Re-framing “self-care”

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The following thoughts have been excerpted from a blog post entitled, “Self-regulation over Pastor Hesterself-care,” by Dan Hester, on his personal blog, ParsonDan.  Pastor Hester is a Group 3 Spirited Life participant and currently serves at St. Andrew’s UMC in Charlotte.  

“Much has been published about clergy self-care. Most of what I have come across makes the simple point that if I am in better shape, then I can be more effective as a pastor. A smaller portion of the material reminds me that God doesn’t need me to die for anyone; that’s already been handled. The burgeoning and much needed movement of positive psychology adds that God really doesn’t want anyone to be miserable, and self-care can help us enjoy this good life. I cannot find much fault with any of these points of view. Oddly enough, however, neither have I found much motivation to actually make needed changes in my life from these insights. Where I have found some recent motivation is with a systems thinking based view of the problem.

Systems thinking would rather talk about self-regulation than self-care. Self regulation is the basic functioning that makes self-differentiation possible. It’s what gives me responsibility for what’s mine, and leaves to you what is yours. Self-regulation is the capacity to choose wisely, based on solid-self principles and not on the anxious needs of the moment…

The language of self-care hasn’t always been effective for me. I think that ineffectiveness is because the phrase never conjured up any consequences apart from my own body and mind. But, when I think systems about the consequences of my choices, somehow the language of self-regulation connects with me. Through systemic thinking, I know that these decisions are not just about my own body, they reverberate across all my relationships. My excuses for not exercising usually have to do with lack of time. I can replace the important work of exercise with other important work. But if I see exercise as a building block of personal integrity, if I see it as a gateway decision to other important decisions, if I see it as a self-regulating act that has implications into my family and congregation, then that decision becomes irreplaceable and thus I have a little more success with it. I emphasize a little.

…I want to positively affect the lives of my family, my congregation, and myself. The best way I can do that is through doing my part in the emotional systems that connect us all, and practice self-regulation. Self-regulation is taking responsibility for my own condition, focusing more on my own resiliency rather than the environment, trying my best to act on my best thinking rather than my anxiety, ridding myself of the notion that the rules of biology don’t apply to me, and creating a repertoire of responses rather than banging away with one tool only. In the long run (no pun intended) this kind of practice will help me stand up for my convictions. It means I’ve upped my exercise regimen from zero to two or three times a week. Big whoop, right? But at least I’m moving.”

-Dan Hester

To read Pastor Hester’s blog post in its entirety, click here.  

Keeping germs at bay

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As pastors, I can imagine that you’re exposed to more than your fair share of germs each and every day: you regularly make visits to sick people in their homes and in hospitals; you shake countless hands on Sunday mornings; you enter and exit the same doors that the church preschoolers use; you rub shoulders with other community leaders at breakfast meetings; you simply go to the grocery store!

You’ve no doubt heard these tips before, so consider this a reminder to ramp up your efforts to stay well this winter:no-germ-zone-md

  • Wash your hands: This is a no-brainer, but it’s one of the best ways to stay healthy.  Click here to see the science of washing of your hands.  No access to soap and water?  Keep a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your purse, briefcase, or car.
  • Eat a balanced diet and stay hydrated: Include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet, and cut down on sugar to help booster the immune system.  How much water should you drink?  One doctor suggests dividing your weight by 3; this is how many ounces of fluid you should drink a day (plus one glass of water for every caffeinated or alcoholic beverage).
  • Stay back: If you can, keep about 6 feet between yourself and someone who’s sick.
  • Rest well: It’s recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep every day, but you probably have found your own magic number.
  • Exercise: Keeping your body strong is another immune-booster.  And don’t forget about taking care of your mind through meditation, a gratitude journal, taking time off, reading, yoga, or your own favorite stress-reducing activity.
  • Get a flu shot: According to the CDC, January is not too late to get yours!

Let us hear how you try to keep those germs at bay.

