I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care lately, and wanted to share a couple of experiences I’ve had recently regarding self-care.
About a month ago I was at my church’s yearly women’s retreat at a beautiful camp across Puget Sound from Seattle. I was in charge of leading the worship on Sunday morning and had a love feast planned, complete with opportunities for folks to share what God was doing in their lives. We had invited the women from another church who were also at camp at the same time, and whose pastor couldn’t make it at the last minute, so many of them were unknown to me.
On Saturday I was feeling very nervous, because the next time I’ll be at that camp will be President’s Day weekend, in a weekend-long interview with the Committee on Commissioning that is my next step in the candidacy process. It’s a big step, because if they do decide that I’m ready, I’ll be recommended to the Annual Conference in June for commissioning as a probationary Deacon.
My nervousness led to a desire to have the women pray for me. And not just a quick prayer, but an extended, laying-on-of-hands prayer time. I wanted to ask for it during the worship service Sunday morning. And these other internal voices said, “but you’re supposed to be leading it, is it okay to ask for this?” and “is this selfish? there will even be women there who who don’t know me!” I ended up not making a decision until Sunday morning, during the worship. Finally I gave in and felt like it was the right thing to do. After we shared the cinnamon bread and apple juice of the love feast, I asked them to pray for me, and it was a truly beautiful moment. After we were done, I looked up and saw tears in the eyes of some of the women from my own church. And that’s when I realized, sometimes asking for what we need isn’t just selfish, sometimes the people we ask to serve us are blessed in the service. I wasn’t the only one for whom that was a holy moment.
Another thing that’s been going on recently is that I’m really moving toward my counseling practice slowly. I painted the office way back in August, but have really been taking my time with creating my website, creating and posting flyers in the community, sending emails, and ordering business cards. It’s not that it’s not getting done, it’s that I’m letting myself do it slowly. I’m savoring taking some downtime, to allow myself to sleep in till 8:30 or 9:00, take the time to cook delicious and healthy food for myself, spend an hour at the gym and finish it off with a soak in the hot tub, rather than dashing from place to place. I’m not even able to really articulate why I’m doing it like this except to say that somehow I know I need it. Self-care for ministers and counselors is so important, because our bodies, our spirits, our souls are the tools of healing in the lives of our clients and church members. If we’re unhealthy spiritually or emotionally, we can’t be a healing, calming, Spirit-bearing presence in their lives. So I’m taking my time, learning to listen to my body’s cues about what it needs to do and when. And it’s an amazing process.
Through these two experiences I’ve been reflecting on some of the barriers that we set up to self-care. One is fear of being selfish, which is interesting because it’s actually quite counter-productive. Not only do the people that love us often find blessing in helping us, but if we never ask for the help we need, we may end up unconsciously behaving in needy ways that end up draining others around us anyway. We need to be able to recognize when we need to care for ourselves, and actually ask for what we need, so that we will be fulfilled in the way that allows us to help others when they need us.
Another barrier to self-care is externally-based expectations we set up for ourselves. My externally-based expectation of myself that I’d be up and running in a full time counseling practice by September wasn’t coming from any internal sense of that being right from me, it was all about my image to others. It came from a sense of wanting to conform to a hard-working, independent American ethic.
I think this second barrier is the one that’s most relevant to discussions about fat liberation. How often are we motivated by external expectations about what our body size should be, how much exercise we should engage in, what types and amounts of food we should eat? How many of us want a plan laid out for us that tells us exactly how many calories we should be eating, exactly how many minutes we should spend on the elliptical machine, exactly what number should come up when we step on the scale?
Fat liberation can free us from those external expectations. We don’t need to be a slave to a culture that has such a messed-up view of women’s bodies that Barbie’s ankles are too fat. We don’t need to be a slave to a multi-billion dollar diet industry that tries to dictate exactly what foods we should eat (and what dangerous medications we should take). We can learn to slow down, get quiet, and listen to our body about what it needs, to let the talons of social expectations relax their grip on our goals and attitudes.
Our bodies are the most precious gift we have been given in this lifetime, and they deserve to be cared for and loved, not held to superficial and impossible standards.