(This is part 4 of an 8-part series reflecting on the book, Resilient Ministry: What pastors told us about surviving and thriving.)
‘Self-care is never a selfish act … it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we listen to true self and give it the care it truly requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch’ (Palmer, P., Let Your Life Speak, quoted in Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.55).
However, ‘we live in a world that celebrates work and activity, ignores renewal and recovery, and fails to recognise that both are necessary for sustained high performance’ (Loehr, J. and Schwartz, T., quoted in Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.37).
In addition to the influence of the culture of our modern world and workplace, Guthrie suggests that it may be even more difficult for Christians to undertake self-care and gives four possible reasons for this:
1. An expectation of selflessness or servant-heartedness does not make self-care explicit.
2. Pressure to satisfy the expectations of a diverse number of people.
3. Self-care is not seen as an ethical imperative.
4. Christians may 'spiritualise away' their need for self-care – (this is a dualistic view of the self).
Self-care begins with understanding oneself - knowing who I am - my identity. This involves understanding my personality, knowing about my family of origin and how it contributes to who I am, understanding the distinction between roles and person, and considering how comparison with others effects my understanding of self.
When I know ‘who I am’, I am in a better place to look after myself. The book defines self-care as a holistic concept that explores how the five aspects of one's self are interwoven: emotional, spiritual, social, intellectual and physical. Perhaps like me, you had not previously thought about caring for the emotional, social or intellectual aspects as integral components of self-care.
Emotional self-care requires us to name and acknowledge feelings and responsibly handle them, because to minimise or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image-bearers of our personal God. This requires making time for reflection, as Daniel Goleman points out, ‘the rhythm and pace of life gives us too little time to assimilate, reflect and react … so emotions go underground’ (Goleman, D., quoted in Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.72).
Emotional differentiation is an important aspect of emotional self-care. It is the capacity to hear and empathise with other's frustrations, while not necessarily agreeing with their analysis or taking attacks personally. It is the ability to care for others while not taking responsibility for them or their emotions. It takes regular prayer and regular conversation to develop this skill (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.74).
Spiritual self-care is synonymous with spiritual formation: the ongoing process of maturing as a Christian, both personally and interpersonally. This takes consistent time and effort.
Social and intellectual self-care need to be regulated as much as the physical. Relationships are vital to health. Building relationships for social self-care requires discernment, while becoming a lifelong learner is essential for all people and especially for teachers!
Physical self-care, eating a nutritious diet, having regular meals and limiting junk food, doing regular exercise, getting enough sleep and taking holidays are not new ideas, however, for many busy people they are only ideas!
The challenge for 21st century Christians is to turn our knowledge into new patterns of behaviour. Balancing the five self-care facets assists us to honour the body as the temple of the Living God, enriches our capacity for service, increases well-being, and models care of God's gift of life (Burns, Chapman & Guthrie, p.98).
Reflection time - How do I measure up in self-care?
Consider these questions:
Q. What stories do I tell myself about my current state of self-care in each of the five categories?
Q. Is my calendar one of reaction and response rather than a plan based on personal values and priorities?
Q. Does my calendar mirror my personal values? (Have I scheduled time for all five categories of self-care?)
Q. What can I do to improve my self-care this week?
Q. Who will keep me accountable?
Burns, B, Chapman, T.D., & Guthrie, D. C. (2013). Resilient Ministry: What Pastors told us about surviving and thriving. (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity Press).
Resilient Ministry is available for purchase from The Wandering Bookseller
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.