Hurt people, hurt people, and pastors and ministers are getting hurt in record numbers. Increasingly church leaders are confronted with unhealthy and even toxic people within their flock. Further, church leaders live with constant stress and are often running on empty. At times we need reminding that taking care of ourselves is not selfish, but prudent. Parker Palmer wisely observed, “Self-care is never a selfish act — it is only good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others.” And in Acts 20:28 Paul reminds church leaders of the importance of taking care of themselves first, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Now more than ever the church leader must prioritize radical self-care.
What Is Radical Self-Care?
Before takeoff on an airplane, you have heard the flight attendant repeat the phrase “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” While this might sound selfish at first, it makes sense that if you can’t breathe, how are you going to help anyone else? This is the idea behind radical self-care.
The foundational premise of radical self-care is the assertion that you have the responsibility to take care of yourself and your needs first before attempting to take care of others. It is not self-indulgent. It is self-preservation. It’s necessary to fill your cup first, then to give to others from the overflow. Church leaders must practice radical self-care in order to deal with for what has become for many a daily onslaught of criticism, judgement, slander, threats, hate mail and being attacked in Jesus’ name. Radical self-care is essential to sustain us and provide the capacity to move forward in ministry.
Authors Donna J. Nicol and Jennifer A. Yee wrote this about radical self-care in their book, Reclaiming Our Time, “Radical self-care is an imperative practice to resist pressures to comply, conform, and above all, to remain true to our authentic selves. Radical self-care involves embracing practices that keep us physically, spiritually and psychologically healthy and fit, making time to reflect on what matters to us, challenging ourselves to grow, and checking ourselves to ensure that what we are doing aligns with what matters to us. We consider this self-care “radical” because it fundamentally alters how we make choices about allocating time, money, and energy for ourselves personally, at home, and at work and seeks to revolutionize our workplace practices. Practiced faithfully, radical self-care involves owning and directing our lives and choosing with whom, how, and how often we engage in our nested, interconnected worlds so that we can be unapologetically ourselves in the face of unrelenting pressure and expectations to be otherwise.”
What Does Radical Self-Care Look Like?
Radical self-care is multi-dimensional and involves asking yourself questions in at least five categories:
- What are your spiritual disciplines, practices and habits? Are they nurturing you? Are they drawing you closer to God? Are they making you more holy? Do you find them life-giving? What new practices might you incorporate?
- How does your body feel? Do you need water? Food? Rest? Recreation?
- What is going on in your mind? What kind of thoughts are repeatedly filling your head? Positive? Negative? Helpful? Harmful? Indifferent?
- What are your emotions telling you? How are they affecting your mind, body and spirit? How can you best express your current feelings? And, to whom?
- True Self
- Are you listening to what your heart is telling you? Are you exercising your passions? Are you using your God-given gifts? What brings you joy? Have you done something that you enjoy recently?
Tips For Radical Self-Care
Each of us require different forms of self-care. There is no one size fits all. You know yourself best. Try not to let anyone else define for you what your self-care should look like. That said, here are some ideas to get you started towards a radical self-care that is both healing and transforming.
First Things First. Address the questions in the five above categories of radical self-care.
Just Say No. This can feel like an impossible task for the church leader. But it doesn’t always have to mean saying no: Delegating, deferring, offering third alternatives are all ways to “refuse without refusing.”
Become a Self-Advocate. Clarify for others exactly what you need to maintain health and wellness physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Practice the Art of Doing Nothing. Schedule time each day to enjoy a sunrise or sunset or take a walk. Take a series of deep breaths and try to focus on nothing.
Seek Counseling and Therapy. Professional help can insure that you transform your pain before you transmit it.
Surround Yourself With Support. Family, friends, co-workers, mentors and coaches can provide you the support and encouragement to prioritize your self-care.
Develop New Hobbies and Creative Outlets. New pursuits can be energizing and fulfilling.
Make Changes in Your Physical Environment. Changing your work and home surroundings to better reflect who you are and better facilitate self-care can signal your commitment to rearrange your life.
Anchor Yourself in Spirituality. Ministry by definition is depleting. If you aren’t daily nurturing your own soul, your own spirituality, you will not have sufficient infrastructure to withstand the outward pressures of ministry, and you will implode.
Set Healthy Boundaries. Much of the stress that church leaders experience could be mitigated with a better understanding and application of healthy boundaries. In future posts we’ll be looking at how best to do that.
Radical self-care is taking care of your needs first, however that may look. It’s about being daily present to your own care ‒ caring for yourself in an intentional way. Radical self-care is not bought or found in products popularized on social media. Instead, it’s sometimes difficult inner work that means making decisions and taking intentional actions that prioritize your own inner self and well-being.
Posted on March 22, 2022