By Bob Taylor
A preacher that I went to school with suffered an emotional breakdown of some kind a while back. When I heard about it and as I prayed for him and his family, I couldn’t help but wonder what some of the mitigating circumstances were. My mind also naturally turned to the subject of self-care.
We clergy like to talk about self-care a lot. There are many workshops, resources and internet articles on the subject. These range from the need for self-care to whether or not self-care has become the new popular buzzword for preachers. One article I ran across recently stated that the topic has become some kind of idol among us. He questioned if clergy need more self-care than other professionals who have demanding or stressful occupations. I’ll leave that debate to the respondents on social media where that article originated. But of one thing I am certain: we preachers are very good at talking about self-care. We’re good at seeing the need for it. I am just not sure that we are very good at doing it. When it comes to self-care we don’t follow the mandate from Nike: “Just do it!” And when we don’t practice good self-care the consequences are seldom good.
We in the ministry are a unique group with a unique set of stressors, pressures, problems and expectations that are a natural part of our calling. From the days of Moses to our modern times, we are plagued with a sense of isolation, loneliness, and unclear expectations. Combine that with the fact that most clergy have a natural bent towards being people pleasers and wanting to be liked and we have a prescription for a lot of stress in our lives. We are good at helping others identify these things and trying to help them cope with them. But are we good at doing this for ourselves?
I am afraid for many of us in the ministry the answer is, “No.” We are not good at following the advice, “Physician, heal thyself.” I have been dealing with stress and some church conflict in my present appointment. Many of you have been, too. I know from my own experience right now that the lack of self-care is detrimental in every way.
What are some of the signs that we are not taking care of ourselves spiritually, physical, emotionally and intellectually? They vary for each of us, but here are a few red flags that I have borrowed from a sermon by a wise pastor and preaching mentor I met while I was a student in college.
IT’S HARD TO SAY YES TO LIFE!
When we find ourselves being cynical, irritable, ungrateful, pessimistic, or negative. When we constantly feel sorry for ourselves. When we say no to life rather than yes -- those are sure fire signals that we are headed for spiritual trouble. Christians enjoy the freedom of forgiveness and the promise of the presence of Jesus in our lives at all time. That gives us the ability to say yes to life and to embrace life with zest and enthusiasm. When you feel like you can't do that, there's certainly something wrong.
IT'S HARD TO SAY YES TO OTHERS .
Sometimes we preachers just feel out of sorts with other people. Like everyone at church is against us, or we want to run away and hide. Sometimes we just want to lash out at others or we become critical much of the time. Those, too, are surefire signs that you are drifting away from Jesus. The scriptures are very clear: there is a strong correlation between our faith and the way that we feel about other people and relate to them. God gave us a great love along with the command to love other people.
IT'S HARD TO SAY YES TO PRIORITIES .
A speech teacher used to say to her class, "Don't put the em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LAB-le. She had a very important point, especially for our spiritual life. It is easy to emphasize the wrong things! We do it in our churches. We do it in our lives.
IT'S HARD TO SAY YES TO JESUS.
If you have trouble studying the scripture. If you don't seem to have a prayer left in your heart. If you'll look for any reason not to go to the church. If you don't want to do God’s will. If you'd rather trust in yourself than in God. These are all signs of a "sickness of the soul."
All of us have felt these ways at one time or another. Some of us might be feeling that way now. That doesn’t make us weak or bad pastors: it makes us human. But it is also a wake-up call to take better care of ourselves. We need to heed the warning signs for the sake of our souls and the souls that have been entrusted to our charge.
If you fly on a plane and the oxygen mask comes down, we’re told to put the mask on ourselves first. If we pass out, we’ll do no one else any good.
How are we caring for ourselves? Are we getting enough exercise? Are we eating properly? Are we seeing our physician regularly and following their advice for better health? Are we taking care of our souls? Are we taking care of our relationships with our families? Do we talk to a trusted counselor or covenant group? Do we spend time in prayer to stay close to our Lord? Are we spending time in the scriptures to feed our souls and not just to get something for our sermon this coming Sunday?
The ramifications of a lack of self-care are many, none of which are good. Watch for these and other red flags that tell us something is not right in our souls.