Stress, part 2

How do you respond to stress?

One of the reasons people do not always recognise that there is too much stress in their lives, is that they don’t understand their own response to it.  People react in different ways, and knowing how you react is a good way to understand the warning signs.  When I worked in Zambia, I knew that when I spent the evenings going round apologising for how I treated people during the day, it was time to go on holiday.

One of the key determinants in anyone’s response to stress is whether they are introvert or extravert.  Many people don’t know which they are, and sometimes people assume that because they are shy or lacking in social confidence they are introvert, or that if they’re outgoing, they’re extravert.  But that’s not necessarily true.

A quick and easy way to tell your ‘version’ is to ask yourself what you feel like doing at the end of a busy week.  A week you’ve worked late every evening to hit a deadline.  A week when a sick child has kept you up every night.  A week when crisis has followed crisis and you haven’t had time to eat properly.  And now it’s Friday, and it’s all over.  What do you feel like doing?  Getting a few friends together and going out for a meal, or do you want to shut your door and read a book by yourself?

By and large, extraverts want to gather their friends around them, because they recharge their batteries in community.  Introverts would rather be alone, since solitude provides them with the space they need to recuperate.  Neither is right or wrong, they’re just different, and knowing which you are will help you interpret your behaviour when you’re under stress.  It’s particularly important that couples understand each other’s response to stress, since if one wants to talk while the other wants to hide, there can be significant relationship problems.

So if you find yourself locking the door, turning off the phone, and pretending you’re not at home, that could be perfectly normal behaviour for you.  Likewise spending an evening at a café till it closes might be your way of managing the stress.  But if you find yourself doing this every single night, it’s a warning that you’re under more stress than you can reasonably cope with, and that’s when you need to do something about it.

Next month: tools for self-analysis


Getting overloaded?

Getting overloaded?

I wonder what you think when you see the word ‘stress’.  Does it make you tense up?  Do you feel you have already experienced all you need to know about stress?  Does it make you want to stop reading straight away?  If so, you’re probably suffering from too much stress.

Stress is something with which we are all familiar.  It’s part of the territory for missions workers.  We expect to have it.  But we don’t always realise the long-term impact of it in our lives, or know how to unload it.  So I am going to publish a series of articles about stress on this website: what it is, how to recognise it, how to deal with it, where to get help, and what happens if you don’t get help.

Much has been written about stress, and we don’t claim to be the experts.  There are many other websites where you can find experienced counsellors or detailed descriptions of the psychological impact of stress.  Most of the missionaries I meet suffer from some level of stress, often resulting from  over-work, the strain of living in an alien culture, or working in cross-cultural teams that often cause more problems than they bring solutions.  Many of them are ill as a result of stress.  It concerns me, because mismanaged stress can lead to burnout, which is a major cause of dysfunction and attrition in missions workers.

I’m sure we’ve all seen a small vehicle that’s overloaded with too many passengers.  35 people balanced precariously on the back of a Hilux.  Or far too much luggage.  You think it’s going to be fine, and perhaps it is at first, but it puts an unseen strain on all sorts of hidden but essential parts like tyres, brakes and suspension.  So it can easily overheat, or struggle to go uphill, or even worse, it will fail to take a corner and end up having a bad accident.

Stress is just like that.  We think we can cope, but underneath, it’s taking its toll on our heart, blood-pressure and brain.  All it takes is one extra demanding event and there’s a breakdown.  So if you’re thinking you’ll be fine, you’re nearly there and nothing’s gone wrong yet, stop right now and throw off a couple of passengers.  Get rid of one or two burdens.  Lighten the load.  It’s better to leave one or two by the side of the road than to have the whole lot crash.  You can always come back and pick them up later if necessary.

It’s important that we talk about this issue.  It’s a personal issue, so I’m not asking for comments on the website, except of a generic nature, but anyone who’d like to discuss their stress is welcome to email me confidentially on  Alternatively, talk to a friend, a pastor, a colleague.  Talking to someone is the first step in resolving the problem, so do it today.

Too busy not to pray?



I’ve recently been reading a biography of Saint Aidan, the founder of the Holy Island monastery and the man who brought Christianity back to Northumbria in the seventh century.  There were many impressive things about this celtic missionary to the pagan Angles, but what struck me most was his commitment to prayer.

He regularly spent hours in prayer, often alone on a small island.  He prayed as he travelled, and of course, as a monk, kept regular times of prayer throughout the day – and the night.  When he was first given the island of Lindisfarne to build the monastery, faced with the task of starting a farm to become self-sufficient in food, building a church, setting up a school and building shelter for the brothers from the bleak north sea weather, Aidan and his team spent 40 days in prayer instead.  They wanted to build on firm foundations.

