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in-pain-smallRecently, a friend told me of a major shift in his home life—one of the life-altering kind. The thing that bothered me most (and the whole thing is an issue for prayer) is that I didn’t sense that anything was wrong.

Sometimes people who care the deepest for others are the best at hiding their own pain.

How can you tell if your staff is in a place of pain?

1. Pacing. Sometimes when our personal lives begin to fall apart, we run to what feels safe. Our work feeds us with constant accomplishments (despite the pain), and when home is too stressful it is easy to hide in work. Think about ways to help your staff take time for their families—not just to fix problems, but to build good memories.

2. Flailing. Just the opposite of the above, some of us need all the emotional energy we can get, and when we are overdrained in one area, we suddenly don’t have what we need in other areas. A sudden shift in attention to details—either toward them or avoidance of them—can show that someone needs some special focus.

There was a time when my husband was in the hospital for a week straight—while I had four small children, attended seminary and worked part-time at the church. The problems didn’t hit that week—it was a few months later when life stabilized that I suddenly ran out of steam.

An excellent lead pastor and personal support team gave me the time and emotional support I needed to renew my passion for ministry. After an intense period of life—whether at home or at church—your staff will need a plan to refresh and refocus.

3. Depression or anger. Sometimes life just buries us. It could be a sudden shift or a gradual erosion, but each of us finds ourselves exposed to the primal elements at times. When one of your staff shows signs of depression or new or excessive anger, it might be time to get some outside help.

4. Avoidance. Have you ever tried to avoid God when you were leading people to Him every week? There are instances throughout the Bible where people did just this—Jonah comes to mind. These are the times when we need a retreat—time to get alone and holler at God until we know we have been heard—and in turn hear His response.

5. Prayer burden. With my friend, the only indication I had was a burden on my heart to pray. I was so grateful I was able to share this burden—it showed him his situation was not a shock but that God was already at work on his behalf.

Sometimes it isn’t your staff that reels from pain; it is you. I heard once of a pastor who suddenly couldn’t sleep and was drowning his anxiety with late-night QVC shopping. Another pastor and his wife shared publicly how inappropriate responses to the stress of early marriage and ministry had led the pastor to retreat to his office late at night to drown his pain in the world of porn.

The original sin wasn’t just about eating fruit. On a much deeper level, it was about dealing with stress—and particularly about trust. When we drown our pain in the world of escapism, we announce to ourselves and to God that we don’t trust Him. We indicate that we really don’t think He is looking out for our best and that if we take the reins, we will somehow reach a level of certainty that is better than what He provides. This is the original sin.

God is more infinite than we can imagine. He cares about even the diminishing hairs on your head, and He is well aware of the stresses of your everyday life. Whether your stress is financial, relational, health-related, personal or public, God is not surprised, and He is ready to walk with you—first through the stress, and then through the emotional waves that seem to follow.

Is someone on your staff showing signs of unusual stress? You can help them recover quickly and stay focused on God by being real, being honest, providing structure, accessing outside resources where necessary and showing compassion and love.

Kim Martinez is an ordained Assemblies of God pastor with a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. She is a ministry and life development coach and can be found online at deepimprints.com. She writes a weekly column for ministrytodaymag.com.

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