A Chemistry Conversation with Mindy Caliguire
Six months after a crisis is typically when burnout starts to occur within the caregiver community. This has been true of hurricanes and other natural disasters, national tragedies, and it looks like it is going to be true for those who are caring for us in the middle of a pandemic. We're certainly feeling the exhaustion of what we've been through, but do we have what it takes to press on? What do we need to be doing to care for the health of our souls? The symptoms of soul neglect cannot be (and should not be) ignored.
Pastor, how are you caring for your soul in this season?
Watch this Chemistry Conversation as Matt Steen, co-founder of Chemistry Staffing, spends some time with Mindy Caliguire, president and founder of Soul Care, discussing how pastors can be protecting themselves from burnout.
Mindy Caliguire is the co-founder and president of Soul Care, a spiritual formation ministry that exists to increase “soul health” in the Body of Christ. She serves in executive leadership at Gloo, and prior to that served as Director of Transformation Ministry for the Willow Creek Association (WCA).
Resources for your soul:
- What Marks My Life Assessment
- Soul Care Spiritual Direction
- Soul Care Leadership Coaching
- Mindy Caliguire's Testimony - Spire Main Stage 2019
- Generis Level-Up Podcast-Soul Care with Mindy Caliguire
- Mindy's Amazon Author Page
- Become Like Jesus (FREE DOWNLOAD)
- Write for Your Soul: The Whys and Hows of Journaling (FREE DOWNLOAD)
We'd love to hear how you're doing in this season (just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org). As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for leaders, churches, and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Mindy Caliguire: That's a very, very fair way of saying it. You never feel excited to see that people are in so much pain, but my working with leaders for the past twenty-some years, I feel that often that "this isn't working or can't be sustainable" is just below the surface, but the surface still looks pretty good. So people in the right setting with the right conversation will kind of be more honest about what has been unsustainable all along. But now all that pretense is just sort of blown out of the water. Not that anyone is intentionally pretending, but all of that sort of, "Yeah, we can pretty much hold it together" is really gone because, I mean, this really since March, I would say almost not a week since this country started to lock down and the world went on fire with, not just one pandemic but a whole series of other surfacing appropriately painful topics, it's just been nonstop. And I don't know any job that's harder right now than being a pastor in this context here in the US. Not a week has gone by that I have not had the opportunity to either speak personally to the leaders I'm connected to, but increasingly with environments like this where people are saying, "We thought we were tired in April..."
Matt Steen: We didn't know what tired was.
Mindy Caliguire: We thought the big push was the first ever digital Easter and we had to reimagine everything in three weeks. And the level of exhaustion of chronic reimagining, chronic disappointment, decision fatigue - I mean, it is just on every level. And yes, sadly but yes happily I'm glad that in the midst of that leaders are starting to look towards what helps me care for my soul in the midst of this. Because we've been in this mentality where the show must go on, right? Nobody's got time to take care of your soul because the show must go on, and everything is about what's happening out there. And now I'm glad for it to have become exposed to how not workable that is and that more and more people are saying, "Wait a minute. Maybe there's a different way."
Matt Steen: Yeah. Well this is... and just full disclosure, we didn't really talk about this to begin with, and now you're starting to wonder why am I talking to this guy because he's going to throw me a curve ball. But one of the things that... you keep talking about sustainability, you talk about the lack of preparation for any of us to come into a season like this, and the typical tendency of those of us in the ministry world to have that plastic exterior and pretend, "Yeah, I can do this, I can do this," while all the while battling imposter syndrome, all that kind of stuff. Maybe where we should start is what are some things that we should be aware of internally with us to let us know that we're red lined or we're starting to flame out? Does that make sense?
