One of my very favorite subjects is self-care. I find that this is an area that most people struggle with, just like I sometimes do. I was the most aware of how important it is to do good self-care in 2008 when I went into complete burn-out. To try to straighten out my life, I took a leave of absence for a year from being a pastor. I can’t believe that it is already a decade later! Even now the discipline of self-care is often a roller-coaster for me. Usually we have some awareness of how we are doing, but how sensitive are we to how the people around us are doing?
One of the lessons that I have learned about self-care is that no one else can do it for me. I’m the one who needs to make it a priority for myself. In the same way, we can’t do self-care for others. We can, however, encourage others, and in some cases we are in a position to give others permission to do good self-care.
It concerns me how often pastors and other church leaders fall into the category of being worn down, sometimes close to despair. It is difficult to give vibrant and creative leadership when we are in survival mode. Going even farther, I think that it is harder to give a strong Christian witness when we are in survival mode. Part of our Christian witness is how God has set us free to live life joyfully. It’s hard to share this message if we are not living it.
We might especially want to pay attention to how people are doing when they are going through a stressful time in their lives. Do you know any government employees? As I’m writing this article our government has been shut down. I’m hopeful that by the time you are reading this that our political leaders will have found a financial solution for our country, though I don’t know if this will be the case. Some of my close family and friends work for the government. Can this be a stressful time for them?
Stress comes from a myriad of sources, not just from our government. One group that I’m very sympathetic towards are care-givers of someone with extreme health issues. Quite often this is for a loved one. In the midst of trying to do everything that they can for the person that they are caring for, it is easy to not take care of themselves. Some encouragement and permission to do so can make a big difference!
Self-care can include physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional issues. Sometimes a change as simple as getting enough sleep can be life-changing! How big can it be to strengthen our relationship with God to the point that we no longer worry? Or we give up getting angry? How about if we take steps (perhaps literally!) to become physically fit? It might seem like the need for self-care is obvious, but it is easy for it to be a low priority. Our own practices, encouragement, and permission giving, might be just what someone else needs.
I have more that I could say, but it is almost midnight. I need to make sure that I get enough sleep! Each of us only has one life to live. I encourage you to take care of yourself, and to be an encourager to others. This is one more way to try to be the strongest Christians that we can be.
Your brother on the journey, Mark
A follow-up: This article was written on Sunday night. Monday morning before starting work I was taking out some cans to put in the recycling can. There was an older couple walking past the house and I called out a greeting to them (be aware that I am not a morning person!). They called me over and told me that I hit the jackpot. They then gave me a little bag of Lifesavers. I asked them why I had hit the jackpot? They said it was because I smiled at them. Good self-care helps me to be a better Christian even first thing in the morning!