I was at a presentation recently when I heard the presenter voice her frustration with the word ”self-care.” I was shocked by it because I really have never had anybody have a problem with that word. But she went on to say, “I hate the notion that a yoga class could fix my depression.” When I heard that, a lightbulb went off in my head: self-care, just like therapy, is often seen as a means to fix things instead of seeing it as a way to balance your systems and use the tools that God has given you.
If we are approaching self-care as a way to fix what we are feeling, then we are way off on our understanding of this word. Self-care doesn’t fix anything; self-care is a tool to help us cope with the stressors that are going on around us and find balance in our lives.
Self-care For Church Workers
A question all church workers should answer is this: “Are you pouring into yourself as much as you pour out to others?” A lot of church workers or people in the helping profession would probably answer no because that would be selfish. I find it frustrating that we view self-care as a selfish thing. God never said don’t spend time on yourself. In fact he modeled the exact opposite. I could give you all types of biblical and theological reasons that you should take time for yourself, but ultimately you won’t do it unless you see a benefit to it. I want to stress that long-term benefits of self-care don’t happen overnight.
You love people; you care for God’s people, but often as church workers we struggle to recognize that we are part of his flock. Rick, our Ministry Care Coordinator at Lutheran Counseling Services, will often share how important it is to be part of the crowd… to be fed by your Savior. If not, you will burn out. The term ”burn out” actually paints such an accurate picture of what happens to us internally when we don’t care for ourselves. It’s the idea that the passion that we carry inside of us to serve God’s people will burn out if you don’t take care of it.
So how do we do that? How do we give care to ourselves? It starts by saying “no” to other things. I know we all hate the word and we’re not very good at even saying it, but the word “no” allows us to free up time in our schedule for things that God has called us to do. He’s called you to take care of yourself. In the work that I do, I have found that in moments where someone says no to people, or actually “not right now,” it empowers them to do things for themselves. It gives them the opportunity not to rely on me, their therapist, for things that they are capable to do on their own. Your “no” can actually help those you are working to serve and will ultimately help you care for yourself.
If we are saying “no” to other people then what do we say “yes” to for our own self-care? You should be saying yes to things that fill you up. Most often I find that people confuse self-care with avoidance activities. Netflix binging is avoidance. Mindless computer games are avoidance. Excessive drinking is avoidance. Self-care is engaging in activities not just to feel good, but activities that will fuel you. Exercise, meditation, spiritual practices, rest, activities in nature, hobbies, crafts, or reading can all be things that fill us. Time with friends and family that is fulfilling, not draining, is important as well. What activities can you walk away from and feel refueled? That is where you need to make sure you spend some time.
Taking Time for Self-care
Time can be the real issue as to why most of us don’t take time for self-care. So one thought on this matter… add grace. If you are going to take a couple of hours to focus on you, then lay the guilt aside. Step boldly into that decision and let others around you know. We often feel if we take time for ourselves we will have to work 10 times harder when we get back to work to catch up. It’s important and vital for self-care to change the way you view work and the tasks laid upon you. Truth is you put more pressure on yourself than others around you do. So when it comes to a time issue, it is all about how you view expectations you lay upon yourself.
You are part of God’s flock and He has called you to care for the body He has given you. Take time to fill it up and take care of the passion inside of you to serve God’s people.
Megan Miessler is the Executive Director of Lutheran Counseling Services serving church workers in the Florida/Georgia District. As a licensed clinical social worker, Megan helps children and families with depression, anxiety, crisis intervention, school counseling, and marriage therapy.