While churches are not able to meet during this coronavirus pandemic, pastors and other church workers seem busier than ever—learning how to get their worship services online, leading Bible study discussions on Zoom, producing content on how to be spiritually and socially engaged while practicing physical distance, and trying to model that themselves as they care for their congregations and serve others in new ways.
This is all good and necessary work at this unprecedented time—or is it? In an article for Faith & Leadership, Melissa Florer-Bixler writes, “Pastors can be tempted to fill this time of fear with overproductivity.” As a pastor herself, she continues:
There is much ahead of us, a great sea of unknown. But we know that more will be required of us; more will be needed. There will be more adaptations to make and even more heartbreaking scenarios to navigate.
Instead of more output, more content, more forms of interaction, perhaps what we need are ways to slow down, to resist filling the grief of loss and isolation with busyness.
Instead of trying to power through this uncertain time with more and more activity, Florer-Bixler urges pastors to resist the temptation of overfunctioning, to allow time for mourning, to respond deliberately rather than simply reacting to the present moment, to consider longer term strategies.
Her approach reminds me of a book I started reading some time ago: Try Softer: a fresh approach to move us out of anxiety, stress, and survival mode—into a life of connection and joy by Aundi Kolber (Tyndale 2020). Now with some extra time at home to read, I settled down to learn more about trying softer.
Author and therapist Aundi Kolber starts her book with her own experience of feeling over-extended and approaching burnout. She confided in another therapist who listened carefully, then gently asked,
What would happen if you allowed yourself to release your grip on this situation? What if—just for a change—instead of trying harder, you tried . . . softer? (pages 2-3)
Instead of pushing so hard through life, instead of going into overdrive with anxiety and stress, over time Kolber learned to try softer. As she explains to her readers, trying softer isn’t a quick fix for our problems. It doesn’t mean caring less, but caring for ourselves while we also care for others. It’s not even about trying less, but trying in a different way.
I love the way Kolber unpacks all of this for her readers. The first half of Try Softer is a fascinating look at the way the brain and the rest of our body react to stress, with reflection questions and exercises to help readers consider their own situations. The second half builds on this by introducing practical ways to try softer in our daily lives.
I appreciate Kolber’s expertise as a trauma-informed counselor, the stories she shares from her professional practice, and how she has worked through her experience growing up in a dysfunctional family. What’s more, she relates all of this to Scripture–to the story of the prodigal son, Jesus’ command to love our neighbours as ourselves, and more.
In her introduction, Kolber says, “Learning to try softer is not a onetime event, but a way we learn to be with ourselves” (page 6). From her, I’m learning how our earliest relationships affect us as adults, how our brains perceive the “big T” and “little t” traumas in our lives, what it means to find our window of tolerance between high alert (hyperarousal) and feeling paralyzed (hypoarousal). I’m grateful for her encouragement during this time of uncertainty and at any time: to have compassion on ourselves and to pay attention to our wounds to help us heal.
Learning to try softer won’t automatically erase the pain of shame, anxiety, or trauma. It won’t make people love you differently. It will not take away the wounds already inflicted. It won’t give you a different childhood. But it just might change how you go through pain. And by now you know that the way in which you move through hardship matters greatly. It can predict whether something becomes integrated into your experience and loses its intensity or builds in power to the point that you feel it might overwhelm you. (page 117)
This book is beautifully written, both informative and full of wisdom. If you’re overfunctioning and wearing yourself out, if you’re tired of trying harder, then read this book, and try softer.
Disclosure: I was invited to be part of the launch team for Try Softer by Aundi Kolber (Tyndale, 2020), and received a complimentary copy of her book. As always, any opinions expressed are my own and freely given.
For more encouragement and resources on doing ministry better: