This month we asked our bloggers to share how they are caring for their bodies and souls in the midst of the demands of ministry. Here are their stories.
There is something about the term “self-care” that has always bothered me.
A couple of months ago, I read this on Facebook: “When poor people take time out for themselves, we call it lazy. When affluent people take time for themselves, we call it self-care.” I hope this isn’t true, but I fear it might be. There is something rather pretentious about the term “self-care” that I can’t quite put my finger on. Yet, I’ve met many people who called themselves Christians or desired to follow Christ, but lacked self-love and their lack of self esteem or lack of love for themselves truly did seem to impede their reflection of Christ in their lives.
Self-care is an interesting subject for Christians to tackle, because Jesus never explicitly told us to do it. Instead, he just did it. Somehow we seem to struggle more with the “what would Jesus do?” question when he simply just did it (yes, I’m hearing the Nike slogan in my head now, too) without words to explain his actions. Jesus separated himself from the crowd, even his disciples at times, spending time alone in nature and with the Creator. He did not always rest at the specified Jewish time, but he did rest. He took his time on the way to where he was headed, often infuriating those who had come to take him to the destination. As I reflect on the patterns of Jesus’ life (the stuff he just did), a clear difference between his “self-care” and the self-care we so often find ourselves talking about in a world that worships busy, is that his “self-care” was integral to his mission. His rest and time spent with God and friends seem to weave in and out of his time spent healing, preaching, teaching and helping others.
Not only has this been an eye-opening discovery for my type-A, love-to-schedule-and-compartmentalize personality, but I now realize that it has been part of my successes and failures of trying to integrate self-care into my schedule as a minister. If the world revolved around me, I would totally separate self-care and ministry. But that phrase — “if the world revolved around me” — is what so often convicts me about this concept of self-care. I love the idea of a scheduled day off, and it has been a challenge for me to be flexible with this time as well (meaning, I’m “flexible” when I move it to a different day if needed, rather than forgoing it!).
In the very beginning of my ministry, I was pretty regimented about everything (no surprise there), and it likely added more stress (which is the opposite of the intention of self-care) to try to protect time away from ministry. And, I ended up feeling even more stress if I sensed the Holy Spirit prompting me to ministry during my scheduled self-time! I’ve discovered that self-care “along the way” is the goal. I still schedule time off, but I try to be more fluid – trying to gracefully or even gratefully move things around when I can, recognizing that it is truly a privilege to work in a job where time is fluid and flexible. Of course, there are days where ministry is overwhelming, compounded with the truth that it is never ending. So I also try to trust, equip and allow those around me to minister too!
Even as a solo pastor, Presbyterians have this great gift of being surrounded by other ministers of faith. If I can’t be there physically, there are often others who God is calling and has called to step in and be there. And, part of my job as a pastor is to do ministry alongside others, not in place of others. And so, I try to joyfully share ministry responsibilities with those around me.
There is nothing wrong with scheduling self-care, but if it doesn’t become more natural and integrated around our work, I’m pretty sure it will always sound pretentious and privileged. For me, self-care is keeping my running stuff in the car all the time — just in case. It’s reminding myself that long car rides are for loud music with the windows down, just as much as quiet time to connect with God. It’s taking a break for my body and mind, sending a card the moment I think of someone, keeping a prayer list and using it, asking for help because I would others to ask me for help when they need it, doing my best not to judge the sacred time/space/“things” of others, saying I don’t know when I don’t know and following the Holy Spirit even when my mind thinks it knows better.
I look forward to reading more on this topic, but the more I live and reflect on the life Jesus lived, I want to pursue a life that includes self-care as part of what I do, not as separate from it.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.