"It's unfortunate that many of us have learned that self-care is meaningless and for the weak, not for one who is working for the Lord. I have fallen victim to this thinking at times, running a rigorous schedule like the rest of the maniacs, with nothing but fatigue and a bad attitude to show for it, saying, '...but this is my calling'."
How many of you constantly feel drained? Maybe it's work or family or some other relationship that depletes you. Or it's worrying about health or financial situations that keeps you from having your heart full. For me, sometimes, it's all of the above, and so, I find myself asking, why and how does one who loves Christ, who feels called to the ministry of spreading God's truth and love, end up broken and empty? Or maybe the question should be, how does one keep the love of God from leaking out of his/her heart while still sharing it with others?
We each have seasons. There is an ebb and flow to everyone's life. There is a rhythm. There is a time to give and a time to receive. But are we following our seasons? Do we know how? Often, I think, as Christians, we believe that our first priority is to give of ourselves. We are to sacrifice our life. We are to come second, third, or maybe even last. We are perpetually in that season, and find the year being one of mostly depletion with little life-giving energy received. Is this truly living the way God envisioned?
# 6: Nurture the Heart
Recently, I sat on a committee for a servant leadership organization. There were six of us from various companies and organizations, and in high level positions. Men and women, young and seasoned. Our task was to create a list of "essential community leadership principles" as part of the organization's curriculum -- not to teach but to allow participants to explore during the year-long program. The last and sixth principle was "Nurture the Heart."
We debated about using the word, heart. "Does it really mean anything," one asked. After more discussion, we finally agreed on it and we created a definition. Everyone was pitching in their words and images of what nurture the heart means: Encouraginig others. Seeing the best in others. Keeping someone motivated. Etc.
"I would like us to include self-care," I added. Everyone was silent. I continued, "All five principles are about what a leader does for the community, for others, but the leader isn't able to be effective -- at least not on a continuous basis -- without taking the time to invest in his/her own soul. We need one principle to include the leader's care."
Self-care isn't as common of a concept and practice as I would like to think, in leadership or anywhere else, but we can change that!
Time to stop
We have grown up in a religion that tells us we feel better when we give to others and a culture that says put yourself first no matter what. What's right? Religion, of course. We do feel better when we serve others...right? I would agree, but I'm not so sure that means self-sacrificing to the point that many of us do it and in the name of Jesus.
Let's look at Jesus' life as the example. He took time away from teaching his disciples. He took time away from crowds. He took time away to rest and refuel and pray and be. If we are "followers of Christ," on a mission for God, and we're constantly depleted, operating on empty, how have we missed the mark?
We have to stop and re-prioritize. We have allowed the world to be our dictator and not the Holy Spirit to be our guide. We have fallen asleep and under the spell of our ego which will keep us running until we completely run out of steam. The truth is, many of us are in and of this world only separated by the idea that we know best, rather than being in the world but not of it and living in freedom the things of this world can never give.
Plugging the leak
So, how do we do this? How do we begin to come into ourselves and stay on the upswing of spiritual growth and wellness? How do we plug the bucket so it (we) won't continue to leak?
After acknowledging the need for a closer, personal look at the wisdom/teachings of Jesus and not just taking what's been taught; then it's paramount to commit to taking time weekly, at the least, to nurture the heart.
How does one nurture their heart?
- Consistently :-). I say consistently because this will be for many like a detox or rehab program. There's a change in chemicals and wiring that the mind must go through to learn something new, even self-care. Self-care that works takes practice and time. We're not going to get over the hump of depletion but rather stay in its cyclone if we don't consistently put forth effort to change. It may seem like a lot of work at first (any exercise is), but it's well worth it! To nurture the heart just when we're depleted pretty much defeats the purpose of living a God-centered life.
- Ideally, we would give ourselves at least 10 mins a day, but personally I feel I have hit on something if I take a Sabbath: one day a week of not working, planning, cleaning, phone conversations, technology (yes, that includes emails and social media), etc.! Notice I didn't say "have a Sabbath." You've got to take it because a day like that isn't going to just come.
- Other ideas are doing what your heart loves. Maybe it's gardening, or painting, or playing an instrument. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do it! We have a need to be who God has called us to be and that gift of joy, even if we aren't "good" at it is part of that. Playing it small suggests that God's gift of love isn't as important as what we think He wants you to do; that doing is more important than being. Re-evaluate that in prayer.
- Be creative with time. This doesn't mean every second should be filled but instead of checking Facebook on your phone while you're waiting for a meeting to start, pull out the colored pencils and paper (that you'll start keeping in your car). That will cut down on feeling frustrated with who is late for a meeting or what someone wrote on FB. Use that time to meditate and draw. And you won't even care that the potential business partner will look at you strange because you're grown and drawing and in a business suit because you will blow him/her away during the meeting with your ideas that will seem to just come from "nowhere."
- Something someone shared with me that I haven't tried it yet, but plan to, is to sit in silence for about 10 mins and envision God's love/light holding your heart and whatever situation that maybe troubling you. You aren't looking for an answer but you just want to rest in the Light and feel God's love nurturing you. Sounds amazing!
- And as mentioned in last week's blog, there's Centering Prayer.
I'm sure there are other ways to nurture the heart. The point is to do what feeds your heart and spirit, and to do it often! Give yourself permission now to do that. Tell those who you feel you need to tell that you're going to make your heart a priority. It doesn't mean you're going to ignore others or be selfish. You may have to wake up 30 mins earlier to do this to not interfere with what you need to do for your family, or maybe you can switch morning responsibilities with your spouse one day a week so that you will have the time to breathe into you. It will be worth it. Your heart (and God's) is calling for it. (Did you give yourself permission to take time to nurture your heart? OK, why don't you do it now? I can wait. This is serious business.)
The small print and the big heart
Not everyone is going to understand or agree with your need to nurture your heart. The thought, let alone the action, is counter-culture and they may consider you as acting weird (we are a peculiar people, after all). This brings up fear for those who do not like change and who feel they need to be in control. Know that going in and don't let the side-eye looks keep you from going into your prayer closet or pulling out your drawing pad on a consistent basis.
It's unfortunate that many of us have learned that self-care is meaningless and for the weak, and not for one who is working for the Lord. I have fallen victim to this thinking at times, running a rigorous schedule like the rest of the maniacs, with nothing but fatigue and a bad attitude to show for it, saying, "...but this is my calling." Thank God, I know better and so do you (at least hopefully now you do). There is more to life than giving from an empty heart. Sure, God knows your intention but He has also given clear instruction, and running yourself into the ground in His name isn't one of them. That's not the life-vision God has given me. That's not the life Jesus came to teach me how to live. Same goes for you.
So let's begin today and everyday to live a life true to our calling and create the space within where God rests in our work and in our play. That's when our hearts are full, that's when our hearts will expand, that's when the love of God will overflow...