What's Tony Thinking

What Keeps Me Grounded?


Our new book, Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers, is now out and should be available at the publisher’s website. I say “our” because the book came to be when our daughter Laura (a UCC minister) and her colleague, Brittany, (also a UCC minister) came up with a list of questions and topics they proposed I address.

One of their questions was, “What Keeps You Grounded?” I thought I’d excerpt from that letter for today’s post. In it I talk about ten things that keep me grounded. Five will be enough for today. Maybe the others later. I start the letter with a few thoughts about being grounded . . .

The idea of being grounded comes from electronics. A “grounding wire” keeps the system or appliance connected to the earth, which it turns out is really important. When the system or a part of it gets overloaded or too hot, the earth acts as a reservoir to absorb the charge and keep it from blowing out all the circuits.

There are times that we too get overloaded (churches do too). Too much stuff coming at you is a hazard of the ministry. And sometimes we just get overheated. So how do we stay grounded, connected with the earth, whether literally and metaphorically? 

Here are some things that keep me grounded. Some might be considered “spiritual practices.” Others are probably best described as “life practices.” 


Often these days when we speak of “spiritual practices” the emphasis falls on the host of ways we can seek God, or the divine (e.g. chanting, breathing, cleansing, journaling, drumming, meditating, centering — really, it can be overwhelming). But before our search for God, is God’s search for us. Experientially for me, that means new beginnings and the renewal of life and energy — happen — as a gift. I cannot fully explain and still less can I control this, but it is real. New beginnings and renewal do come. 

The Three N’s 

A psychiatric nurse with whom I worked introduced me to this. It is one of the best “prescriptions” I know for dealing with stress or situational depression. The first “N” stands for “nurturing.” Do something that nurtures you. Often for me that is being in nature (the woods, a beach), listening to music or reading poetry. Taking a nap also counts. Writing out some personal affirmations can be good.

The second “N” is new. Do something that is “new” to you. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing. It could be walking on the grass barefoot when it is wet in the morning (if you’ve never done that before), or going a park or library or part of town where you’ve not been before. Or extend grace to yourself. That might be new. You extend it to others — how about to yourself?

And the third “N” is “No.” Politely decline a request, a proposal, an appointment, an invitation or a task. Sometimes when we’re in a low space we say “yes” to too much or to things that aren’t really us. Saying “no” can be a fine act of self-care. So the three N’s: nurturing, new and no. Do one a day. Overdosing — doing two N’s or even all three — is also okay. 

Gratitude List 

I sit down most evenings and write out a list of at least ten things that I am grateful for that day. Some things repeat, like “health” and “family.” Others are unique to that day, “time spent with X” “a beautiful sunset.” 

I’m might not have managed this as a daily practice when we had small children and work was full-time, but even if you don’t do it daily, doing a gratitude list is a good thing to do whenever you are feeling low or feel like life has done you wrong. I generally do my gratitude list toward the end of the day, so it sort of written down prayer of thanksgiving.

Solvitur Ambulando 

This is Latin which translates, more or less, to “It is solved by walking.” When blocked on writing a sermon or tied in knots about a parish problem, a walk is a good idea. Ambulate. Get the body moving. And often, that gets you out in the natural world, which is in itself grounding.

Give It Five Minutes 

This is a variation on “counting to ten backwards” or other things to do when it’s probably best not say anything for a few minutes lest you say something you will seriously regret. 

When you feel like you want to tear someone’s head off or launch into a bitter soliquy of self-justification, “Give it five minutes.” And during that time you might solvitur ambulando.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all at risk of getting overheated — really overwhelmed, knocked for a loop. Whatever you do to stay grounded, now is the time. And if some of my suggestions are helpful, I’m grateful. Peace and strength, friends.




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