I’ve thought about having a ‘theology of self-care’ but actually it is more having a theology of ministry and then part of that is how self-care might have a part. There is no one-size-fits-all when we talk about ministry let alone self-care. So while on one hand that is a comfort (especially for those of us who kick against rules, ‘shoulds’ and boundaries) on the other hand it does demand of us time to sit and sort out where our own values and limits lie when it comes to self-care. By taking time to think through what is right for us, means we are able to make the yes-no decisions mindfully rather than simply by default, and then have maybe less guilt or regret about the things we do and don’t do.
In ministry, a call to service is where our openness to God and using our gifts and energy brings fulfillment and joy. We can pile up Scriptural images such as to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, to be a servant, to look not to our own interests but those of others, to wash one another’s feet, and imitating God’s self-giving. Yet these are not images to be read in a context of joylessness and compulsion or obligation. They are images that speak of being part of what God is doing and finding purpose and energy and contentment.
But let’s not fool ourselves: ministry can also lead to depletion and depression and exhaustion. So while ministry as energising can be true it is part of a balanced life. Taking time for God – to speak in praise or joy question or anguish, to enjoy time with God and to deepen the relationship we have with the Divine One is core. I’ve learned, forgotten, relearned and rethought how to have my own ‘Sabbath’ in ways that work for my role, my body, my mind and soul.
I can also think of images of Jesus eating, drinking, celebrating, worshipping, taking time out, noticing the world of nature around him, being aware of current events and the times and seasons around him… That speaks to me of living a full life, enjoying family and relationships, celebrations, nature, engaged in the wider world of news and justice: all of the stuff of life is to be entered into and celebrated. That is part of being human, a primary need in ministry! It also speaks to me of abundance – that is, self-care is not replenishing a closed system that runs out and needs to be topped up, but God cares for me in a life of abundance.
Often my ability to do the ‘self-care’ thing is more about my being able to be aware of and respond to my own issues of control or neediness or desire to please or not let down or whatever it might be that makes me tick or respond in a certain way. Then I can choose how I am present, and how the ways I love are appropriate. Supervision and good friends are sometimes needed for me to keep those balances.
Another keyword is flexibility. Jesus calls his disciples to ‘come away’ – and even so that desire is often frustrated by crowds and so laid aside until another time. Part of our learning is to know when what we have planned for relaxation has to be laid aside, and when we stick to our plans for ourselves. Sometimes that might mean trusting others and not thinking of ourselves as indispensable! There are seasons when you do keep going through a range of busy times, but make sure that there are other times when you make it up. If ministry means making those choices so does self-care.
What is your theology of ministry and how does self-care align with it? I suspect part of being able to articulate that helps us to know what we value and so make the endless choices before us in ministry lives. Then I can be a grateful carer of the life and ministry God has given me.
Rev Dr Christine Sorensen
Presbytery Minister (Formation and Discipleship)