Over the past few years I’ve participated in the “Spirited Life” program that is part of the Duke University Clergy Health Initiative. This is a wonderful program that is much needed for us clergy who tend to take care of others more than we do ourselves. As the program began I recall feeling stunned at the statistics surrounding clergy when it came to poor health and depression. I suppose those of us whose profession it is to care for others have a hard time caring for ourselves. Sadly 😦
Last week I attended the last workshop of my participation in this study. It was bittersweet, in a way, because I’ve gotten a lot from these workshops and it pains me to not have that touchstone any longer. This particular session was developed around the idea of “where we go from here” so that those of us present could continue the good habits we’ve picked up even without the program. It was a good session and they spent a great deal of time sharing with us the importance of having a healthy “prayer life” – more specifically, having a life of prayer. It was really good stuff.
One thing I loved about what the instructor shared was when he blurted out, “Jesus was very self-centered.” Now, of course, most of us in the room were taken aback as we heard those words – I mean, Jesus . . . self-centered?! He went on to explain that Jesus was SELF centered – meaning that Jesus knew how to care for his SELF so that he could better care for others. The instructor mentioned the many times Jesus would go away alone to pray or to be alone with God. Jesus recognized the need he had to heal himself and would quickly go care for himself whenever he needed to – and he did this without guilt or feeling of stress in taking time away from his mission and ministry. Jesus was very self aware (and was a highly functioning introvert, I think). He was, I guess, “self centered.”
I really think that what we struggle with as clergy is the guilt of caring for ourselves over others’ needs. As care-givers by nature, it’s hard for some of us to put our needs first when we see so many other needs right in front of us every single day. Some of the needs we see seem so much more important than our own – we prioritize our time and attention based on the depth of the need. “So and so” is sick, so I will go visit with them even though I feel sick myself. They need my attention more than I need to tend to myself. Well, at least I do that a lot. I really should’t put all clergy into a category that way – sorry!
Anyway, I think that is a huge thing that I’ve taken from this Spirited Life journey. It is like I now have permission to take care of myself when I need to – even if there are other needs around me. To use Jesus as an example is huge because he is our ultimate role model for caring for self and others. Self centered? Yea, I suppose I need to be!
How do you care for self? Can you find a way to put your self first?