How about a refresher on clergy self-care?

A week and a half before Holy Week may find many of us overwhelmed or overdone. One of our clergy colleagues tells it like it is:

Dear Matriarchs:

When you get so exhausted physically, emotionally, and even a bit spiritually, it’s hard to find the energy for self care. Sometimes I wonder what ministry is doing to me (although I do feel called by our Lord). Wondering if I’m alone in these time of exhaustion and wondering what folks do to bounce back.

The lament of this dear one voices the kind of painful ministry season many of us have gone through. Our matriarchs share their experiences and strategies: 

Dear Exhausted,

You are not alone in your exhaustion.  Ministry is “emotional labor” and it is very important to find ways to create self-care opportunities for yourself.  

I have a few self-care rules for myself:

1) I faithfully take my day off and if I have a pastoral emergency or funeral on my day off then I schedule another day that week for my day off.

2) I am part of a clergy covenant group with a spiritual director. We faithfully meet once a month for four hours for spiritual renewal.

3) I divide each work day into three sections and only work two sections a day (with some exceptions). So, if I have an evening meeting then I stay home in the morning and then work the two later sections of the day.

4) I schedule regular lunches with clergy friends for support and fellowship.

Prayers for renewed energy and self-care.

Blessings,

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin 

Books we recommend that range from escapist to encouraging to enlightening to just plain funny.
Books Martha Spong recommends that range from escapist to encouraging to enlightening to just plain funny. Reading is FUNdamental.

First – you are not alone.

Second – (to borrow a phrase) good for you in naming that you have a problem.

Here are a few of the things I do to bounce back: seriously and truly remind myself that I’m just not that important. Ministry can be a trap of neediness and some of that neediness is our own need to be needed. Two words: stop. it. Jesus will come again even if you don’t make one more pastoral call, don’t write the Easter liturgy from scratch, don’t get the minutes sent out the day after the meeting, etc…

For me a slip into these old habits means I haven’t been calendaring my weeks ahead. When I take the time on Monday morning to see where I’m headed that week, then I can also block out time. Right now we’re in Lent which means I have a Wednesday evening church commitment. So I’m working in the morning, but at 2:30 I’m going home. Is that something I would decide on Wednesday morning? 

No, it’s something I have to plan for ahead of time so I’ll actually do it and not put something else in that time slot.

Also, I read for fun. We all have a stack of books, magazines and blog posts that will absolutely enrich us and make us the best pastors on the planet… but so will using a different part of our brain. Read for fun, find an activity that is not for anyone but you, keep a day off like your life depends on it. Because it does.

kathrynzj

Dear Exhausted Colleague,

Please take immediate action to address your exhaustion. If you’re too tired to care for yourself, something has to give. Take a day (or more) off, and do whatever brings your body and spirit the deepest rest – it doesn’t have to feel productive or edifying, just restful. Years ago, when I took regular retreats at a particular retreat house, I noticed that I would often spend the first afternoon simply reading a fluffy novel (nothing related to work or spirituality!) until I dozed off. I needed the nap, and my mind needed the break from work-related reading or even literary fiction. 

You’ve got to find a way to hit the reset button (when I first typed “reset” it came out as “rest” – so yes, that is actually what I mean!). Get your body, your mind, and your spirit some real rest. Get out of the office, away from the church, away from the computer, and even – if you have the courage – away from the smartphone. Get out into the fresh air, if possible, or get into a nice comfy bed, and let yourself go to sleep, or zone out, or read, or anything but engage with your work. It will probably take more than a day. Can you take two days? Three days is even better. 

Once you’ve taken a break and gotten a little rest, take stock and make a plan. Are you taking at least one day of real rest and recreation a week? If not, please do. Once a month, try to make it two. Once a quarter, try to take a real three-day rest/retreat, if possible. And if you are not taking all your allotted vacation and continuing education time, make a commitment to doing that as well.

Then make a plan for doing something every day that brings you joy and that has no seeming productive value for your job. Ideally, let it be something not related to a screen (so not TV-watching, video-game playing, etc.). Carve out the time each day, as much as possible, to do one thing that is just for you and not for your ministry. Schedule in some screen-free time each day, too (I’m preaching to myself on this one). And if you don’t have social outlets beyond your congregation, please seek those out as well (colleague groups are great, but it could also be a book club, a neighbor, a meet-up group, etc.). 

I find that it is a never-ending process of making these sorts of commitments and then keeping them. No one else is going to do this for you, so you have to make the decision to do it yourself. And then do it.

Wishing you all the best! 

Stacey aka earthchick (earthchicknits.com)

* * * * 

THANK YOU, Matriarchs! You have given us lots of good ways to take very good care.

How about you, dear reader?

Which of these strategies sounds like something you will add to your self-care plans?What else would you add?Leave your answers in the comments below.

Do you have a question about ministry, clergy life, or church world? We would love to hear from you! Send your question to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

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6 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Clergy Self-Care Tune-Up

  1. This is such a great reminder that self-care really is job one for us or all else in ministry could be in jeopardy. Something we all know yet so easily overlook in our day to day busy-ness especially during the demanding seasons of the church year. Planning ahead is crucial. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, this is THAT time of year. I just did a funeral, confirmation retreat, hosted our Associate Conference minister on Sunday, and met with prospective new members. Taking time to do the above, but Holy Week is looming… Finding rest that they renewing is challenging when the resurrection is yet to come. Blessing to all my dear colleagues.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just booked a beach condo for a long weekend for vacation in June. And I bought season tickets for our local Broadway season. While they feel like luxuries (and I couldn’t have afforded them a couple of years ago), they are literal investments in things that bring me joy, that I am looking forward to, and that have actual dates attached.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I find I need time alone–and I take it. I also get a massage every three weeks, get a facial once a month and periodically splurge on a manicure. I label this “taking care of the temple.” I take two days off in a row (that can get compromised if there is a wedding or a funeral, but then I “flex” my time). If I have an evening service or meeting, I go in later in the day. I attend a clergy group, and have lunch once a month with a nearby colleague. I am not as good about exercising, but I am working on it. Sunday afternoon naps are also helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have been working outside of the church for the last 5 months after nearly 10 years of working in it — for a whole host of reasons, but in reflecting on it, burnout has to be included as one of those reasons. Revgalblogpals has been a source of comfort and encouragement for me. Thank you!! I came across this article on LinkedIn today and thought it fit with the topic and may be helpful. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/signs-youre-burning-out-how-stop-dr-travis-bradberry?trk=eml-b2_content_ecosystem_digest-recommended_articles-85-null&midToken=AQG8a1Tld7H3uQ&fromEmail=fromEmail&ut=3my8_He7d_JD81

    Like

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