When we were getting ready to leave our home country, our sending agency gave us some readings and assignments to complete in order to prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for the transition to life and ministry overseas.
Many of these assignments emphasized being intentional about caring for your spiritual health. I appreciated this emphasis. I liked following the structure they suggested to create a plan for such care. You start with a goal, something you want to achieve, study, or practice. You then plan your intake that will help you meet that goal. Intake consists of all of the different means through which you take something into your spiritual life. There are many different forms of intake, but two of the most basic are listening to God through the Bible and through prayer. You next decide on what kind of response you will give to what you’ve heard and learned; this could be something personal like journaling or something relational like sharing with a friend. (Note that a response can be intake or output, depending on the type of activity and how it draws on or adds to your mental and spiritual reserves.) Then you take note of the output you will engage in during the period of this plan. The documents I have define output as “those times when we are giving out spiritual, emotional, mental, and/or physical energy in ministry to others.” Output is an important part of the life of every believer in order to be obedient to the call of Jesus in the Great Commission.
I’ve made a few plans following this format. As is often the case for me, though, I’ve been much more interested in creating the plans than I am dedicated in following through with them. The plans I’ve made have mostly just sat in my hard drive as I’ve made my own way, day-to-day, in my personal relationship with God and my ministry activities. And, you know? I think that’s ok. There’s no need for me to hold myself, perhaps legalistically, to any program, method, or schedule.
However, something happened, months ago now, that caused me to look back at these spiritual care guidelines: I just stopped blogging. After a month of excitement, dedicated writing, and collecting of inspiration, I had a hard time motivating myself to start a post. It felt like too much effort, like it would take too much out of me, drain resources that I didn’t feel I had available to give.
When I had a chance to analyze my reasons for not writing, I realized my problem; I was on the wrong side of these spiritual health equations, taken from the documents given to us by our sending agency:
Intake ≥ Output = Spiritual Health
When the spiritual resources I take in to my life are equal to or greater than all that I give out in ministry, I will experience spiritual health.
Output ≥ Intake = Spiritual Decline
When what I give out in ministry is equal to or greater than the spiritual resources I take in to my life, I will experience spiritual decline.
These formulas made sense; they explained my feelings. I was giving much–in ministry, in writing, in family life–without taking enough in. I was trying to serve sacrificially without sufficiently drawing on the Fount of every blessing. These equations are quite subjective–obviously you can’t quantitatively measure just how much Bible reading and prayer you need in order to write one blog post or have two deep conversations with friends, but they’ve been really helpful for me to keep in mind, especially as I’m starting to feel burnt out or lethargic. The fact that I wasn’t motivated to write, to share, to explore was a warning sign that I needed to do more feeding on the Word, more remaining in the Vine, more coming before the throne of grace.
I took some time and recharged. After two months of lacking motivation to write, I started getting inspiration, seeing stories, and making connections. So, I wrote…one blog post. Life, pregnancy brain (and exhaustion), and a seemingly constant rotation of sickness got in the way of writing.
I think perfectionism also took its toll. I only wanted to write something if I thought the idea was lofty enough, inspiring enough, beautiful enough. I’m not sure what standard of “enough” I was holding myself to, but it only took me two more months to realize that my standards are unrealistic for my situation and stage of life. The things I think about these days aren’t really lofty by the world’s definition. I think about how to mother a little boy, about moving back to America and learning once again how to live on a student’s income, about the best strategies for keeping my house clean for a family of four, about how to encourage little minds to love God and their neighbors. These are the things I’m researching, thinking about, planning for. I recently realized that they’re probably the things I should be writing about if writing is what I want to be doing.
Which leads me to the other thing I recently realized: I do want to be writing. I think I need it.
Even though I’m an introvert, I am an external processor. I need to write things out or talk things through with someone like my husband or my mom in order to feel like I’ve gotten my mind around something. I realized this tendency in myself just this year. I’ve found that if I’m feeling unsettled about something, I need to write out my prayers in order to feel like I’ve really released the situation to God. If I’m researching a purchase, I like to make an Evernote for each option, compile a comparison chart, and talk through all the pros and cons with my husband. If I’ve learned something new, I like to teach it to someone else.
So, for me, writing can be a response of input because it forces me to really think through the things I’m learning, to internalize them, to make them my own. As I put my thoughts in a form fit for wider distribution, I’m able to clarify my positions and pull together the best of what I’ve found. Writing also helps me be a better consumer of truth, goodness, and beauty because I more readily notice the glory in the details and the weave of the big picture when I’m looking at life through the lens of a writer. I think a discipline of writing might even encourage me to be more consistent in my seeking after input from the Word and from prayer, as long as I carefully monitor my energy reserves, because I’ll feel the need for real spiritual meat to back up my musings.
I’m looking forward to letting my voice breathe once again. It might sound a bit less poetic, at times a bit more worn (a little BOY?!?!). I pray it sounds more and more like a disciple of Christ, a consumer of Truth, a daughter of the King. I think I can safely say, though, that it will sound more.