Self-care for clergy
May 26, 2013
The question was posed on Twitter: what does self-care really mean for clergy? For those of us who dedicate ourselves to taking care of others, it's not always an easy question to answer. But the work of caring for others is never done, and if we allow ourselves to become burnt-out, we're not much help to the people to whom we want to minister. What does it mean to take care of ourselves? This is my list. If you have other items, I welcome them in comments.
Don't forget your own spiritual practices. Prayer, meditation, yoga, walks in the woods -- whatever works. Listen to birdsong. Cuddle with your children. Say thank you a lot.
Make regular time for learning. If there's a particular kind of sacred text which really fills you up, learn that. You need to keep your own wellsprings flowing.
Get enough sleep. No, seriously, I mean it. This really makes a difference.
Cultivate friendships: with fellow clergy who can relate to where you're at, and also with people who have nothing to do with our line of work.
Seek mentors. Be in spiritual direction and in therapy.
Make time for yourself. Also for your spouse/partner and for your child(ren.) But be sure to keep yourself on the list, too.
Treat yourself to an occasional pedicure. (Okay, maybe this one's just me. But I stand by it!)
Love the people you serve. I got this advice years ago from a dear friend when I was just starting rabbinic school, and I return to it often.
And maintain good boundaries. (You may need to keep your cellphone on in case somebody dies during the night, but you don't need to be wholly "on" all the time. If you catch yourself thinking about work at 11pm, notice that, without judgement, and gently push those thoughts aside. They can wait until morning, and you'll return to the work fresher for it.)
Keep a praise file, and when people send kind notes or say nice things, put those things in the file. When you're having a tough day and feeling down about your work, or feeling as though nothing you do makes a difference, reread what's in the praise file.
Be kind to yourself. Even when you feel as though you're not living up to your own expectations. Maybe especially then.