I think of summer as a time of rest, renewal and reflection. There are no major religious holy days. Summer reminds me how we can become so frenzied in our lives that we neglect self care so essential for good mental health.
Faith leaders and other caregivers are especially vulnerable and often neglect self care. With seemingly endless demands on our time and energy, we often neglect all the things we know are good for us like caring for our physical bodies, taking Sabbath time to renew our spirits, spending time with our family and friends, being intellectually stimulated as part of life-long learning and growth, and being aware of our emotional needs and responses.
I had no idea that the choices I was making as a clergy person were impacting my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It took a major wake-up call like my mental illness to force me to look at my life. For those who do not get an abrupt wake-up call, they are often unaware of the imbalance in their lives. And then we wonder why we feel exhausted, stressed and burned out.
One of the occupational outcomes of our actions is due to what Charles Figley has called “compassion fatigue.” We are there for others in times of crisis. I know how difficult it is to begin to decline to attend every function when the others have come to expect it. But it is the responsibility of faith leaders to educate their congregations about the importance of using study leave, being faithful to days off, taking vacations and having regular sabbatical leave for reflection and renewal.
I heard about a minister who loved to fish but never found the time. He bought a boat and named it “Visitation.” When someone called the church asking for the pastor, the secretary could honestly respond, “He is on Visitation.”