-Katie Huffman

Based on “How the fit stay healthy in cold-and flu-season,” by Gabriella Boston at Washington Post Wellness; image by Laurel Holland via Creative Commons and Clker.com

10 Things I Want My Daughter to Know About Working Out

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4627134131_95949d83af_oBrynn Harrington, of the wellness blog Wellfesto, recently wrote a post that resonated with me about what messages we pass on to our children about health and well-being. She starts by telling the story about being in an exercise class and having the teacher tell the class to picture themselves fitting into “that dress.” For Brynn, this is NOT the reason she works out, and not the message she wants her young daughter to internalize about her body.  She then goes on to write ten things she DOES want her daughter to know about working out:

“I want her to grow up knowing that…

  1. Strength equals self-sufficiency.  Being strong – particularly as a woman – is empowering.  It will feel good someday to be able to carry your own luggage down the stairs if the airport escalator is broken, and it will be important to have a solid shot at outrunning a stranger should you meet one a dark alley.
  2. Fitness opens doors.  Being healthy and fit can help you see the world differently.  The planet looks different from a bike or a pair of skis than it does from a car or an airplane.  Out in the elements you have the time and space to notice details and meet people and remember smells and bugs and mud and rain and the feeling of warm sunshine on your face.  And those are the moments that make up your life.
  3. The bike is the new golf course.  Being fit may help you get a seat at the table.  Networking is no longer restricted to the golf course, and the stronger you are – and the more people you can hang with on the road and trail – the more people you’ll meet.
  4. Exercise is a lifestyle, not an event.  Being an active person isn’t about taking a class three times a week at the gym.  It’s about things like biking to the grocery store and parking your car in the back of the lot and walking instead of taking a cab and catching up with friends on a hiking trail instead of a bar stool.
  5. Health begets health.  Healthy behavior inspires healthy behavior.  Exercise.  Healthy eating.  Solid sleep.  Positive relationships.  These things are all related.
  6. Endorphins help you cope.  A good sweat session can clear the slate.  You will have days when nothing seems to go right…when you’re dizzy with frustration or crying in despair.  A workout can often turn things around.
  7. Working out signals hard-working.  The discipline required to work out on a regular basis signals success.  Someone recently told me they are way more likely to hire marathon runners and mountain climbers because of the level of commitment that goes into those pursuits.
  8. If you feel beautiful, you look beautiful.  Looking beautiful starts on the inside.  And being fit and strong feels beautiful.
  9. Nature rules.  And if you’re able to hike/run/bike/swim/ski/snowshoe, you can see more of it.
  10. Little eyes are always watching.  We learn from each other.  You may have a daughter—or a niece or a neighbor or a friend – one day.  And that little girl will be watching and listening to everything she you say and do.  What messages do you want her to hear?”

She concludes: “I’ll never talk to my daughter about fitting into THAT DRESS.  But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot.  I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency.  I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.  And I’ll leave the rest up to her.”  Read the whole post here.

What are the reasons YOU work out and what messages do you want to pass along to your children and grandchildren about health and exercise?  Try making a list and see what you come up with.  You might even surprise yourself.

Caren Swanson

Image by flickr user Saurabh_B via Creative Commons.

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part IV

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This is the fourth in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. Please read the first installment here, the second installment here, and the third here. We offer these reflections in the hope that you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Thank you to Dianne for sharing these thoughtful reflections with us in this space!

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I believe that there are two important things to consider when you are planning for Sabbath time.  These two things are what to include in your Sabbath time and what to leave out of it.  So, let’s start with what you might want to leave out of your Sabbath time.  We should think about doing more of what gives us life and doing less of what drains us.  This calls for some reflection on our part.  We might ask ourselves: what do we find to be life- giving and what do we find to be life-draining? What helps us to give and receive God’s love and what hinders us from doing that?  These questions may sound familiar to you as they are the Ignatian Questions of Examen.  They provide a wonderful spiritual check-in for how our rhythm is working for us.

worn white cardboard box isolated on white background..When I think about what is life-draining for me, it’s rushing, deadlines, multi-tasking, being always available, unrealistic expectations, and not feeling the freedom to do the things at my own pace.  Wayne Muller speaks in his book, Sabbath, about having a Sabbath box- where you place the things that are not invited into your Sabbath time.  So, I might put my watch, cellphone, or my calendar in the box.  The idea is that you don’t allow the things that drain you to enter into your Sabbath space, you protect yourself from them for a set- aside time.  This is about freeing yourself up to take a vacation from those things.     

Once the life-draining things of life are set aside, then, you are free to open yourself to experiencing the life-giving things that replenish you.  For me those life-giving things are easing into the day, not always being available through technology, and allowing myself to do things at a more leisurely pace, as I actually lose track of time.  As you create your Sabbath space; you should be encouraged to feel free to do whatever you need to do for yourself.

318203573_0d6273c2eb_bI have been observing Sabbath for quite some time now.  I can say that it has been the most helpful spiritual practice I have found.  It has really opened up space for me to nurture my spiritual longings, without feeling guilty about the time that I am spending doing so.  This practice has brought refreshment to my soul and helped me to embrace a new rhythm.

