The temptation in serving as a pastor—much as any job one loves to do—is to overwork oneself. An unfortunate belief many clergy—and a number of laity as well—have acquired is that if they (individually) don’t get something done, it won’t happen. We have come to believe the church rises and falls—lives and dies—on our backs. This way of thinking, unfortunately, leads a person to workaholism—feeling the need to constantly be working, always chipping away at an ever-growing to-do list in fear of something falling to the wayside. Sadly, I’m guilty of this—many times over. As our presenters reminded us, in workaholism—burning the candle at both ends—we make ourselves particularly vulnerable, in a way that is dangerous both for ourselves and those whom we seek to serve. Not only do long hours, with inadequate rest and poor food choices and absent exercise regiments, take a toll on the mind and body—opening oneself up to becoming physically ill—it also has, in some ways, even more detrimental effects on us emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. When we work without break, it adversely affects our families, our decision-making, and can cause us to react to stressful situations in ways we wouldn’t normally. A pastor who does not take part in basic care for themselves, functions much like a sleepy driver behind the wheel—putting all those in their path at risk. The curriculum and our presenters were very clear: the lack of self-care makes one extra vulnerable to committing other boundary infractions, such as affairs and/or embezzlement. A person who tends to themselves, their family, and other needs is far more suitable to serve than one who sets work before—and at the expense of—everything else. Simply stated: we are no good to anyone else, if we are not first good to ourselves.
Now, the fact of the matter is that self-care is a need not reserved for clergy. While a majority of clergy fall into the temptation of workaholism, the reality is most everyone suffers from it. Visualizing those who fill the pews of church each week, many—if not most—of my parishioners work too hard and too much (whether they mean to or not), at the expense of themselves, their families, and their wholistic health. All of us—clergy and laity alike—are in need of some serious boundary revisioning when it comes to addressing our lapse in self-care. The third commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy” is not a privilege to be earned, nor is it an ordinance pertaining to a particular people or special vocation. The Lord’s command is to all the people in attendance: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:9-11). When we fail to care for ourselves—to keep sabbath—we ultimately begin to destroy the good creation God has created of us. Workaholism is not a victimless addiction—it hurts us, our loved ones, those whom we are called to serve, and even God. Self-care is a boundary that helps us to keep from irreparably damaging or destroying ourselves and/or others.
Think on how you might take small steps toward preserving a safe boundary with regards to self-care. What are some ways you can unplug from work each week and build and nurture the relationships around you? What are some recreational activities that you can do that will contribute to rest? What do you need each week to keep you reoriented to God? We can want to serve others with every breath we have, yet if we are not adequately cared for, ourselves, we run the risk of doing more damage than help. Tend to yourself, your relationships, your peace and wellbeing, and your relationship with God. This call to care for myself is one I know I will continue to wrestle with as I navigate the boundaries of my vocation. If you see someone (or even me) grinding the gears, be an encouragement to rest and seek self-care. May you find the boundary of self-care a helpful one in your daily doings, so as to give you rest and renewal to live and serve as God intends for you. Peace be with you.