Friday, May 30, 2014

Self-Care: A Personal Responsibility

Even though we know how important the appointment is, I have not found a single person who looks forward to an annual physical with his or her personal physician.  Whether male or female, the patient has to provide samples of his or her bodily fluids, submit to a list of personal questions, and endure various indignities at the hands of the doctor.  The physician always does this in a personal and caring manner, but I come away with a sense of relief that the ordeal is over for another year!

I got into the routine of having an annual physical when I was working for a denominational organization that required it.  Despite the inconvenience, I realized that this was a good thing.  The annual meeting with my physician made me review the state of my health, provided a baseline for future treatment, and helped me to set some personal goals for the coming year related to lifestyle. When I changed places of ministry and the annual exam was no longer required, I continued the practice and found that my health insurance was willing to pay for it.

The annual physical examination reminds me that I am the one who is ultimately responsible for my physical health.  I can share observations, ask questions, get advice (and prescriptions) that will help make my life more pleasant, and then take appropriate action.  Do I look forward to it?  No, but it is part of being a responsible person.

Several years ago, I found myself in a situation where I dreaded going to work.  There were a few physical symptoms, but the primary issue was what I would call a “dis-ease” about anything related to my work responsibilities that bordered on apathy.   I chose to enter into a therapeutic relationship with a trained pastoral counselor who helped me to process exactly what was going on.  Some time later when I lost a young grandson to cancer, I again sought that therapeutic relationship so that I could process my grief and return to an appropriate level of functioning.

At various times, I have found myself in situations that convinced me that I needed additional skills or information to be effective in my ministry.  Both formally and informally, I found people who could mentor me to help develop the skills I needed or who would coach me, holding me accountable as I pursued specific goals.

I will admit that in all of these cases, I was initially reluctant to ask for help.  I was concerned about becoming dependent on someone else and a bit afraid that my ministerial status would be harmed if supervisors or colleagues discovered what I was doing.  In all of these cases, seeking assistance was the best thing I could have done in the situation.  My wife was the only person who actively encouraged me to seek help.  We both came to the conclusion that if I did not take the initiative to do something, I was headed to personal and professional crisis.

There are hurting ministers who serve churches, judicatories, and institutions, but no one sees their distress but themselves.  If they had a physical problem, they would make an appointment with a physician, but because the problem emotional, relational, or spiritual, the hurting minister pushes on through and prays for light at the end of the tunnel (and hopes that it is not an approaching train).

Just as we take responsibility for our physical health, ministers must be responsible for their emotional, spiritual, and relational health.  We cannot realistically expect a church, judicatory, or employer to recognize the personal needs of the minister.  Even the most well-intentioned employer may be unaware of the minister’s challenges and needs.  Each minister must learn to monitor himself or herself for signs of distress or “dis-ease.”

Are you in touch with what your life is saying to you?  How is your monitoring system?  When you find yourself stressed out, lacking direction, or frustrated, the only one who knows that some action is required is you.  We are fortunate to have counselors, therapists, and coaches who are ready to come alongside and help in such situations.  I am very thankful for those who have provided that assistance to me. 

Don’t be reluctant to take that first step to self-care. 

This article originally appeared in the Pinnacle Leadership Associates E-Newsletter.

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