Friday, August 8, 2008

A Thin Line

I've been thinking about self-care lately. In seminary we are reminded again and again that spiritual leaders have a reputation for giving too much of themselves without replenishing, reflecting, or resting. Clergy are sometimes stereotyped as out of shape and out of touch with their own emotional and mental health.

Internship was a great opportunity to draw the line concerning "me time" before launching into the world of full-time ministry. It's difficult to set aside time to take care of yourself when there's always more to do. People pat pastors on the back when they're always available and serving, but giving in overdrive fails to set an example for parishioners fighting the temptation to work 50+ hours/week at their own jobs. (It also means there's probably a lack of lay leadership, pastoral trust, and delegation, but that's another entry!)

Technology also makes communication instantaneous, which causes people to expect more from each other. When you're always plugged in and available, finding ways to separate from these expectations and the rush of giving can cease to happen in conscious, habitual ways.

Last week the media was obsessed with John McCain's political ad questioning Barack Obama's decision to work out at the gym instead of arranging a meeting with wounded soldiers on his Tour de Universe. I mention this without political agenda, but because leaders in the public eye will always be praised for spreading themselves too thin and critiqued for not finding time to do more. We want to hear about how normal their home lives are or that they can relate to the average person, but also expect them to live super-human lives.

I was impressed to hear that ANY candidate was making time to take care of his/her body and mind by including physical activity in a jam-packed schedule abroad. I've admired my professors seen taking walks during lunch and pastors who make time to refuel spiritually in creative and life giving ways.

My mother-in-law reminded me last night that rest is described frequently in scripture, holding up the Third Commandment in lots of ways. Scripture is filled with strange rules and legal instructions for life that maintained order and care in the lives of Jewish families and communities. People were expected to change their habits to cause rest during certain seasons in the spiritual calendar and personal life stages. This rest marked change, both the stress and joy that comes from giving of ourselves.

So take care of yourself. Take ten minutes, an hour, or a weekend to rest and mark the things that are happening in your life. Get on a bike or take a walk to a local restaurant, enjoy the weather, nap outside or splurge on fixings for a healthy dinner. Turn off your cell phone, the TV and the things in life that desensitize us and make demands of our "free" time. Allow room for silence, for it is in the quiet many prophets have been called and equipped. It's a thin line between giving yourself generously and having nothing left to give.

Breathe. Pray. Lead well by refilling your own cup.

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