Anne Wilson is the content director for Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is married to her husband, Kyle, and mom to their two kids. She laughs at herself and with others often. She wrestles with anxiety, and could have written 1 Timothy 1:15-16. She holds a Bachelor of Biblical Studies and General Ministry from Cincinnati Christian University. Find her on social media: @annemwilson

Young Church Leaders: Tell us a bit about yourself!

Anne: I’m married to my husband, Kyle, and we have two kids: Keegan and Eliza. I honestly spend a good chunk of parenting wondering how I was entrusted to care for these two, precious children. Before they came along, I could barely keep a plant alive. On a daily basis, motherhood is a consistent reminder to me of how weak I am and how much I need the gospel.

I serve as the content director for Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before that, I served in student ministry for several years in Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana, and through that experience, God grew my passion for people of all ages and backgrounds to come to know, trust, and follow Jesus. Now I get to serve in a role where content strategy, writing, and communications efforts all aim toward that goal of helping people know Jesus and follow him. It’s pretty surreal.

I like food too much, wrestle with anxiety, and go into deep, research holes about frivolous things when I’m under stress. Did I mention I need Jesus? I do. Every day.

YCL: In your words, what is emotional health?

Anne: Emotional health, for me, is making sure my soul and heart are firmly rooted in my human limitations and God’s unlimited grace. At my unhealthiest place, I take on too much, commit to everything I’m asked to do, and ignore my humanness. When I ignore the limits and boundaries God has given me as a means of knowing and trusting him (with Sabbath-keeping, our schedule, relationships, food, commitments, space for thinking/reflection), I usually end up in a pretty tightly-wound, burdened place.

YCL: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about emotional health?

Anne: The most important thing I’ve learned is that emotional health is a lifelong pursuit—there is no “arriving.” Emotional health also doesn’t happen in a vacuum—physical, mental, relational, and spiritual health are all interconnected.

About six years ago, before I became a mom, I was on the edge of ministry burnout at the age of 25. I’d been in full-time, vocational ministry for almost five years at that point, and I didn’t know how to take care of my soul while serving other people. I felt like my talents were outpacing my character—my soul was lagging behind while I mastered ministry “skills.”

I walked into ministry bright-eyed and ready to serve, and then in the first two years of my first full-time role on a church staff, a couple of tragedies happened in our church community that significantly impacted me. I had some pretty unhealthy ways of coping when it came to stress and dealing with trauma. They didn’t look bad on the outside—drinking a lot of coffee, watching too much television at night, isolating myself from friends, staying up too late, having unnecessary relationship conflicts. The reality is that ministry can be difficult—people are messy, and sometimes there’s no playbook for the mess other than a steady soul firmly rooted in Jesus and his word. I found this out the hard way—I wanted a playbook, and there just wasn’t one.

That burnout led me to a counseling room that changed the trajectory of my life forever. If you didn’t know me up close, you might not know that anything changed about me through the two years I spent in counseling. But those who knew me well experienced it with me. I stopped hustling. I identified some open wounds I’d never really dealt with. I realized I was often ministering from a place of emptiness and woundedness, wanting to either prove myself or responding from a place of defensiveness. I thank God that he put a pause button on my ministry days when he did because the emotional healing (and growth) that took place in those years was instrumental in how I love others, use my gifts, and serve people now.

YCL: What are some practical ways you’ve pursued emotional health in your life?

Anne: Counseling. I know it’s been said before, but counseling is not only for the traumatic events and at points of crisis. It can serve as transformational maintenance, and it’s always helpful to get outside, professional perspective on what you’re experiencing. One of the most significant benefits to the people I love personally and me is that while my counselor is invested in my life, she’s not too close to it to tell me the truth. She’s said some difficult things to me that no one else in my life would or could say.

Laughter. I’m a big believer that humor and comedy can serve as an excellent equalizer. When I’m not laughing very often, it’s a warning sign for me that something is going astray. I heard Tim Keller say once that the gospel frees him to laugh at himself. When I believe to my core that Jesus is enough and that his grace sets me free, I’m able not to take myself (or the harsh realities of life) too seriously. Sometimes, one of the most emotionally healthy things I can do is to turn on a comedy podcast or listen to an hour of stand-up at the end of a long day. Seriously! I have an intense personality, and my brain takes in a lot of information all day long, so unwinding with laughter (and a comedian’s commentary on ordinary life) can help me simmer down.

Friendship. Friendship doesn’t have to happen organically, especially in adulthood. With schedules, school, work, kids, and family, fitting in time for friends takes a lot of effort. Over the past few years, I’ve had to intentionally go out of my way to reach out to someone and say, “Hey, want to be friends?” It’s always a little uncomfortable at first—there are stages, like any other relationship. But putting in consistent time, effort, and being willing to go first sharing your life with others almost always pays off.

Reading. I use to only read non-fiction, help-you-live-your-life type of books. I think I subconsciously thought those were the only books that helped you grow (I now know that this was seriously misguided). In the last three years, I’ve intentionally read mostly fiction, and I regret not reading novels in my early years of ministry. Reading fiction has opened my mind and heart to worlds I didn’t know existed, and perspectives I’d otherwise never hear about or experience. In many ways, the fictional stories and characters I’ve come to know in the last few years have shaped my thoughts and approaches to ministry just as much as any strategy or leadership book I’ve read.

YCL: What are some benefits you have seen from pursuing emotional health?

Anne: I think the question I’d ask instead would be, “What’s at stake if I don’t pay attention and pursue emotional health?” And the answer is everything. My marriage, ministry, friendships, relationships with family members, kids, career goals—all of it is at stake. Our lead pastor often gives our staff a cautionary warning—never let your competency out-pace your character. I so appreciate this. I think we get into dangerous water when we’re working harder on our skills, strategy, and competency than we are nourishing our souls, and I’ve experienced it first-hand.