As you enter into your Sabbath time, you might consider using these questions of Examen as well.  For most of us, it has been a long time since we took the time to consider what drains us or what brings us life.  Considering these questions will help you design a Sabbath day that truly ministers to your soul.  I pray God’s blessings on you as you embrace the kind of Sabbath Rest that will bring you life.  I celebrate the gifts that await you within it! 

Dianne Lawhorn

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

Do You Need A New Rhythm? ~ Part I

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This is the first in a special series on Sabbath by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn. We offer these reflections in the hope that over the next few weeks you will feel invited to deepen your own Sabbath practice. Check back on the next three Mondays to read Dianne’s thoughts on this important topic. 

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Boy and Girl Running in Tall Grass

I led a workshop recently at our Annual Conference on the concept of Sabbath.  During this workshop, I asked participants to reach back into their memories and recall how they spent Sunday afternoons as a child.  I could immediately see smiles and the look of wonder on people’s faces.  It was as if the sweet aroma of a day when things seemed so much simpler swept across the room.  Then, I asked the group to share with a neighbor about those memories.  I looked around the room and heard people speaking of wonderful meals, time with family, taking long naps, and catching lightning bugs!  I noticed less about what they said and more about the way that they said it.  Their pace had changed, they had slowed down, and there was a peacefulness about their sharing.  Were these folks really speaking of having a day where they slowed down long enough to enjoy a meal, to take a nap, or to catch a lightning bug?

It was a beautiful moment where the whole mood in the room shifted and we were ready to hear about Sabbath- rest.  Sunday afternoons used to be a time for us to do things that we enjoyed, to relax, to rest.  It was unhurried and leisurely and it didn’t feel at all like work.  Times have changed, haven’t they?  Now, our Sundays are really no different than any other day of the week.    They are too full, too busy, harried even.  Our Sundays are often a catch up day where we rush around trying to get everything done that wasn’t done during the week.  Sunday isn’t a day of leisure anymore.

There is something sacred about the way that we used to spend our Sabbath days.  This slower pace was good for us.  This is something we have lost and I believe that it needs to be re-claimed.  This is something we need, a pause in the pace of our busy lives.  We need a day where our schedule doesn’t get inundated with work, a day to take a break from that endless hamster’s wheel of activity.  We need a day of leisure, a lazy day, a day to slow down and enjoy the wonderful gifts that God has given us.

246covercroppedDr. Matthew Sleeth, author of the book 24-6, says that what we need most is a “stop day,” a day to stop working, a day of rest.  This stop is the thing that is missing from our lives.  Reclaiming this stop is a great way for us to think about Sabbath-Rest.   Doesn’t the idea of a stop day sound good to us?  Don’t we need a day that calls us back into a rhythm that includes stopping, slowing, and resting?  Don’t we need a day to cease from our labors?  Doesn’t this feel like a gift that we’ve lost that needs to be reclaimed?   …To be continued Monday, Nov. 4th.

–Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, MDiv

DianneDianne is currently the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.

 

What Do You Like About Your Body?

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By the time they are 13, most girls report that they are unhappy with their bodies.  Interrupt Magazine decided to find out what younger girls do like about their bodies, and what they found was both inspiring and interesting.  Many of the girls reported liking what their bodies can DO–draw, walk, run fast, dance–and one little girl simply said that her body is magic.  What a refreshing perspective!  And when you think about it, our bodies are pretty magical!  As my 8 year-old daughter was saying last night (when she was supposed to be going to sleep!) “Isn’t it amazing that I’m talking right now because my brain is sending signals to my mouth???”

I rarely focus on all the things that my body can do–I’m usually too busy worrying about the clothes I can’t fit in, or how out of shape I am.  These young girls convicted me to focus more on praising God for giving me a body that is fairly healthy and strong, and not spend so much time wishing it was different.  What do YOU like about your body?

Laila Sofia

 

Caren Swanson

Images by Interrupt Magazine.

Stoic Christianity

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In our feature piece in Christian Century, our research director, Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell, said that if she could magically accomplish one cultural change, she would “shift the way that congregants think about their pastor.” No matter the responsibilities a pastor is entrusted with, he or she is still a human being “with flaws and graces…a person who has a life that needs fulfillment.”

This is a change many pastors desperately desire. As one pastor said, “I don’t think our congregations know how unhealthy our vocation can be. They seem to think we are super-men and -women…I keep telling them our vocation is hazardous to our health. They just don’t understand that.”

While pastors feel this pressure uniquely, it’s by no means foreign to most people. Alan Jacobs, professor of literature at Baylor University, recently reflected on the stoic values popular in the American Midwest and South, and he recounted a time when the tacit code that one suffers in silence became unmistakably clear.

