We are called to wholeness — to live life abundantly. Ministry is exciting, challenging, life-engulfing and it can lead to stress if we are not careful and are haphazard about living balanced lives. The quality of our health is central to our call. When key dimensions of our lives—spiritual, financial, physical, psychological, and emotional—are in balance, we are better able to serve others and share God’s love with the world. Yet, we can get caught up in our daily task lists and the demands of life and find it difficult to take the time to attend to our health. To sustain our own ministries and lifestyles, self-care is imperative. It is OK to care for ourselves. It is okayto give ourselves the privilege of “doing nothing but rest.”
Constantly placing self-care on the shelf can lead to stress and overwhelm us. Rushing out of bed, scrambling to remember what’s next on the list, texting, emailing, commuting, attending events—our busyness can push us to our limits. Our well-being is either supported by or eroded by our (in)ability to balance our lives, thus helping us circumvent stress. Some of the signs of stress are fatigue, withdrawal, cynicism, spiritual dryness, feeling overwhelmed, grief, guilt, denial, emotional or physical outbursts, blaming others, obsessive thinking, indecisiveness, and depression. To stay healthy, strive for balance. Recognize the signs of stress and develop strategies to deal with it.
What practices support your efforts to care for yourself spiritually, emotionally, physically, and psychologically?
Here are some tips to consider for maintaining a balanced lifestyle.
TEN COMMANDMENTS OF SELF-CARE
- Know thyself! Be willing to examine yourself throughout your lifetime. Self-examination and reflection are key to staying healthy and self-aware of needs, desires, challenges, strengths and maintaining a positive self-image. Ask yourself: what baggage do you bring to the table? What are your skills, personality hiccups, strengths and weaknesses? How do you handle anger, grief, conflict? Every two years or so, assess your personal, professional, and vocational development.
- Identify and observe healthy boundaries. Know your needs for intimacy. Find ways to appropriately address relational needs by establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Know when to retreat/extend self and what are healthy boundaries for self-disclosure. This is important, especially during those seasons when loneliness is prevalent. Develop a loving thick skin so that individuals and comments don’t easily prick us. Yes, knowledge is power (or so we believe), but keep confidentiality as needed.
- It is okay to Say No! Are you a punching bag? What is the true stance of humility? Is it healthy to be available 24 hours a day? It is amazing how freeing it is to cross geographical lines and slip away for rest and renewal. Pay attention to physical health by taking Sabbath and rest. This means that one has to say “no” at times. Many challenges can be avoided or handled easier with proper rest. Rest keeps us healthier and enables us to handle the stressors of ministry on a more even keel. Stay healthy through rest, diet, and exercise.
- Where do you stand? Where do you stand theologically and how do you stand with integrity in a theologically diverse context? When is it okay to say that you “do not know” or allow the other person to stand with integrity with their differing beliefs? Be aware of the values, spiritual practices, and beliefs embedded in us during childhood socialization vs. the ones we espouse to hold as adults (which may have only a surface hold). Our goal is to have a lived theology that integrates the best of both past and present theological worlds woven together through reflection and thoughtful actions.
- Stay informed. Take continuing education courses and periodic study leave, attend Bible studies, and community forums. Take time to learn yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi. Learn more about healthy eating by attending a nutrition class.
- Know Your Power! Understand, embrace, and acknowledge the fact that we all hold positions of power. Power is contextual and shifts according to one’s gender, sexual orientation, race, and class. Owning one’s power is one step to not abusing it and recognizing when others are using their “assumed and real” power against you.
- Be wise. An intimate relationship with God-Spirit is important. Balancing the prophetic (truth-telling and future-directive) vs. the priestly (pastoral care) functions of ministry requires both head and heart knowledge. Deepening our ability to navigate the breath and complexities of ministry demands a balance between head and heart knowledge. Pursue both. In-depth theological knowledge does not a good disciple make. Give equal attention to spiritual development as well.
- Ministry is truly a sacrificial call. Every decision we make ensures that something or someone is sacrificed. How to determine what sacrifice to make is paramount. To take one call over the other means that there is loss involved. The loss can be the shifting of relationships, loss of acquiring certain skill sets, choosing between a position at a “bigger” church with more opportunities vs. a small church ensuring more intimate relationships. Maintain balance by establishing priorities and finding time to attend to them.
- Transitions are evitable. Change is inevitable in our fast-paced world. Transitions offer both opportunities and loss. How do we embrace and engage change from a place of strength since most of us serve in an institution grounded and focused on tradition(s). How we engage transitions depends upon the lenses we wear – is this an opportunity or loss (or both)?
- Be accountable to someone other than yourself. Establish a support system outside of the congregations, institutions, and chaplaincies we serve. Emotional self-care is important. We all need listening partners—not necessarily someone who is going to try to fix, control, or manage our situations. But someone who has the capacity to create a sacred space for listening with a contemplative loving ear, thus creating a space in which Spirit can guide us.