Shepherd’s Care: Self-Care

I cannot resume this series without moving quickly to commend the practice of self-care.  Ministry is a people-oriented vocation, and as we give substantial amounts of time and energy to the service of others, we can easily neglect to nourish our own souls.  I will return to this idea in the future, looking at it in more detail.  But today, I want to point to several key practices that will contribute to our wellbeing.

Daily solitude.  Schedule time for yourself.  Be as intentional about it as you are other things you put on your calendar.  This may include your Daily  Office, but I am also thinking of another block of time where you step back from your work to simply be still and quiet. [1]

Weekly sabbath.  Plan your ministry schedule to include a half day to rest, renew, and restore.  This is not your day off because for most of us, our day off is another “work day,” (to-do lists, projects, etc) not sabbath time.  Sabbath is a practice that brings a sense of joy and energy into our lives.  There are many ways to do this. Choose what works for you. [2]

Quarterly retreat.  Take an entire day to “come away to a quiet place and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31).  Jesus not only told his disciples to go into the world, he invited them to take a break.  Some of us only know a “half Jesus”–the Great Commission Jesus; we need to get to know the “rest for awhile” Jesus.  A retreat is one way to do that.  Locations abound: actual retreat centers, state/local parks, other nature places.  You don’t have to drive far or spend a lot of money to do this.  The earth is literally waiting to welcome you. [3]

Annual pilgrimage.  The options for this are as broad as your interests, but the idea here is to get away for more than a day.  Some people have “holy places” they like to return to; others like to go somewhere different each time.  But regardless of your pattern, make it a location that offers you “thin places” to (as Brother Lawrence said) practice the presence of God. [4]

Dallas Willard’s book, ‘The Spirit of the Disciplines’ enabled me to see that the aim of our spiritual practices should be to form the engagement/abstinence (work/rest…doing/being) pattern in our lives.  Once I discovered it, I saw that Jesus practiced it himself–Luke:5:15-16–with 5:15 showing his engagement and 5:16 revealing his abstinence.  Spiritual formation for the long haul is using our time and the means of grace to establish this twofold pattern.  It is a formative rhythm of life.

In closing this post, the most important thing to say is don’t hesitate to do these things. Don’t feel guilty for doing them, and don’t fail to do them because others do not have the opportunity to live this way.  Yours is a different vocation–one that invites and includes self care (Acts 20:28).  In the end, our ability to lead others depends on our being led.  We feed others out of our own experience of being fed.  To practice solitude, sabbath, retreat, and pilgrimage is not selfishness, it is survival–personal and professional thriving in the vocation of ministry.

[1] Richard Foster has a good chapter on solitude in his book, ‘Celebration of Discipline.’

[2] Eugene Peterson has a good chapter on sabbath (chapter is entitled “Prayer Time”) in his  book, ‘Working the Angles.’

[3] Ruth Haley Barton has written an excellent book about retreat, entitled ‘Invitation to Retreat.’

[4] Joyce Rupp has written about her experience of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain in her book, ‘Walk in a Relaxed Manner.’  While it is a particular kind of pilgrimage, it is a book that has many transferable concepts to other types of pilgrimages.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
This entry was posted in Shepherd's Care. Bookmark the permalink.