When my wife was seriously ill some time ago, people from our church contacted me to ask if we needed anything. When I replied that it was nice of people to offer meals but that Teri’s chief problem was simple loneliness — no one to talk to, as she lay in her sickbed, except a very busy husband — people were, not to put too fine a point on it, shocked. I had said something unexpectedly shameful. One person even commiserated with Teri: how difficult it must have been for her to have a husband who so openly admitted that she had personal needs in her illness.

1024px-Michael_Ancher_001Let me highlight that this was not the experience of a pastor, but of a lay person, who tried to be vulnerable with his congregation and was shut down. Expressing weakness in shameful not only among pastors, but among many segments of our culture in which class and status and power are incongruent with dependency and loneliness and desire. As Alanis Morisette sings, no matter what pain we’re experiencing, we prefer to stick one hand in our pockets while explaining, “what it all comes down to my friends, Is that everything’s just fine fine fine.” Nothing to see here, folks.

In a follow-up piece, Jacobs concludes that that the Christian scriptures encourage us “to accept suffering but not to pretend that we don’t hurt or that we are somehow above the pain. Rather, we are to seek out our brothers and sisters for sympathy and support.”

Parishioners may want a pastor who is superhuman, but perhaps what they need is a pastor who is utterly human, someone who bravely opens up space for it to be okay to be weak and have needs. Pastors may not be the only ones ready to scream under the suffocating silence of stoicism.

Tommy Grimm

(Painting by Michael Ancher, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

“Nothing is lost, Jesus says”

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The spiritual discipline of Lectio Divina (www.lectio-divina.org) is a practice that was part of the winter workshops held for our final cohort of Spirited Life pastors. Kept alive by the Benedictine monastics, Lectio Divina’s four traditional steps are read, meditate, pray and contemplate. In the slow, deliberate reading of a selected passage, Lectio Divina is not used to gain scriptural information but “as an aide to contact the living God”.

DSC_0114The passage used at the workshops was John 6:1-14, the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. Since we were in a corporate space, we dimmed the lights and invited the pastors to listen as the scripture was read slowly and thoughtfully. After each reading of the passage, the pastors were invited to speak a world thought or phrase that resonated with them. The full exercise was concluded with prayer and a moment of silence.

Rev. Dr. Tom Steagald, a Cohort 3 Spirited Life pastor, wrote a blog entry about his personal experience with Lectio Divina while attending his Spirited Life winter workshop. Through his experience, Rev. Steagald invites us to consider this passage in an interesting way. Instead of considering this story through the lens of Jesus or the boy that provided the fish and loaves of bread, Steagald invites us to consider that perhaps we are “the leftovers” collected after Jesus had fed everyone. He poses the question this way:

“But what if, on the other side of that, I am the “leftovers”: one of the scraps cast aside when the crowd is sated? A piece of what I used to be, just a crust? The best part of me, after all these years, just eaten up by the crowds; there is nothing much left to be done with me but to be cast aside, on the ground, away?”

507966355_75dec31ef2_b

Here is the link to his full blog entry entitled, “Nothing is lost, Jesus says” and read just how Pastor Tom’s experience with Lectio Divina revealed a different perspective for him.

-Angela M. MacDonald

(Top image by Donn Young for the Clergy Health Initiative, lower image by flickr user hoyasmeg via creative commons)

 

‘Tis the (moving) season

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‘Tis the season for moving in the United Methodist church. Even if this isn’t a move year for you personally, you are probably not immune to the associated stresses of appointment changes; from friends and lectionary group members to accountability partners and trusted mentors, there’s likely someone in your life who is gearing up for a move right now.  moving truckConsider these move-related statistics:

  • Individuals move an approximate 11.7 times during their life. (US Census Bureau)
  • In 2012, 12% of the US population, or 36.5 million people, moved residences.  64% of these people moved within the same county; of those people who moved to a different county, most of them still only moved less than 50 miles away. (US Census Bureau)
  • In North Carolina, approximately 14% of UMC pastors move each year, with elders moving more frequently than local pastors. (WNCC and NCC data)
  • Moving is the third most stressful life event, coming just behind the death of a loved one or divorce. (Employee Relocation Council)

That last statistic is pretty compelling.  Moving is stressful for anyone, and pastors have the added pressures of preparing final sermons, uprooting your spouse and children, packing up a house in record time, submitting conference paperwork, and making good first impressions with the new congregation.  And what about those moves that occur unexpectedly or against your wishes?

