by David Schooler
You have heard it said, “I would rather burn out than rust out.” Thankfully, there is another option other than the ones just mentioned. The option is to intentionally, purposefully and consistently practice what is referred to as self-care. It is a determination to pay attention to one’s physical, emotional and spiritual, intellectual and physical health. Just a casual awareness of what is happening in the lives of leaders and workers today would indicate that the need for self-care is not only immediate, it is urgent. The massive numbers of those who have “burned out” is sobering and needs to be addressed.
For many years I served as the senior pastor of four different churches. I would always tell my staff to take care of themselves emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially. The reason being, I told them, is that we cannot do what is required as leaders and agents of healing if we ourselves are exhausted, confused and sick. There are many reasons why we do not take care of ourselves and all of them are lie based and all of them result in unpleasant, unintended consequences.
In the entries to follow, I will be discussing this issue of emotional health. We will be looking at that model of self-care demonstrated to us by Jesus. Suffice it to say here that care of the self must not be random, subjective or unstructured. Such systems are hard to maintain and are not effectual.
Ministry today is done in the context of complexity, confusion and conflict. Ministry is, in a word, depleting, and if we are not resourced on a regular basis, our emotional, physical and spiritual tanks run dry and the inevitable happens. Gordon McDonald, a spiritual leader who burned out and did some things he never thought he would do later said that there are three kinds of people in our lives:
- Neutral people who neither add not subtract from us,
- Depleting people who take from us and demand much from us, and, then there are what he refers to as
- Resourceful people and these are the ones who resource us, encourage us, speak into us, pray for us, listen to us and tell us the truth that we need to hear.
McDonald says we cannot spend all of our time with neutral or depleting people without ultimately paying a severe price.
There is a great illustration of care of the self in the story of Elijah and prophets of Baal as told in I Kings 16-19. You know the story. Elijah was depleted, threatened and in very bad place emotionally spiritually and physically. Noting Elijah’s condition, God was not angry, disappointed or punitive. He understood (and understands) and began the work of renewal and restoration. Reading the passage one can see the principles God Himself used. They are:
- Rest, nutrition and hydration
- Gentle, probing questions
- Allowed to talk and express his feelings and thoughts (without interruption or correction)
- Given a task he was able to complete
- Life words of hope and a future were spoken over him
- Permission to “not be doing not all that great” without condemnation, criticism or feeling judged.
As I said earlier, we will follow Jesus and notice how He took care of Himself in following entries. Let me close this out by sharing from years of experience working with “burned out” people and what I discovered to be always true. People return to wholeness and wellness when they have someone in their life who is safe, present and affirming. This is why the New Testament constantly refers to the “one another” principle well over 100 times in one form or another.