"Yes" is Killing You

Today, in the church, niceness is the coin of the realm and customer service is the rule of the realm.

We would all probably say that we’d rather live in a majority nice world than a majority mean world. And we’d all probably enjoy attending and serving in a church that has more nice people than mean people. But have we, as a Christian culture, somewhere along the way distorted the meanings of “nice” and “mean”?

The last fifty years in America the commodification and consumption of church/pastoral services has paralleled the exponential commodification and consumption levels of secular culture. We have come to expect our pastors and church staff to be less like shepherds of souls and more like spiritual concierge.

The sheep and the shepherds are both to blame in the paradigm shift of church culture. But the shepherds are the ones who feel the painful effects of the shift most acutely. Pastors and church staff just cannot take, for long, the erosion of any dividing line between their work life and their personal lives. The healthy border of work/life that many attendees get to enjoy in their own personal lives is not a luxury normally afforded to pastors, church staff and para-church workers.

The construction of a healthy boundary requires us to look at a person and tell them “no.” To someone who is nice, the very thought saying no to another person may feel tantamount to slapping a person in the face. But, a person who implements a healthy boundary may find, like Brené Brown, “I’m not as sweet as I used to be, but I am far more loving.”

The conflation of “meanness” with proper boundaries is one of the greatest threats to the modern ministry worker today. The desire to seem kind by extending oneself past what is healthy is neither loving nor safe.

A wonderful definition of boundaries is: “What is okay and what is not okay?”

  • IS IT OKAY THAT FOR THE 3RD WEEK IN A ROW CHURCH WORK HAS GOTTEN IN THE WAY OF DATE NIGHT WITH MY WIFE?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I ONLY GET 4 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I EAT AND FEEL SO POORLY ALL THE TIME?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT THIS ONE COUPLE AT CHURCH REQUIRES UNDIVIDED ATTENTION SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I HAVE ONLY BEEN TO A FEW OF MY DAUGHTER’S SOCCER GAMES THIS FALL?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I JUST “TURN THE CHEEK” TO THE CONSISTENT INSULTS OF MY CHURCH MEMBERS?

  • IS IT OKAY THAT I REALLY HATE MY CHURCH MEMBERS?

A challenge to putting boundaries in our lives is that people react poorly to them. Here is the good news: the way you can tell if a boundary was needed is if someone reacts negatively to that boundary. The litmus test for how needed a boundary is: how loud a person screams when they butt up against that newly placed boundary.

Another challenge to placing healthy boundaries in our life is identifying where we need them. It becomes apparent where we need boundaries when our life detonates around us. But how do we spot warning signs before things explode? A trusted, objective, third party like a counselor or an older more experienced mentor, can be a massive help in spotting areas that may need the implementation of a boundary.

WHAT IS ONE AREA OF YOUR LIFE OR WHO IS ONE PERSON IN YOUR LIFE THAT NEEDS A BOUNDARY THIS WEEK?

Emotionally Transmitted Disease

The work of soul care can be incredibly rewarding. It can be so rewarding that it often comes with an effect called “helper high.” It feels good to try and make people feel good, especially when the results are positive.

People work is not always rewarding. If you have done soul care for any length of time you know that it is slow work that necessitates wading into people’s deepest, darkest emotional and relational swamps. Whether we know it or not (or like it or not)  emotions rub off on us and affect us. Over time, those in helper-type professions can become inundated with “emotional contagion” and become negatively affected.

A Yale University study defines emotional contagion as "a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes.”

Emotional infection can be a 1 to 1 situation where the mood of a person you are interacting with caused you to begin to feel that feeling. Humans in their complexity can also experience emotional contagion at even second and third hand interactions. Hearing a story of how someone reacted or feeling pressure by a person or group to feel a certain way that they deem as appropriate can cause you to experience certain emotions.

Like the flu or a cold, being infected by emotional contagion comes with certain signs and symptoms. And like a cold, emotional contagion also comes with certain remedies.

SIGNS YOU MAY BE AFFECTED BY EMOTIONAL CONTAGION:

  • Do you feel more anxious after working with an anxious person, more depressed after working with a depressed person? This subconscious mimicking is a strong sign of emotional contagion.
  • Do you overall have less energy and drive to do the work of soul care than you normally do or you have in the past?
  • Do you avoid intimacy in your personal life because you are too tired or overwhelmed?

REMEDIES FOR THE EFFECTS OF EMOTIONAL CONTAGION:

  • Rituals of resetting - immediately after doing intense soul care with an individual or group develop and practice a sort of “mental hand-washing” that can help you realize and contain the work rather than carrying it with you. This could include prayer, self-talk, brain quieting, getting up and walking the halls, closing your eyes and breathing, etc…
  • Know your emotional vocab - the ability to have the correct words to attach to the things you may be feeling seems like a small thing but it can be a massive help. Collections like this one may be helpful in getting more specific with what you are feeling.
  • Launch a counter-attack - feelings of calm and serenity are potent emotions that can counter many feelings associated with negative emotional contagion. The practice of mindful meditation and processing with the purpose of letting go of another’s pain can help greatly in strengthening emotional antibodies.