When I was a hospital chaplain doing clinical pastoral education (CPE) we always talked about self-care. Being a chaplain in a busy hospital, encountering the suffering, and attentively listening to patients for several hours a day could be emotionally draining. So we wanted to be sure we, as ministers, were looking after our own well being. But practising good self-care is not limited to ministry! Regardless of what we do day to day we’re prone to tiredness, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. Let’s look at some of the ways Jesus practised self-care, not as a minister, but as a whole human person.
- Prayer – It’s no surprise this is first. Jesus prayed constantly. He prayed at his baptism, he prayed alone on a hill, he prayed for Peter’s faith, he prayed for forgiveness, and he even prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, a moment of suffering, praying for his Father’s will. Prayer connects us to the Healer whose loving presence ought to be a part of our self-care practices. Since prayer is often reflective, it allows for inner healing as we become attentive to the movements within us, how our day to day experiences (and even burnout) are affecting us. Prayer is that place we can grapple with the pain but also where we can find inner peace. This is why making a retreat can be so helpful.
- Community – Aside from prayer alone we never really see Jesus alone. Even on the cross, a lonely place, are a few loved ones gathered around him. Jesus spends time with community as a way of caring for himself and readying himself for future work. He often gathers with others for a meal or with friends for fellowship. Surely Jesus and his disciples had other meals together besides the Last Supper. Spending time with friends allows us a chance to process what goes on at work or at home. It gives us a chance to receive love from others, too.
- Leisure – It may be hard to find any instances of Jesus relaxing and enjoying himself, but I believe the wedding at Cana is one example. There again he’s gathered with friends and family, but this time it’s at a wedding. And weddings are not gloomy events, they’re joyful ones! If Jesus were at a wedding today he wouldn’t just socialise but he’d likely dance, too. Finding chances to relax and do something fun can be a wonderful way to renew ourselves.
A while ago I asked for examples from people about how Jesus practised self-care and Marina McCoy, a philosophy professor and fellow dotMagis blogger, pointed out that Jesus seems to have a pattern of self-care. After John the Baptist dies Jesus has the desire to rest, pray, and mourn, but then he feeds the 5,000. “Eat, pray, love?” Marina says. Jesus was certainly a well integrated man and self-care came naturally to him.
Prayer, journaling, and spiritual reading was an important self-care practice for me. So was spiritual direction. Look at the ways you practice self-care currently. Do you pray, find opportunities for leisure, spend time with friends or family? Is there anything else you might want to do?
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Thanks for the reflections on self care, an often-overlooked aspect of the spiritual life. A burned out caregiver/minister/Christian can’t do a very effective job of helping others. A couple observations from my experience: on the second point, we all need to surround ourselves with loving friends and family to support us. However, that type of true community is different from surrounding ourselves with people in order to avoid being alone. Some of us need alone time to recharge, and the last thing we need is superficial human interaction in an artificial community.
A fourth point pertains to rest: as a society, we’re sleep deprived and lacking in sufficient rest. All too often, sleep is equated with sloth or laziness rather than the recharging mechanism that God provided us. Again, a chronically fatigued or overly tired minister isn’t much use to anyone. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep should be on everyone’s self-care list.
Sometimes we have to have enough humility and trust to know that we can fall asleep in the boat while someone else steers.
thank you all, and especially Joan… I know I’m particularly prone to slipping from “I’m privileged to share in prayer and action with God’s saving work in this world” to “if I stop for even a moment I’ll be letting God and others down”… too easy to lose sight of the fact that God loves and cares about me and my welfare just as much as everyone else’s…