Five months into my second call, I decided I wanted to schedule a youth ministry retreat and looked at the church calendar to add a full weekend to the youth ministry calendar. When I realized that every weekend for the next five months was booked full, I started hyperventilating and walked into my pastor’s office, with questions about when in the year I get a week’s vacation: during or after my first full year. He wisely asked the question behind the question, and started asking more questions: why did I stay so late each afternoon? Why did I always go to all three services each Sunday, even when I didn’t have duties at each one? My pastor gave me permission to start taking better care of myself, and helped me realize that taking care of myself was important, and that I am not in charge of taking care of my church. (Someone’s got that covered already.)
Despite this early formative experience, I still on occasion see signs of poor self-care in myself. When I start snapping at the people closest to me over minor issues, or when I get irritated about little things, when I stay tired after a good night’s sleep, or feel undue guilt or defensiveness, I know that the same issue is creeping up in my patterns and daily behavior: prioritizing the to-do list over stewardship of myself. The thing is, I really want to be able to do this awesome job for a living for years to come, and I want to discipline myself, pace myself and take care of myself so that I can continue to serve God and His church far into the future.
I see in myself sin in a lack of self-care; it is the sin of busy-ness. It’s me telling myself, as a DCE, and as a mother: what I DO is more important…than who I am, than God’s work in and on me, and in my family and church. Filling my time with to-dos instead of taking care of myself, stewarding God’s creation, shows a lack of faith in God to do what He does¸ and a refusal to trust God, or anyone but myself, to get “it” done, in my church, and in my home.
One of the days I had planned to write this, I found it quite ironic that writing this article was on that ever-long to do list. I had found myself earlier in the day thinking, “What else would I even do?” I don’t think that often, and I don’t like it when I do. That, my friends, is a sign of poor self-care. I don’t mean to over-generalize here. We all have bad days. But a series of bad weeks might be a sign of poor self-care. When I think disheartening thoughts, I have some questions I need to ask myself:
- When was my last vacation?
- Have I been taking my days off off?
- Am I participating in disciplines that feed me? (Exercise, time in the Word, outdoors in the sunshine, receiving my love language, worship, the Lord’s Supper, healthy meals, sleep, limiting blue screen time, spending time with family and friends and spouse)
We’re all familiar with the airplane instructions that tell adults to put their own oxygen masks on before assisting children with theirs so that adults don’t pass out and are therefore unable to assist children. The application of taking care of oneself “first” so that, as parents, or church-workers, we are able to care for the needs of others is helpful. Today I argue that it’s not at all about taking care of ourselves first. It’s about taking care of ourselves continually. Much like drowning the old Adam, self-care is a daily ritual. Daily we spend time in God’s Word. Daily we exercise our bodies. Weekly we take a Sabbath. Regularly we take vacation.
Our staff meets quarterly for big-picture, long-term planning. We also meet quarterly for fellowship together with our families. I have a friend who plans a get-away alone with her spouse at least once a year; she calls it “marriage insurance.” I know, sadly, from personal experience, that signs of burn-out start to creep up when I don’t take any time for myself, when I work my days off regularly, and when I don’t spend time alone with God, in prayer and reading the Bible, daily. But my disciplines have not included regularly scheduled disciplines that aren’t daily or weekly. I need to plan date nights, hiring a sitter, regularly! (Okay, scheduled might feel a little unromantic to me, but I guess I need to figure out what “often enough” means.) I figured out the hard way what range of work hours in a week feels productive, and healthy, for me. I need to figure out which disciplines fuel me and how much and often I need such prescriptions, and in what dosages!
Signs of poor self-care include feelings of depression, continual tiredness, unexplained physical illness, frustration with things that normally make one happy, unintentional weight changes, and reacting to things differently than normal. But more importantly, prescriptions for self-care include trust in the Holy Spirit, to work on us in rest, and to have the power to sustain our congregations; there is grace here. God’s work does not depend on us, either in our congregations, our homes, or our bodies. When we trust God and rely on Him, we are able to take care of ourselves, which will enable us the honor of serving in Christ’s church, as vessels He works through, much longer than if we try to take over. Let’s allow Jesus to be Jesus and do His work.