We can quibble for hours, days, weeks, or even years about how much a person may or may not be qualified to say what I am about to say. However, despite not having a degree in psychology, sociology, or any behavioral science (my degrees both undergraduate and masters are in religion and divinity in case you were wondering), I will be bold enough to proclaim:
Self-care is something that I have gone to great lengths to advocate for, not just within the church (as a member of the #clergylife) but within society at-large as well. This basic notion of needing to care for ourselves should not be a novel idea, it shouldn’t be anything we should need to fight for, or even teach. It should be something embedded and ingrained within the general nature of how we live our lives, and a part of how we practice society together. It is my desire to think that self-care would be as second nature as caring for others sometimes feels. So, as we develop this…theology (as I like to call it) of self-care let us dive in, look together, and learn together.
In my life self-care has taken many different variations (both pre-ministry and as I have navigated being a pastor in the United Methodist Church). I have grown the most in understanding its importance through the various periods of burnout and struggle I have experienced the years. My most recent bout with feelings of burnout have been over the last couple of years with the COVID19 Pandemic (which I am sure many can relate to), and was the driving reason I wanted to create the Active Faith Podcast community. I started this podcast and network to begin these conversations and share these stories of self-care that have always been there or that have been formed throughout his pandemic time. In my podcast interviews thus far, I have heard stories that have run the gamut of how folks have sought to care for themselves, sometimes it goes well and other times it does not, but lessons have been learned in both instances. I consider that the effort is worth it to find a way that we can make sure that we are cared for as we seek the opportunity to live out our call to ministry no matter what our understanding of ministry or vocation may look like on a daily basis. It is this nature that leads us to ask a very important question, and one that will define the direction that this community goes.
Why is self-care so important?
I do not think anyone would argue that self-care is not important, but I would say we sure do have a way of showing it when burnout rates are growing exponentially. We see terms like “The Great Resignation” used to identify and name the influx of persons in this post-COVID (well not completely post but you get the gist) who have left their positions of vocation because they feel so burnt-out by their work (among other reasons as well). Self-care is what keeps us healthy, mentally, physically, and spiritually. At the most basic understanding for me, self-care is important because we cannot (nor should we ever feel the need to) fill others from an “empty cup.” A phraseology I heard early on in my ministry journey that has stuck with me to this day. We hear in scripture, when Jesus offers the “Great Commandments” that we are called not only to love God (the first and greatest commandment), but to also love our neighbors as ourselves (example from Mark 12:28-34). I truly believe that if we are ever to embody this perfect form of love we are called towards in faith then it must come from within, it must come from understanding our own inherent worth in caring for ourselves, that we can fully and unselfishly imagine what it means to love others. I am not saying that this cannot happen simultaneously, but what I am saying is that the later cannot happen without the former, that is how can we ever understand what it means to love others if we cannot love ourselves. If we do not create a culture of self-care within our society, I fear we will continue to evolve into a society that seems to care for others as we care for ourselves (which is not at all) and therefore, build a self-centered society by which we judge others by behaviors we have no business relying upon.
I think that if push comes to shove many of us could not see the inherent image of God within ourselves and this therefore clouds the image of God we are called to see revealed within others. Self-care becomes important in this respect because it defines the inherent worth of all humanity as we seek to help and minister with and to others. The Kin-dom of God, as explored through scripture, offers to us an image of persons feeling loved and cared for, not just by their creator, but by the creator’s creation as well.
Think about it, we are being driven as a society to work long hours and forsake vacation or time with family often because it is what the generations before us have done. We are labeled as lazy for taking a day off to care for ourselves mentally or emotionally. Care techniques like therapy, medication, or even a moment in nature to breath have been so stigmatized that to participate in any one of these is done at the expense of how we are viewed and treated as human beings. We are valorized for working 80 hours weeks, for never taking vacation, for always being “on,” and even doing all this to the point of serious medical illness only to be judged as worthy when the day after a heart-attack we arrive at work ready to give 110%. We must all name that this lifestyle IS NOT tenable. To care for ourselves should be at the very basic nature of human existence, and without this understanding of self-care we run the risk of creating a power-hungry society in which one can only gain when one gives every ounce imaginable to the gods of power, wealth, and vanity.
Rather let us consider that self-care focuses on our nature of health (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual). It gathers each of these aspects and lays out for us a nature in which we have a base foundation that helps to drive and push us forward as we go out and do the work of God in the Kin-Dom whether in ministry or vocation
In the realm of self-care, I offer to you readers an opportunity to reflect on your own manners of self-care. In a society driven by trying to be better, work harder, or go to the point of near death, how can we truly be preachers or learners of God’s grace. Even a Kin-dom that is matured through the works of the people it is never at the expense of the people to which the work of the Kin-dom occurs, it is to the glory of God that we live, breath, and join in the great majesty of what God offers. God does not desire us to work to the point of death. We die to our own self in that we die to societies over-burdensome desires for us and live in the light of who God created us to be.
So why is it important to care for ourselves?
Because if we do not we will never fully be able to care for others, and not caring for ourselves often comes at the expense of our own mental, emotional, and physical health.