Mindy Caliguire: Yeah. Yeah, I think it's one of the most important questions. Because conceptually everybody knows I don't want to flame out, obviously. But there's often some pretty subtle symptoms that are easily ignored. I know I did in my own life and had a pretty severe crash for a season. And in hind sight, I could see the indicators that I should have been paying attention to. But all I knew was just to keep pushing harder and harder, and I think that's a pretty common genetic trait of most leaders. So yeah, I think it's vital. In soul care terms, I think of it as symptoms of the soul of when is your soul been neglected. And it's always benign neglect. Nobody in ministry sets out to trash the wellbeing of their soul, right? And even the question of how is your soul can be a tricky one theologically. It's like, well if you're saved, isn't your soul sort of taken care of? You've done the deal. Like, you're good. In case this is news to you, I believe very strongly that it is possible to be very much saved, very much what Paul in Ephesians would talk about being in Christ, and have a very not well soul, have the health of your soul not be good. And when that happens, there are - my view - utterly predictable symptoms. And I've done this exercise with groups forever and ever. There's even a little assessment on the soul care website people can take. It's just called "What Marks My Life," like what is the symptoms of my life. And what I've seen in my own life and then in many others is there's just certain indicators. Here's one that I remember that I wish I'd paid attention to way back. I don't usually talk about this, but somehow the memory of this is coming to mind so I'm going to say it. I was pushing it so hard, I had all kinds of emotional stuff going on, but I knew how to be happy and positive and all that good stuff. And I found myself for a season before the crash when we would be singing hymns or songs in church and hot tears would come to my eyes with very normal songs. Not tear jerkers, like the ones you have sung your whole life. And all of the sudden ,something is getting triggered in me that I had no explanation for and didn't even bother trying to say why are you crying. Not like full boo hoo sobbing crying, but why am I welling up in tears at these songs. And I don't even know if I could tell you why that was. I think it was that there - if I tried to put words to it - probably such a deep disconnect between the things I knew to be true, the things I know the Christian faith is about, that I know are available in God. And there was such a deep disconnect between that and what my day-to-day reality felt like, and you can't talk about that if you're a nice Christian person, right? You can't say, whatever Jesus said about a yolk being easy and a burden being light, that is not my experience right now. And whatever Peter said that we would have everything that pertained to life and godliness, I am not in that. Whatever was supposed to be the fruit of the spirit of love and joy and peace and patience, I am not in that right now. And even to read some of those passages is painful. For me, yeah, reading passages like that would just make me feel angry or sad, hymns that would just make me cry. But most people when I do this exercise can resonate with symptoms like just so easily ticked off, easily angered, a sadness or a fatigue that just doesn't go away. We start self-isolating. We start numbing.
Matt Steen: Talk about the fatigue that doesn't go away. I think everybody kind of hears that, but just kind of, "Well, it's ministry. Sunday's always coming. There's always more to do. So yeah, I'm always tired" is kind of how we justify it to ourselves, right?
Mindy Caliguire: Yeah, and I think we've justified a lot of things to ourselves, guys. I don't know that that's a good thing. The fact that we find ourselves justifying things to ourselves we should probably think of as a symptom, right? The chronic fatigue, I don't mean it as a medical diagnosis but as a frequent experience for people in leadership. Like, can you not make it through watching a movie with your family without falling asleep? On the other end, I've talked to pastors who can't fall asleep unless they're literally watching television or Hulu or something. It tells me that their minds are so racing, the can't even settle in to fall asleep. Those to me are symptoms, not things to keep medicating. Your body's meant to sleep and needs sleep. So sleep things is one area that is sometimes, like a lot of people are having a hard time sleeping through the night now. I know back in March and April, I was often waking up in the middle of the night with one disaster scenario after another in my head. I was really encouraged, this was one of the things I learned from Henry Cloud early on is that those things that you think in the middle of the night that are the ridiculous, worst-case scenarios, like you're about ready to move to Montana and live in a cave or something like that - maybe I'm the only one. I come up with all kinds of crazy things - but those are literally brain impulses when your whole body is physically flooded with stress hormones. That's just biological. And you're going to have these brain impulses that are coming up with all kinds of ridiculous scenarios that are not really your thoughts, and they're not the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are just things that are happening in your brain because of hormone levels of stress that are at peak levels that are not subsiding. And friends, you need rest. Most pastors and leaders need to learn even how to do a scan of their body. You're probably holding tension in your jaw. How about your forehead? Can you feel it in the back of your neck? Can you feel it in your shoulders? We hold so much energy and so much tension that even our bodies have forgotten how to be at rest. Anyway, I'm rambling. But yes, I think that chronic fatigue, the decision fatigue, the making yet another decision fatigue, the everybody getting mad at you - am I allowed to say "pissed off" on this call?
