Learning to rest: The Pastor and Self-Care

My first semester of training to be a chaplain (called CPE — Clinical Pastoral Education) introduced me to the concept of “self-care.” Not in a hedonistic, it’s-all-about-me kind of way. It was instead about the idea of personal boundaries and best use of self. It also was about preserving my longevity as a pastor. And it challenged my understanding of my being.

You see, I was a musician in my first careers. It was all about the product, the performance, the skills like tempo, dynamics and phrasing. The intricate underlayment of scales and arpeggios had to be executed perfectly. A passing grade, we musicians like to say, is 100%.

But that’s not how life works. And it’s also not how things fly in ministry. In the people-caring business, stuff gets messy. We botch stuff. A lot. This rankled. I didn’t like it.

I had to redefine myself. It was not what I could DO. It was not based on my performance. It was all about who I am, down to the deepest part of my BEing.

I struggled. (I still do!)

The pianist/vocalist/worship leader has to take a step back. The person, the pastor/chaplain (who is still a musician, parent, wife and family member) needs to leave room for do-overs. And there also has to be time to rest.

I’ve always been a 1000% kind of gal. My mom once described me as “busy.” As a toddler, I was forever getting into something. As number 5 out of 7 kids, I think I made it to school age because of lots of baby gates, older siblings, and strategic placement of furniture. (This was not my parent’s first rodeo. But apparently, I tried some new tricks.) I would go until I crashed. Get up, and go again. I guess you could say I wasn’t afraid of a challenge.

IMG_6450But ministry is not a race. It is first a relationship with God, and cultivating the soul. That’s not something that survives on speed-dating. It’s a long walk. It’s being still and knowing. It’s finding a way to tune my heart to God’s heart.

So I took a magic pill of two parts Wisdom and one part Peace, and now I don’t struggle with this any more. One day I just woke up and – POOF! – all my problems were gone. I was a great pastor, an amazing chaplain, a good wife and mom and a bestie of friends.

And that was a lie. I hope you caught the sarcasm…

No… it’s much more a process of learning to take breaks. To walk outside. To read, pray and listen. To go get a pedicure and massage. To pet one of our cats, and focus on slowing my breathing. To go swim a few laps not just because I need exercise (though I do) but to feel the pleasure of water sliding across my arms and legs.

To be mindful that this journey I am experiencing is completely in God’s hands.

Even the days that suck.

ESPECIALLY the days that suck.

And to find a way to see God in the midst of my life.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above!
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

– Rev. Robert Robinson, 1735-1790

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