Fausto comes into my office for his therapy appointment balancing his coffee and backpack in one hand and holding his phone in the other. He acknowledges me with an apologetic smile as he ends his conversation, takes a sip of his too-hot coffee, and sits heavily in the chair opposite me.
“If I’d known ministry would be like this, I’m pretty sure I would have gone into something easier, like, I dunno—politics or something.”
We both laugh, but as I look at him, I see the weariness in his eyes. I ask Jesus silently what he wants to do in our hour together.
“Our elder board may split over sexuality issues, our office manager just resigned, and oh—did I mention that we are facing a $150,000 deficit in next year’s budget? On the home front, my daughter is having panic attacks again, and my son just seems angry all the time. I don’t know what to fix first! I’m nearly always stressed to the point of breaking! I pine for my retreat days, but I have no idea how to live better in between them.”
The quarterly retreat days he’s referring to are meant to renew his vision for ministry and replenish him but have morphed into nothing more than recovery. As the months tick by, I feel his joy and vision waning.
Fausto has pushed hard against what he deems to be unrealistic messaging to simply slow down, naming the recent strain when a funeral had had to be added to an already-packed schedule.
“Am I supposed to say no to a funeral? Who are these people who say that I just have a problem with boundaries?”
“Hang on, Fausto. We can see in Jesus’ life that it isn’t that simple.”
“What do you mean?”
From there we look at Mark 1, where Jesus, all in one day, teaches at the synagogue, heals Simon’s mother-in-law, and delivers and heals many other people. It’s a really jam-packed, busy day. Jesus is no stranger to crunch times, but it seems that he doesn’t lose sight of his purpose or fall apart emotionally because of them. How? The following morning, Jesus wakes to pray. When his disciples come looking for him, eager to return him to his exciting healing and deliverance ministry, Jesus says no: “Let us go on to the next towns . . . for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38, esv). Something happened in that prayer time that helped him pull away from what was immediate (and likely compelling!) and be planted firmly in his larger purpose. He slows down enough to recenter on what is his to do in the face of a whole city’s expectations. Fausto and I start trying to puzzle through what the same thing might look like in his life.
“Okay, so I’m not a criminal if I can’t slow everything down?”
“I’d say no. Moving fast isn’t really a problem unless we fail to also have times of moving slow. Our bodies and neurobiology need a break. We can’t stay in a revved-up state continually, or we will have problems.”
We observe how little “slow” there is built into Fausto’s days. Consequently, he has precious little time spent checking in with God to seek the kind of redirecting Jesus gets in Mark 1. But this is the best kind of self-care, especially for people in ministry!
Fausto and I craft a plan that involves three changes:
- He would start his day with five minutes of silence in place of his habit of checking emails on the way to brush his teeth. This would give his body a slower start in contrast to the jolt his email and headlines normally gave him.
- At noon, when at all possible, he would stop his work and read midday prayers out loud, often including whoever was around and willing to participate. This would ground him and help him place his own ministry into the global work of growing Jesus’ Kingdom on earth. He’d later find that the perspective this brought him was so refreshing that he often felt a release of tears, evidence of the physiological and neurological reset that was happening.
- When driving home, Fausto would refrain from listening to the news and listened to worship music instead, something he’s never tried. After changing this habit, he found himself quite naturally praying for the needs from the day and thanking God for the ways he’d experienced God’s presence in the day. When he arrived at his daughter’s daycare pick-up line, he pivoted to praying to be present and open-hearted during the precious hours before bedtime.
All together, these changes would only take about fifteen to twenty minutes to practice but would up making a huge difference in Fausto’s sense of overall well-being. He’d learn to add “slow” to his “fast” days in a way that would be accessible and life-giving. Jesus-approved self-care is daily and doable. And it’s yours for the taking.
Janice McWilliams (MDiv, LCPC) has nourished a lifelong curiosity about human nature. This has propelled her to serve in campus ministry, to speak and train groups in churches and organizations, and to work as a therapist, spiritual director, and writer. Her love of the depths and intrigue of the human experience is matched by her desire to find her place in God’s work of restoring and revitalizing souls everywhere. Find out more at janicemcwilliams.com.