This has been on my heart for awhile for the people of my church, and maybe for every church out there. I believe that, as Christians, we do not take the importance of self-care seriously. This is an important lesson and one that is sometimes learned only through experience. Being in ministry has a tendency to bring out the best in us and the worst in us.
On the one hand, we feel in fire. We are engaged. We are passionate about the work ahead of us. We have purpose. We feel called.
On the other hand, when we are serving, our Enemy attacks us. He doesn't like to see God's people being productive. When you are serving, it is like walking around with a big bull's-eye on the back. 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT) says, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." The Enemy will do what he can to get in your way. In addition, you are battling yourself. As humans, we have our sin nature to deal with. Our sin nature and our spiritual nature are in constant battle, as spoken of in Romans 7. As your spiritual nature is exercised and used, your sin nature's ugly head will poke out and want some attention, too.
We all carry wounds inside of us. Any bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, shame, judgment, or grief that has not been resolved will be elevated. Our selfish nature and our sinful nature is a normal part of who we are. Too often, when these things arise and show themselves, we feel discouraged. We feel burn out. We don't have the capacity to do the work, or we feel like we've made a mistake. "Oh, I guess I'm not called. This is too hard. If God had called me, I wouldn't feel this way. I wouldn't be angry (or bitter or depressed). I can't handle this." We need to plan and know that we will struggle with Satan and our own sin nature when are living out our calling of God. It is because of these things that the art of self-care becomes so important.
What is self-care and how do we do it?
Self-care is when we do the things that we need to do to recharge or reset our spirits, minds, and bodies. The wise person will take these things seriously and practice them. An important book on this topic is Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald (Thomas Nelson, 1984). MacDonald speaks of the private world and how you can practice self-care Our public world is all of the things people can see: our clothes, our house, our jobs, our works, and our bodies. Our private world is made of what is really going on inside a person. We spend a lot of time ordering our public world and usually not as much ordering our private world. Self-care largely involves the private world.
The following are ways to practice self-care.
- Sabbath: Make the practice of Sabbath a part of your life. You need to have at least one day a week to rest and reflect. In Sabbath, we do rest physically from work, and prepare for the week ahead. We need to reflect one the work we have done and evaluate it in a non-judgmental way. What have we accomplished? Who did we do it for? What were the results? How do we want to do it differently next time or next week? In addition to a weekly rest, I would also recommend at least one day a month of reflection. Time should be spent thinking about the past month. I recommend writing your thoughts down. Sabbaths need to be scheduled. It does not have to be Sunday. In fact, if you are in church ministry, Sunday cannot be your Sabbath, as its normally the busiest day of the week for you. If you don't rest, you will burn out and be ineffective.
- Make a Plan: Create a spiritual growth map for yourself. After some fasting, meditation, and prayer, write down what you think God wants you to accomplish this year. Write it out. Write down the things you need to be. Then write down how you will try to accomplish that. Write down the things that are hard for you. For instance, God has called me to be a parent, therefore, I will make sure I spend one on one time with my child at least once a week. Make a plan. Even if the plan doesn't work, make it and tweak it later. Someone once said, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Once you have your plan, you can evaluate it during your monthly reflection time.
- Turn Off the Noise: We live in a loud world. Regularly disconnecting from that noise is an important part of making time for yourself. Silence can feel uncomfortable, but it is through silence that we are forced to listen to what is really inside of us. Turn off the noise and just sit. Be it outside or inside, get alone with your thoughts. You will be able to hear your own heart. Even if you hear something ugly listen to it. Your thoughts are signals to you. They may be true or untrue, but they are truly what is inside of you. God is interested in the things of the heart, but if we don't know what our hearts are saying, we can't truly surrender these things to His will.
- Say No and Simplify: Once you have your plan as to what God is calling to, try to eliminate as much as possible. Learn to say no to offers that do not go along with "the plan." Sometimes, in order to say yes to God, we need to say no to other things. If it is important to rest, we have to stop working. If it is important to have quiet, we have to turn off the TV or the text message alert. In order to have time to make deep relationships, we may have to lay aside superficial ones. Focus on what God has called you to this year, and sacrifice the rest. Your growth plan can look different every year. So there will be time for other things in other years, if they are important.
- Don't Do it Alone: Have accountability partners or prayer partners to walk through things with you. When things do come up, such as anger or bitterness, go and talk to someone you trust about it. Have them help you. God gave us our Christian brothers and sister as a blessing. We cannot do this alone. Instead of living in shame or isolation, confess your burdens to one another. Let others encourage you and pray for you.