I’ve been thinking quite a bit about self-care in recent weeks, but not only because it’s Advent and I could genuinely benefit from a day off. No, it’s been on my mind because of something that will be happening in 2018. In May, I will celebrate 20 years of ordained ministry in the United Church of Canada.
I began a formal process of Discernment within the United Church in 1992, which means it has been 26 years since I first heard the term self-care as it relates to life in ministry. One might think I would have a handle on this particular aspect of ministry after all this time. One might think the wider church, the Body of Christ, would better understand self-care and all it entails. I wish.
Canadian author Sarah Bessey offers some clarity in a recent article entitled “Letting God Mother You.” She writes about the difference between self-comfort and self-care saying, “Self comfort numbs us, weakens us, and hides us. Self-care awakens us, strengthens us, and emboldens us to rise.”
Self-comfort takes many forms, of course. It might include a day of watching movies, huddling under the blankets with a good book, or perhaps sharing a meal in a good restaurant, going shopping, or indulging in your favourite treats. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, but a steady diet of indulgence soon becomes more of a burden than a comfort.
Self-care, on the other hand, is about true nurture.
Bessey says of self-care, “It is the care we would give to someone we love.” This care includes things like encouraging healthy living – eating right, getting fresh air and exercise, sleeping enough, and generally tending to the needs of one’s body, mind, and spirit. It’s the kind of care a good parent provides for a child.
If I’m honest, and I try to be, when I feel like I want someone to take care of me – just for a few days – that’s when I know I need some actual self-care. Self-comfort will not do when I remember with longing the way my mother would feel my forehead, give me soup, and tuck me in whenever I was ill as a child. Once I reach this point, a spa day won’t cut it.
But the thing is, when I feel like I want to retreat from something that feels broken or tired within me, I don’t want to do the work of figuring out what self-care looks like in that moment. I don’t want to determine whether I need to read scripture, pray, go for a walk, or just sleep for a day or two…I want someone else to direct my healing and insist upon it even when I push back – and I will push back.
That’s where God comes in. God, the loving Mother, Father, Parent, Grandmother, Grandfather, Creator, Christ, and Spirit…the One who loves me enough to insist that I care for the complicated wonder that is me. God, after all, knit me together in my mother’s womb (Ps 139) and has entrusted me with the care and keeping of that creation.
When I do not know how to knit together all the frayed threads of my brokenness, and I’m too tired or discouraged to try, I count on God to show me the way. Thankfully, God’s love is fierce and persistent, and insists upon this – that I love myself too. When I push back on that, praying “But God, I love you so deeply and I love your people (well, I try to)!” God doesn’t buy it for a minute. She patiently waits until I remember the final part of the command “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” When I pause and listen, I feel God’s endless patience with me and I see it…a divine hand wiping my tired brow and whispering love into my aching spirit. In these rare moments, I allow myself to bask in God’s abiding love for me, and I begin to heal. I experience self-care.
I wish I was better at basking. I wish I was better at re-knitting the snags that occur in my life. I wish I had more patience with my own needs. I do hope, in the coming year, that I can better discern the difference between self-comfort and self-care. I hope I will listen to God calling me back to myself when I need the nurture I so freely offer to others in the name of Jesus. I hope, when I look back on my ministry, I can say that although it was late in the game, I finally learned the fine art of self-care.
Mostly, this year, I hope I will allow my whole being to lean into the quiet, caring, compassionate, healing, and fierce love of my Creator, for in her I live and breathe and have my being.
Rev. Sue Ivany is a founding member of the RevGalBlogPals and is delighted to see the powerful witness this group continues to share in our world. Ordained in the United Church of Canada, she has served for 16 years at Westminster United Church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Long term ministry suits her well. Sue lives with her partner Peter in Thunder Bay, while their two adult sons live in other parts of the country. Sue and Peter share their home with two beautiful rescue cats, Elf and Sprite.
This essay –copyright©2017 Rev. Susan Ivany – published with permission.
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