I was 42 years old and had been serving internationally for nearly 20 years before I took a break. I don’t know how I made it that long. But I know that I just barely did.
I don’t mean I didn’t take a vacation or time off work during a holiday–those breaks came and went over the years. But, those times still left me mostly in charge: managing activities for the family or coordinating travel itineraries. Or, more often, facilitating workshops and speaking at our large staff “retreats.” You know–the kind where you’re meant to be relaxing in nature and enjoying time away from the hustle and bustle of ministry–but somehow still on the clock?
No, I mean the kind of break where you just show up, unplug, and stop serving others.
Oof! Honestly, that last statement would have felt like sacrilege to me a couple years ago. I’m a missionary, for goodness sake. And a ministry leader on top of that. Serving is what I’m called to do.
To make things worse, after decades at this pace, terms like rest and healing and renewal were fluffy words I associated with weakness, not the man I wanted to be. Today I look back and wonder, how unhealthy had I really become?
Maybe better put, how prideful had I become?
In 2017, our lives all but fell apart when we were faced with a mental health crisis for one of our six kids. We were living in Africa and helping grow a global organization. We were experienced cross-cultural workers and had weathered quite a lot already. For so many years our marriage, our family, our ministry, and our faith had somehow been enough.
This was different. We found ourselves asking questions we never had like “How are we going to make it through this and not lose hope?” And even more alarming questions we never imagined we would ask, like “Where is God?” and “Why has he lead us to a life on the field, only to abandon us on the streets of Nairobi while the hyenas wait for nightfall to come and rip us apart?” The heartache was so deep and the fog of confusion so thick, we could barely remember what called us there in the first place.
Our story, through tragedy, has brought us to a place of redemption today, but it includes hospitalization and rehab and intensive counseling. I can hardly believe it now, but we celebrate it all.
I was shaken as a man and broken as a leader. At some point, I was forced to stop serving and just focus on recovering. As our family was rebuilding, my wife gave me a gift. She blessed me to go to a retreat just for men living and working cross-culturally.
Perhaps for the first time, I gave myself permission to invest in my own soul.
Over the course of the week, I met with a Christian counselor and processed some trauma and unresolved grief. A whole team of professionals (counselors, coaches, pastoral care providers, financial advisors, doctors, the list goes on…) were there at my disposal. They’d come on their own dime, and not representing any particular team or organization.
And I wasn’t in charge of anything!
I prayed. I think I felt something like Jesus must have when he would get away from the crowd to be alone or with the father. I met other guys who were just like me–husbands and dads and brothers–allowing themselves to stop for a much-needed moment and decompress.
But, as restful as it was, that’s not even the best part. As God was healing me, I was remembering… my calling.
I returned home with renewed vision for the relationships in my life, perspective on ministry and leadership, and confidence that God was still with us. He had been through it all.
My experience was transformational, in the truest sense of the word. In fact, it was so profound that I went back to the retreat the next year. Though I was no longer in crisis, my encounters with God the second time around were equally life-changing.
I regret not doing this sooner. I hope my story inspires you to take real breaks that God will use to remind you of your calling, refresh your soul, and refuel you for the journey ahead. I was misguided by my own thinking for too long about where the strength would come from to fulfill my mission to serve.
These days, I’m embracing my weakness and desperate need for this kind of recharge. And, I’m not the only one. My wife and kids, teammates, and the very people I serve see and feel the changes too.
I’m convinced that building this type of pause into my rhythm is going to help keep me healthy so my family and I can stay fruitful and have long-term impact. I shouldn’t wait until the next crisis comes along to give myself the grace to pursue rest, healing and renewal. Neither should you.
Momentum Men’s Conference was created so guys who are global workers can have neutral, unbiased input from professionals into their lives–with no strings attached. I know first-hand how important this is in order to have personal and ministry vibrancy with each passing year on the field.
If you have men in your life serving cross-culturally, and they’re anything like me, they probably won’t sign up for a retreat like this unless you first give them the blessing to do so. You can help get them there by clicking this link. Type in “A LIFE OVERSEAS” in the discount code section and Field Life will give you $200 off the final price.
Sean and his wife Celia have spent nearly 20 years in cross-cultural mission. They have lead small frontier teams, given national leadership to a large global mission organization in East Asia, and helped build a ministry in Africa before co-founding Field Life. Now serving in their fifth country, Sean and Celia live in Southeast Asia with four of their six children (two in university).