Matt Steen: Yeah. You just did, so you're good.
Mindy Caliguire: Okay. So everybody getting pissed off at you no matter what you do, the impossibility of the decisions. Now what I see with my friends and coworkers right now. A lot of the schools in Boulder have just decided they're not going to return in person. Whatever you think about that politically or theologically or if you have a theology around it, the parents - who love Jesus, love their children, care about their children - Matt, I'm not kidding; they are on tilt. They're like, "We barely made it through the spring." The wife is a therapist, the husband has a career job with technology, and they've got three young kids under the age of ten, and I'm very concerned about this moment. At first, it seemed like the big issue was how do we make it through March, April, May, right?
Matt Steen: Right. And instead of a sprint, all of the sudden it's a marathon.
Mindy Caliguire: Totally. Totally. And I heard one statistic today that has me very worried, and it was this. Do you know Jimmy Dodd who leads Pastor Serve Network? We work together in some of this soul care space, and we were on a call earlier today, and he said that the six-month mark they've seen in - because we were planning something for September 17th. He said, "The interesting thing about that date is that it is exactly six months from when the country shut down." And I was like, oh, that didn't even occur to me. He went on to say that with Hurricane Sandy, with what was the hurricane in Florida, with everything that happened in the wake of Katrina, any of these massive disasters, he said - because his ministry deals with the fallout of leaders who crash and burn in some way - he said the six month mark is when resignations happen, when they just can't go any longer, when they flame out for one reason, depression rates are locked in, and really even worse scenarios escalate at that six-month mark. I had never heard that before. I just got chills thinking of it now. And I thought, we're six weeks out from that. Six weeks out, and what do we need to do to help the leaders in the body of Christ make it through these next six weeks so that, people, we can be available to our communities. Because everybody's going through that six-month mark, right? It feels very urgent to me, Matt. And I think that there are symptoms all over the place and probably everyone on this call, if they're as dirt tired as most of the people I talk to most of the time, they don't need any really fancy diagnoses. They know they are running on empty. And the question then becomes, what are you going to do? How do you want your life to be? And with so much out of control, what are the few things you can control to continue to let the Lord breathe life and rest and stillness and joy and peace into your soul? Because if you do not intentionally carve that into your life... I have one friend who's like, "Yeah, spiritual formation and soul care, it takes all of your time and none of your time." I'm not suggesting a three-month sabbatical. If you can take that, by all means do. How does this get woven into the daily moments of your life, this broadened awareness? Things that we all believe, I'm not telling anybody rocket science. But the fact that you believe God is with you right here and right now, even while you're listening to me you can be like, "Oh yeah, God." Right now. You can take a deep breath and remember, "Oh yeah, he said he has everything." "So he's the smartest person in the world." That's was what I was writing in my journal about my current issues this morning. If Jesus really is the smartest person in the world, which Dallas Willard always reminded us of, we can keep looking to him for guidance. In the impossibility, there will be no human wisdom that's going to get us through this.
Matt Steen: So recognizing that, recognizing that maybe I'm not sleeping, recognizing maybe I'm snapping at people, recognizing that COVID, racial stuff -
Mindy Caliguire: All the politics.
Matt Steen: - economy, and oh yeah by the way here comes, the next 90 days is going to be the most divisive part of the presidential election. Yippee. How do we protect our souls? Are there practices? Are there rhythms? I mean, yeah we go to soulcare.com and say hey sign me up for everything Mindy does, but what kind of stuff, I mean... where do we start?
Mindy Caliguire: For me, and I think for a lot of people, starting with the process of reflection and saying, how actually is my soul right now. And just inviting God into that conversation. Do you agree? Is this how I am? You know. And it's okay. Let the truth, if you're angry, if you're having panic attacks, if you are, whatever is the truth about it, write it out, invite God into it, sit down with a journal, sit in your back yard, go sit in your car by yourself, go on a bus somewhere. Do they still even do buses? Everything is so disrupted right now. But find a place. Get a scrap piece of paper. Do a little self-assessment. You know, the psalmist says, "search me oh God and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts." That's not meant to be a pass/fail test. Do you have them or do you not. Discover, put words to them, be raw, be angry. What are you feeling? What feels so impossible right now, and how angry are you at that? And let those emotions and those ideas and those words come out, find expression. And if you have safe places of counselors or coaches or spiritual directors or good friends, then safe people can hear you say those things. As leaders, it's very hard to find those kinds of safe places, I get it. Sometimes you have to pay somebody to be that safe place. But even if you don't have another human being, it matters that you write it out, acknowledge it to yourself, and see if you can find space to just invite God into that painful place. You don't need to find your way out. You don't need to go solve anything. Could you believe that there is a God who is with you, who is for you, and that you can let into that place? And you know what, what I love about how that verse ends is, "Lead me in the way everlasting." We don't know how to get ourselves out of a house that's burning. We don't know how to... you know, but God does. I can say there are different special practices, right. There's ways of prayer, there's ways of this. I love all that stuff, I love it. But first guys, you got to between you and God, can you be honest about how you really are right now? And can you just, and without agenda, invite God into that space and have some honest conversations. Like, "Hey God, you said you're enough. Are you enough right now? Let's talk." And I think the psalms are a great example of... the psalmist sings some pretty terrible things, right? Imprecatory songs I think they're called. I heard that... I can't remember his last name right now. The theologian up at Yale, brilliant guy, writes on a number of matters, but apparently his quote about the imprecatory songs is that they show us that God's presence is the only safe place for the human soul to rage.
Matt Steen: That's strong.
Mindy Caliguire: And some of us may need to really give voice to some really hard, painful realities that you've been holding and let God be with you in that painful place. What does that mean? Can he lead you out? For sure. Can he show you ways to connect with him? For sure. Can you read books? Can you listen to things? You can. But I think everybody's a little overloaded around all that. But if you could just be honest with yourself, bring God into that space. I mean, he’s already there, but frankly it's you recognizing that. News flash, I know that's nothing. You're just saying, "Oh right, you're here with me. Can you help me hold or hold for me what's so hard right now." And friends, I really hope you will allow that. Kind of talking to the audience right now, whoever's listening, wherever they are. It matters that we make it to and past September 17th. It really matters. And we have the message of life that is not about circumstantial pleasantness, and we can continue to derive our own sustenance in life from God. We can. It's very easy in ministry to have lost that, especially with the pressures that we've all be facing in the last six months. But you can get there.
Matt Steen: Wow. Mindy, thank you. Thank you.
Mindy Caliguire: You're welcome.
Matt Steen: You can find out more about Mindy down below in the link off to the Soul Care site. If you're sitting there today and just kind of struggling through this stuff, you said it yourself, people in ministry struggle to find a safe place. Soul Care's a great organization for that. And I think you guys do a first conversation you have with people -
Mindy Caliguire: Yep.
Matt Steen: - is free. Take advantage of that. Please, please consider this and not be walking through this with anybody. Mindy, thank you.
Mindy Caliguire: You're so welcome.
Matt Steen: Grateful for your time and grateful for your wisdom and your willingness to share with our crowd.
Mindy Caliguire: And right back at you, Matt. Thanks for all you do to serve leaders. Your organization’s a really key voice right now. Keep it up.
Matt Steen: Thank you.