Have you ever tried to swim in the ocean against the waves? As the water rolls in with a force, you try to meet it head-on before it crests on top of you. It can be a fun challenge for a while. Exciting, even. Until it’s exhausting. And the waves have taken you far away from the place where you started.
When self-care falls by the wayside, ministry can become a lot like swimming against the tide.
What do I mean by self-care? Stopping. Stopping to breathe. Stopping to think about what you are eating or drinking, how well you are sleeping, or what you are stressing over. Stopping to get out of autopilot. Stopping to listen to God, and to yourself. Stopping to remember who you are, who God made you be – What you enjoy, Who you love, What lights you up.
Stopping because you are worth it. You matter.
Self-care is not selfish, self-indulgent, or luxurious. It is being a good steward of the one and only life that God has given you.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” To love God well, to love others well, we need to love ourselves well. We know this in our minds, and yet we still struggle to take time for ourselves.
So here are 7 [more] Reasons Why Self-Care Must Be a Priority:
- Let the brain do its thing. Sleep. Downtime. Other hobbies and pursuits. When you stop working, when you take a break or get some rest, when you do something completely different from your normal, daily tasks – you think differently, more creatively. In his article for Forbes Magazine, “Rest for Success,” Stuart R. Levine reminds us that, “the brain needs downtime to remain productive, gain perspective and generate innovative ideas. Downtime gives the mind an opportunity to make unexpected connections and provide new inspirations and insights.”
It’s why so many great ideas come to you when you are in the shower or playing golf or watching your kid play third base. When we stop working on a problem or a project for a while or rest from responsibilities, we give the brain a chance to do its thing. We acknowledge with our life what we know to be true in our mind – God is always at work in the background. We just need to get out of the way and give God some space.
- What gets elevated gets imitated. People don’t just hear your words. They watch the practices you model, and the culture you create – intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not just pastors who don’t know how to take time for themselves. Many people in our churches are sandwiched between raising children and caring for aging parents, working more hours than they want to, or trying to be a super-parent. They feel guilty putting their needs first at times… or ever.
When you practice self-care – when you take your vacation time, spend time with your family, put the phone away during dinner, set limits on how reachable you are on your day off – you give those you shepherd permission to do those same things themselves.
You practice balance, not just preach it.
- God may have something to say. There is so much noise in the world – around us, and in us. Too often, when we don’t have a rhythm of stopping, and listening, we simply bump around the limits of our own thoughts, not actively engaging the One who has so much more planned for us than we can begin to imagine. When we create space to hear from God, we also protect ourselves from being led to and fro by the loudest voices, the most persistent, or the ones we fear most.
- Self-care helps us to live out of the overflow of God’s love, not the fragile well of our own strength. We cannot give what we do not have. It is in stopping and resting that God pours his love into us. Not because God can’t catch us on the run but because we don’t know how to receive that love when we’re running around trying to prove our worth. God’s love frees us from the expectations of others and ourselves. We can give from the overflow of what God pours into us. If you can’t love yourself enough to practice self-care, it’s very hard to truly love others. At some point, you will begin to resent what you are giving away that you so desperately need for yourself.
- You are human. You get one life. This is not a dress rehearsal. You can drive a car into the ground, but it will run smoother and last longer if you change the oil.
Exercise. Nutrition. Sleep. Friendships. Hobbies. Time with family. Time with God. These are the oil of our lives. We tell ourselves we don’t have time for these self-care “luxuries.” Or promise ourselves we will get to them as soon as this crazy season is over. But we both know there is another crazy season coming along right behind this one.
The truth is, taking time for these “luxuries” actually improves our health, increases our productivity, decreases our stress and anxiety, and generally makes us happier. They keep our “car” running a whole lot longer and make the ride so much more fun.
- Learning to trust God and others. There is a fine line between being driven by responsibility and driven by ego or pride. If you think you can’t ever step away for your day off, for a weekend, for vacation… that’s a problem. It’s not sustainable. Either it is a house of cards that will collapse the minute you turn away, or you need it to be so.
- Stay connected with your true self, not the role you have. Too often we don’t know who we are apart from the work that we do or the roles that we have. What brings you joy? What makes you laugh? Who do you love to spend time with? Rediscover who you are, who God is calling you to be. Shed as many of the masks you’ve learned to wear as you can.
Don’t let self-care be an afterthought. You will never “have time.” And nobody’s going to do it for you. Your people love you, but if you create the monster, they’re going to let you feed it.
Make time for self-care. Put it on your calendar. Five minutes of stillness. Ten minutes to walk around the block. Fifteen minutes to call an old friend. A day to go fly fishing with your son. A weekend to let your spouse know they are everything to you. A week, or two, to recharge, declutter your mind and your spirit, and bring your best self back to the work God has given you to do.
You are the beloved of God. God doesn’t love you because you work on your day off. God loves you. Period. God delights in you. God made you with all kinds of gifts and talents and personality quirks that make you, you. The highlight of God’s creation in you is you.
Whether you rock this day or whether it is a total train wreck, God loves you. And God invites you to rest in the midst of it. To be free from the slavery of Egypt and how many bricks you can produce, or people you can please. To be renewed and restored and to remember what your life is really about.
As a spiritual leader, it’s easy to fall into the habit of giving and administering to your flock without pouring into your cup. But even the strongest among us need support or we will eventually falter. The Center for Healthy Churches provides coaching for pastors and other clergy members who need guidance. Reach out to us to have a conversation about CHC can help you navigate ‘self-care’.