happened had we stayed. Keeping tabs on relational health on and off the field will help maintain balance and prevent a fatal crash and burn.
How does work affect your physical health?
How can you improve diet and exercise?
Our work takes a physical toll. As we age, this cost becomes more pronounced. There are things we can do with diet and exercise to elongate work and ministry. Sometimes it gets to where if we don’t prioritize physical health, days on the field are numbered. When my wife began facing chronic respiratory issues from living in a city with some of the highest air pollution levels in the world, we realized that staying was not sustainable.
How does your work affect your mental and emotional health?
What do you need to do to achieve better rhythms?
Like each area, mental and emotional health are more complex than the answer to a simple question like this. Perhaps more so. Remember, this is an assessment. It’s possible to achieve better rhythm with a simple schedule change, fresh air, more sleep, coffee with a friend, or a vacation. Sometimes the rhythm you need is time with a professional counselor. The point here is to ask the alignment questions. Does my work affect my mental and emotional health positively or negatively? What do I need to do to move toward the positive?
How does your work affect your financial health?
Do you have other financial opportunities?
With few exceptions, we assume poverty in the ministry space. While none of us chose this career path for the money, it is important to walk in financial health. If your work is draining your bank account, it’s not sustainable. Sometimes the solution is as simple as making sure to turn in all those reimbursements! At other times, we need to raise more support or find another stream of income. Finances are a big reason people prematurely leave the field. Regular assessment is better than being taken by surprise.
Could our departure from the field have been prevented?
I don’t know, and I stay away from speculative Monday morning (8 year’s Mondays later) quarterbacking. “Could have, would have, should have” thinking is rarely helpful.
If we’d had this assessment in 2014, we would have discovered how unhealthy we were in 4 out of 5 areas. (We were on the healthy side financially. Not so much anywhere else.) Coming home was the right move for us.
At the very least, this assessment could have helped us come home in a healthier, less broken place. A tool like this may keep some on the field longer because they experience more overall health in these critical areas.
Aligning your work with your holistic health is the most effective way to serve and lead for the long-term wherever you may be.
Mental Health Month Special: Have you ever been unsure what to do when locals tell you things they feel safe telling you because you’re an outsider? Or in over your head when expats come to you for unofficial counseling? This bundle is for you! You’ll be equipped in the basics of lay counseling, have tangible resources in hand, and answers to the key questions you face repeatedly. You no longer have to feel lost or unable to help! Get the bundle here.
Photo by Sava Bobov on Unsplash