Author: Rev. April Yamasaki
One Sunday morning, our church youth were leading the worship service so I took the opportunity to sit with my husband in the balcony. “Pastor, how does it feel to have a week off?” one of our church members asked me.
“Just great,” I said with a smile,” and our youth did an amazing job leading us this morning.”
I wondered later though, did he really think I had a week off because I wasn’t up front speaking as usual? I’m quite sure he had been joking but our exchange made me think: what is it that I actually do during the week?
For example, that week I had led our staff team meeting; had separate conversations with different staff members; met with our Vietnamese ministry support team; prayed through our church prayer list; made a number of phone calls; talked with several members who stopped by the church; prepared for a wedding that Saturday; sent 41 emails related to worship planning, personnel, the start of the Sunday school year, and other ministry matters–and that’s just what I did on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday!
That’s why I just had to read this blog post written by another pastor: We Only Work One Day a Week. Sure enough, the title was tongue-in-cheek, and included a long list of pastoral responsibilities that take place during the week. However, the litany of to-dos included one thing that surprised me: self-care.
Wait a minute, I thought, you mean self-care is actually part of a pastor’s job?
Self-Care and the Work of Ministry
In the midst of everything else that week, I thought I had taken pretty good care of myself. I did the New York Times crossword every morning. I took breaks in the middle of the day to have lunch. I tried to eat healthily and get my 10,000 steps each day. I wrote in my journal. I indulged in freshly made apple crisp with ice cream at our staff meeting. I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, and with a group of friends on Monday.
But none of that made it on to my church time sheet as ministry time–well, except for the apple crisp at our staff meeting. I’ve always thought of self-care as something I did on my own time. While I might take a long nap on a Sunday afternoon, I wouldn’t dream of doing that on a Tuesday and counting it as church time. I’d never thought of self-care as part of my work of ministry.
Yet in the face of increasing challenges, some argue for self-care in the workplace, and that would also apply when you work for the church. According to clinical psychologist Dana Gionta:
Many of us associate self-care with getting adequate exercise and proper nutrition. Self-care practices are often done either before or after work, but not during. Being at work, however, does not negate the need for continued self-care. Considering the total number of hours we spend weekly at work, it is actually more important to our well-being and for our relationships, to practice good professional self-care while at work.
By “good professional self-care” Gionta doesn’t mean taking that afternoon nap, or idly scrolling through Facebook for an hour, or playing a video game and calling it self-care. Instead, she lists:
- creating a healthy work space for yourself
- developing a short list of priorities for each day
- minimizing procrastination
- taking intermittent breaks like a lunch break or talking with co-workers
- setting and maintaining professional boundaries
Searching for Self-Care
The more I thought about what Gionta and others said about self-care and the more I reflected on my own life and ministry, the more I found myself asking questions. I asked readers of my blog, “Is self-care part of your paid employment, and should it be?” I asked myself, “Why is it that I and others often struggle with self-care?” I turned to Scripture: What did Jesus practice and teach about self-care? If Jesus practiced self-care, would he have come to suffer and die on the cross? Can we practice self-care in light of Jesus’ example and call to self-sacrifice? Or are self-care and self-sacrifice mutually exclusive?
Over time, my questions and searching for self-care turned into Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength (Herald Press, 2018). In this book, I share some of my personal and pastoral journey with self-care, weaving together personal stories, biblical and theological insights, questions for reflection, and practical self-care ideas.
The book is now a few years old; yet,I’m still not done with self-care. I’m still asking questions. I’m still learning. And I’m still eager to share what I’m learning with others.
Self-Care While Caring for Others
Long before the novel coronavirus, I was invited to speak at a church conference so I flew from where I live in Abbotsford to Calgary, then from Calgary to Toronto. On each flight, I heard the same standard safety instruction: in the event of an emergency, if the oxygen masks come down, first put on your own mask before you try to help anyone else. In other words, put yourself first. Take care of yourself before you take care of others.
That’s basic self-care in an airplane emergency. After all, if I’m confused from a lack of oxygen, I won’t be able to think clearly enough to help those around me. If I’m struggling to take my next breath, then I can hardly be of use to anyone else. It makes good sense then, to help myself before helping others.
Many apply that same thinking to self-care in general. A sampling of articles available online includes:
Put Yourself First.
Why You Must Put Yourself First.
Why It Matters to Take Care of Yourself First.
Take Care of Yourself Before You Take Care of Others.
To Take Care of Others, Start by Taking Care of Yourself.
The titles are catchy, and the articles may well include helpful tips on self-care, which is so essential to life and ministry, and especially during this on-going pandemic.
But the titles also make me uneasy. Is self-care really all about putting myself first? Do I really need to take care of myself before I take care of others? Does caring for others really start with caring for myself?
As part of this year’s Simpson Lectures, I’ll be leading a seminar on Self-Care While Caring for Others. Instead of self-care as “me first,” we’ll explore self-care as “me too,” a Christ-centred vision for self-care that embraces caring for ourselves, caring for others, and resting in God’s care. I invite you to join me on February 16, 2021, 11:00am (AST) for this one-hour seminar.
Rev. April Yamasaki has 25 years of experience as the lead pastor of a multi-staff, multi-cultural, intergenerational congregation. In her current ministry, she now divides her time between writing and speaking. This includes regular preaching as resident author of a liturgical worship community, plus guest speaking for other churches and special events. Her published books include Four Gifts: Seeking Self-Care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength; Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal; and On the Way with Jesus: Sermons for Lent and Easter. She blogs on writing and other acts of faith on her website, AprilYamasaki.com, and offers encouragement and resources for doing ministry on WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com, where portions of this article first appeared.