Pastoral Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia
We’ve all been there. At some point in your life – likely sometime this past summer – you were stricken with a dreaded case of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. That’s right…brain freeze.
Brain freeze happens when we least expect it, but always when we should expect it. It usually starts innocently enough. You’re trying to get your Icee fix or, in a perfect world, you’re slurping down a Mocha Freeze from Costco (the best buck fifty five you’ll spend in your life). And then, about five sips in, you feel it coming. It’s as if you’ve hit the point of no return, and no amount of fear, tears or cries to the sweet Lord above will stop the pain from commencing.
We try the typical anti-freeze tricks. We squeeze our eyes shut. Press our fingers into our temples. Grit our teeth. Death grip the chair we’re sitting in. Begin speaking in tongues: “No-no-no-NO-oh-please-no-help-me-Tom-Cruise-ouch-ouch-ouch-AAAAAAHHHHH-make-it-stop!”
Watching someone with brain freeze is one of the best recreational activities I can think of. Just like blue-haired ladies buy DVD’s of birds for their cats to watch, I’d like to market a set of videos titled “When Brain Freeze Attacks.” I’m sure it would be a hit with tyrants, dictators, and eighth grade boys.
When you’re in the ministry, there’s a type of brain freeze that’s always just around the corner. Usually the freeze takes the form of a conflict, a criticism, or a failed strategy. But in all cases, it’s every bit as painful as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Often times you know that it will probably happen, but you keep sipping away, thinking that this time you might just dodge the bullet.
Every few weeks I talk to or hear from pastor friends of mine who are dealing with P.S.G. Most of the time, they are at the receiving end of constructive criticism that is anything but constructive. They often know it’s coming, but it usually hits faster than they expected…and sticks around longer than they want it to.
I’ve been unusually blessed to be a part of a church that doesn’t have a lot of P.S.G. Oh sure, there’s the occasional conflict or disagreement, but we have a lot of bizarre church members who just choose to love Jesus and love each other. (I highly recommend trying that sometime, it’s a little addictive.)
Nevertheless, if you’re one of my pastor friends that’s currently suffering from P.S.G., or maybe you’re just dealing with brain freeze in your professional or relational life, here are a few tips from Uncle Danny:
- Slow the heck down. Brain freeze usually happens when you get greedy. No sooner does your straw hit the cup than you’re slurping away, trying to get to the bottom. I’ve found that most pastoral problems within the first couple of years occur because we try too much, too soon. Now don’t misunderstand: some stuff needs to move, and move quickly. But leadership sometimes means that we lead with a carrot rather than beat with a stick. Ask yourself, “What is the potential loss if we wait six more months to implement this and give more people time to get on board?”
- Prepare for the ice age. Remember, P.S.G. is something you can usually see coming. That’s when you begin to ask diagnostic questions: is this the right vision? The right vision but the wrong time? The right vision but without the proper foundation (prayer, vision casting, etc.)? Do I need to back up and try this again? Bring more people into the process? Sometimes by asking the right questions of the right people at the right time, you can avoid trouble before it starts.
- Realize that there are times that you have to suck it up (pun!) and experience the pain. I’ve known guys who had great vision and good timing, and their people still attacked in full P.S.G. fury. There are a dozen different ways to deal with these situations, but in all of them you have to remind yourself that God is your leader, and you have to be faithful to follow no matter the cost. You might gain enemies, you might lose friends, but if you are following a clear vision from God, you simply can’t apologize. You can – and should – be gracious to everyone, but ultimately you have to submit to the call.
To my pastor friends, I’m praying for you today as you face another day in the trenches, and another day of P.S.G. Be encouraged, and remember that even those who suck will eventually get to the bottom of things.
Geez…I gotta get new analogies.