I wonder if you are so committed to seeking God’s will for your endeavours.  I certainly am not.  When I set up Syzygy six years ago, of course I prayed, often, but not for 40 days.  I doubt that you did when you set out on your ministry.  We’re all too busy.  Yet Aidan realised that he had so much to do, he couldn’t afford not to pray.  Like John Wesley, who apparently spent three hours a day praying, and justified it by saying that he was so busy he couldn’t possibly pray less.  Like Jesus, who regularly withdrew to a lonely place to spend time with his father.  Time he could have spent teaching, or healing the sick.  He obviously thought it was important.

Perhaps our independent spirits lead us to be Marthas rather than Marys.  Of course, if it were left to Mary Jesus would never have got his dinner, but somehow I don’t think he’d have minded that much.  Are we so busy doing stuff for him that we don’t have time to sit and be with him?  Maybe that’s why so many of us are stressed and burnt-out.

I have decided to engage more in prayer, particularly in the workplace.  I pray at my desk before I start work, and  continue in prayer at regular intervals throughout the day.  Well, when I’m not too busy.

Disappointment and disillusion


I few weeks ago I was talking to a lady who is angry with God.

30 years ago she and her husband moved to a part of the world where they confidently believed God would bring revival through their ministry.  Despite much prayer and labour, and many false dawns, there has been no breakthrough.  Moreover, her husband has a debilitating illness from which he has not been healed, and their only son has turned his back on God.

She is angry with God, because they haven’t succeeded, and life is not as sweet as she thinks it should be.

Yet she has a high standard of living, financial security, and is not persecuted for her faith – unlike most of the global church, which is far more accustomed to poverty, oppression, suffering and death.  As were the earliest Christians, many of whom would have been slaves.  Much of the rest would have been poor, and were accustomed to their property being confiscated, or facing death if they did not renounce their faith.  And yet the writers of the new testament insist that this is normal.

So, if like my angry friend, we feel tired and fed up in our ministry, what encouragement is there for us?

Jesus calls us to be faithful.  He promises the faithful a welcome into his kingdom.  Faithfulness is not synonymous with success.  In fact, it is possible to be faithful without being successful at all.  Faithfulness is persevering in a calling despite failure, discouragement and defeat.  Faithfulness is doggedly persisting when common sense is telling you to give up.  The martyrs in Revelation 12 suffered death, but we are told that they overcame.  What looked like defeat God considered victory, because they refused to give up even when it cost them their lives.

Faithfulness leads to fruitfulness.  Fruit is godly character produced under adverse circumstances.  I once met a man who had spent 18 years in prison for being a Christian.  Each day he was made to stand chest-deep in human sewage as he shovelled out the cesspit.  And the fruit of that labour showed in the joy and godliness of his life.  He spoke of his experience as if he were in a garden with the Lord, as the smell kept people away and he was able to sing praises to God at the top of his voice while he shovelled.

I draw encouragement from saints like these, for whom the grace of God which they have experienced is so much more important than their immediate circumstances.

” I did not labour in vain even if I am being poured out as an offering…”


Welcome to the revamped Syzygy website and blog!  I’m Tim, and I’m one of the directors of Syzygy.  One way or another, I’ve been involved in supporting missionaries for 15 years, since I realised that too many of them are either coming home for entirely avoidable reasons, or heroically labouring on under difficult circumstances.  Syzygy is resolved to do what we can to  support such people, help them continue in their mission, and become more effective.  And more importantly, we hope to encourage their sending churches and organisations to get behind them to do in the long term what Syzygy’s doing in the short term.

I hope that through this blog we will be able to stimulate discussion around various issues concerning cross-cultural workers, and draw more people into our ever-expanding network of volunteer supporters.  Whether you go, pray, encourage, finance, or support, I hope you’ll find something here for you.

Syzygy’s directors all have first-hand missions experience, between us having served short-, medium- and long-term in four continents, and although we’re all now based in England, we all continue to be involved in our own ministries to support missions overseas.  Our mission draws its name from our belief that global mission is a task whose burden should not fall exclusively on those who go, but should be shared by the whole church.  The word Syzygy – Greek for “yoked together” – conveys the image of oxen ploughing together, and the more oxen there are in a team, the easier it gets.

Join us!

For information on how to get involved with us, go to the CONTACT US page.