Those of us who live in developing countries will be only too familiar with one of the major sources of stress and disruption in our lives – the regular power outages which mean that unless we have invested in our own generator or solar panels, we frequently have no electricity for several hours of the day. When it comes on there is a mad dash to recharge every battery, do the cooking and laundry while the equipment works and catch up with all the emails before the power goes off again. Just mention load-shedding to a group of mission workers and there will be sighs, groans of frustration and a long litany of tales of woe.
Yet, seen from another angle, load-shedding is a regrettable occurrence which is better than the alternative – total unplanned blackouts. Load-shedding happens when the demand for power exceeds the available supply. Sometimes a power station breaks down, or the water supply is too low for the hydro station to operate. Load-shedding protects the power distribution system from wider failure caused by trying to run too many appliances, which can lead to substations failing and major damage to the distribution system.
Most mission workers are not good at doing load-shedding in their own lives. Often their available supply of energy is insufficient for all the things that they have committed to. They keep going resolutely, unaware of the damage that they are doing to their systems while they run on with an permanent emotional or spiritual brownout. Often this can continue at a low rate for years until a major stressor occurs and there is a system wide failure. This can vary in what it looks like – lack of emotional energy to invest in family, loss of faith, stress-related illness, emotional outbursts, moral failure – but they are all symptoms of the same underlying problem: the mission workers are doing more than they are able.
The short-term response to overload, as power companies realise, is to cut the demand. In the same way that the electricity company simply cuts off the supply to a given area, so the mission worker needs to lay down some responsibilities so that the drain on their emotional, spiritual and physical energy is reduced. The longer-term solution is to balance the supply and demand more effectively. There are a number of effective ways you can do this:
- review the range of responsibilities you carry and prayerfully consider how sustainable it is
- look at your personal strategies for rest and retreat to ensure you are taking enough time out of your ministry to recharge your batteries effectively
- consider how effective your prayer support is
- review the level of stress you are operating under and restore it to appropriate levels
- work with your co-workers to rebalance your team structure and activities so that they are sustainable for everybody
- work out whether you are an introvert or an extravert and adapt your lifestyle accordingly
- review your eating and sleeping habits to make sure that they work well for you
Load-shedding is a short-term fix not a long-term solution. Mission workers opting to load-shed may keep things going for a bit but if they fail to implement a permanent solution may find themselves at risk of a major power failure in the form of burnout.