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Let's Talk about Self-Care

Three Februarys ago, the emotional, psychological, and spiritual fatigue I felt after completing a 2.5 day training on Understanding Racism hosted by CORR (Congregations Organizing for Racial Reconciliation) caught me off-guard. As a woman of color living in the United States, the daily grinds of life that seek to diminish or challenge my personhood are an ungodly but regular fact of life. If you disagree, you are probably not a woman or a person of color.

But I was still surprised at the effect that this intense learning about the reality and deeply rooted history of racism in the United States had on me. While a classmate went to play basketball after the training ended, I just needed to be alone, so I went home, put on headphones, and walked until I lost track of time. Later, debriefing with a roommate, the full force of the grief surfaced as I articulated my experience of learning of the history and current reality of racial oppression and why it was so devastating.

As a woman of color living in the United States, the daily grinds of life that seek to diminish my personhood are a regular fact of life.

It’s only June, but my, it’s been a long year. If you are a practitioner of living, advocating for, and doing justice, I suspect you are someone who likely needs a break right now, needs a rest by this time of year. So let’s talk about self-care.

If you work for environmental justice and saw the U.S. president announce his intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris Accords, this might have prompted much shouting at your phone, computer, and/or TV, a flurry of social media activity, or community organizing in response. Your call to care for the environment and love your neighbor whose life and livelihood is vulnerable due to environmental degradation was probably lit a-fire once again, but you may also be experiencing frustration and discouragement at what this decision will mean.

I went home, put on headphones, and walked until I lost track of time.

If you are serving, living, or participating in a context where the majority culture and ethnicity is different than your own, and the dregs at the bottom of your cup start to taste bitter because you’re down to the last of your ability to give and serve healthily in a context where you feel constantly “other,” it may be time for you to take a break, go get rejuvenated, and then return. 

Whatever place of service, living, or working—if you are a practitioner of justice-seeking efforts and you have been at it for a while, you might be tired.

So I invite you to hear Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[1]

How?

  • It’s important to figure out what you need to be replenished, to have your cup filled up again so that you can go and pour out your love, your passion, your energy, your call to live seeking justice, righteousness and peace.
  • Your self-care may be just a day at home by yourself, free of phone, computer, or TV—you don’t have to go anywhere. If you just need uninterrupted time to yourself , find it. If that’s spending an evening with people who know you and love you, to whom you don’t have to explain anything and eating good food—do it. If that’s taking a morning and going to a free park where you live and hiking in the woods (tree-bathing is a real thing)—do it.  
  • If you are someone who needs to leave your locale to feel truly removed and not “on,” do it. If you have friends in a nearby city or town who are willing to let you use their space during the day for a solo retreat, ask them, and then do it. If you are within reasonable driving distance of a retreat center or monastery, the investment in gas, lodging, and time, is worth your mental health and emotional and spiritual wellbeing—do it.
  • But you don’t have to be fancy about it. If you need quiet, figure out how to find quiet where you live and pursue it. If you need people, gather the people who fill you up and spend time with them. It’s an irony that it takes work to rest. Rest doesn’t just happen in our fast-paced worlds—it must be pursued and prepared for and planned.

I understand there are layers of privilege associated with this notion of ‘being able to stop.’ I know it’s costly. But it is infinitely more costly to not stop. When you burn out—which you will, even if it takes years—if you do not practice regular rhythms of Sabbath, rest, and play—you do yourself and the people you’re with a disservice. And the fall-out and road to recovery from burn-out is much more painful than it would have been to simply practice regular resting and retreating to prevent burn-out and to promote flourishing.  

Our Lord modeled it for us. Jesus often retreated to lonely or quiet places by himself to be alone and to pray, especially when the demands of people’s needs and wants from him were especially high.[2] He took his disciples with him too, when the activity of their ministry became too much, and they went to quiet places.[3]

You—your body, your self, your being—are the greatest resource and gift God has given you to steward.

I find service-oriented people are often worst at self-care, because we conflate it with a worldly notion of being preoccupied with self. That is not the self-care I commend here. I am speaking of heeding the Lord’s command to Sabbath by taking care of yourself, taking a rest when you need to, and incorporating play into your life for the sake of your flourishing as an image-bearer of God.

You—your body, your self, your being—are the greatest resource and gift God has given you to steward. If you are not honoring that role of being caretaker of your own self, that impacts how you will steward every other gift and role you’ve been given. Imagine how you would insist that a loved one care for themselves—now that loved one is you.

[1] Matthew 11:28

[2] Luke 5:16; Luke 6:12; Matthew 14:22-23

[3] Mark 6:31

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