Whether you are in the midst of packing (literally and metaphorically) or whether you’re supporting others in this transition, we hope you’ll make time for some self-care in this busy and stressful season:

  • Schedule a massage or pedicure.
  • Write a letter of gratitude to the lectionary or accountability group you’ll be leaving behind.
  • tea and readingWhen the going gets tough, take a coffee or tea break, or read a pleasure book for a few minutes.
  • Keep to your normal routine and regular self-care habits (exercise, good nutrition, prayer time, journaling, Sabbath, etc.) as much as possible.
  • Grab lunch with a neighbor whom you’ll miss.
  • Stop by your favorite restaurant or park one last time. Take pictures of places and people that have been meaningful to you in this town. Do this with a sense of gratitude for these experiences, rather than of loss.
  • Take time to jot down highlights of the current appointment — ways you’ve grown, and ways you’ve been challenged.
  • Embrace your emotions and live in the moment; don’t try to power through this stressful time just by focusing on logistics.  Check in with your spouse and kids to see how they’re feeling about the move, too. Read more here about the emotional side of moving.

I leave you with these words of encouragement from an old standby, Isaiah 40:31–

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

-Katie Huffman

(Top photo by Flickr user ishootreno, lower photo by Flickr user Anna Saarinen, both via Creative Commons)

The Secret Pain of Pastors

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Through our research with Spirited Life, we discovered a particularly surprising finding: pastors show high rates of job satisfaction, along with high levels of job stress. While there are a few theories behind such a contrast, pastors admit their love of the Church does come with a unique combination of stressors. For example, most pastors devote well over forty hours each week to sermon-writing, hospital visits, and committee work, yet they continue to hear from church members that they “only work on Sunday mornings”. This misunderstanding of the nature of pastoral work is one of many consistent issues faced by clergy.

secret_pain_small_216226948In the article entitled “The Secret Pain of Pastors”, Pastor Philip Wagner names and explores six common problems that clergy face. Those problems are listed below and include quotations offered anonymously from various Spirited Life pastors.

1. Criticism. With so many structural changes within denominations, pastors are often assigned fault for a church’s lack of growth, sermon length, service length, and lack of interest in community outreach, among other complaints. We have heard from many of the pastors in Spirited Life how criticism can come in many forms, either directly or indirectly, including withheld offerings.  The sense that pastors should be perfect often feeds into this tension.

2. Rejection. Pastors face rejection based on race, gender, age, ideas, etc. Wagner explains that “one of the most difficult conditions to achieve is to have a tough skin and a soft heart.” Although the rejection can oftentimes feel very personal, Wagner encourages pastors to “love people, hold them lightly, and don’t take it personally.”

3. Betrayal. Pastors learn to trust their church members, but they also experience violations of that trust, sometimes in the form of “telling the pastor’s personal issues to others,” according to Wagner.

4. Loneliness. One SL pastor has said that many clergy are warned to expect feelings of loneliness. “Clergy are told in seminary that their District Superintendent is neither their pastor nor their friend. This leaves clergy with no one to cover their back so to speak. Who can clergy turn to for support?” For more on this theme, check out Wellness Advocate Tommy Grimm’s blog post about the isolation experienced in ordination.

5. Weariness.SL pastor has described feeling weary from dissatisfied parishioners: “When members become dissatisfied with clergy or antagonistic, they choose to withhold their offerings because they believe it will punish the clergy.”

6. Frustrations & Disappointments. One SL pastor has said, “If you bring in 10 new members, but you have 11 members die (no control on that!) then clergy are deemed inefficient because of a negative growth rate.”

Below are some suggestions of how pastors can counter some of this secret pain they face:

  • Remember the Call. Think back to your first hint that you were Called to ministry. Was it a ‘Damascus moment’ or a ‘Slow Glow’? Remember the first time someone called you Pastor. Too often, pastors deal with emotionally draining situations; reflecting on your Call may bring back a renewed perspective on why you entered ministry.
  • Steal away and pray. Take your Sabbath!
  • Kate Rugani reminds us in her article that ‘Self-care is not self-ish’.
  • Remember that you are NOT alone. You are not the first member of clergy to face any of these challenges. Seek counsel of clergy outside of your denomination. If you are a pastor in the Spirited Life program, this is an area where your wellness advocate can provide a listening ear while also helping you find ways other support resources.
  • Laugh! While Spirited Life researches improvements for a pastor’s mental and physical health, WebMD maintains that laughter is one of the most reliable of medicines.  Here’s something to get you started:

http://youtu.be/GuRN2LL3fBs

–Angela MacDonald

(Quotations shared with permission from current SL participants; video clip from YouTube)