Sometimes our egos get the best of us and we think we can just power on through.
Burning out is for the weak-minded.
I’m different; I’m not like them; I’m not weak like them.
It’s a phase. It’s a season. I just gotta chug through.
Except — we end up with our sanity barely intact and our exhaustion turns into bitterness. We’re angry and bitter towards our employer, our colleagues, our coworkers; our family…
Rest is vital. Self-care is imperative for us to be effective. To borrow the cliché of clichés: Even God rested one day. And you’re not God.
In the King James Version of the Bible, God instructs Moses: Come up to me into the mount, and be there. (Exodus 24:12, KJV).
It’s a tad bit odd because what else are you going to do on top of the mountain except… be there.
But the ancient Rabbis believed that it was a genius request made by God.
Moses would’ve exerted so much energy climbing up that mountain, that when he finally got up to the top, he’d start thinking about (and preparing for) the journey back down and in doing so, miss out on God’s presence.
Exhaustion can do that.
Exodus 6:9b states that “(The Israelites) didn’t listen to Moses, because of their complete exhaustion and their hard labor” (CEB).
For me, spiritually recharging is intertwined with finding rest. Very on in my ministerial career, I took that literally. On my days off, I’d nap. And then sleep more. I’d spend the day vegging out — binge watching while eating food that’s good for the soul but horrible for the body. Surprisingly, that got old. Those things gave me physical rest, but none of them gave me life.
That’s when I realized my error. Throughout the week, many of us clergy spend time giving ourselves away for the love of God and for our love for the folx we serve. As awesome as that work can be — it can also be draining. What I learned I needed to do to spiritually recharge is 1) stay away from church work and 2) find something that brings me joy; gives me life.
I stay away from church email — they’re like quicksand: You open one and then another and then another. I also don’t answer my phone on Fridays (my Sabbath day) if it’s work-related or unknown numbers. If it’s an emergency, of course I’ll respond (they’ll usually leave a message). I simply just stay away from the church. Then I engage in things I feel that give me life.
I had to go and really ask myself “what gives me life” which felt nerdy and awkward. So usually (during non-COVID school year), on Fridays after I drop my kid off at school, I have the morning to myself. I’ll head over to my favorite coffee shop with a good book and read. The smell of coffee and a good story — you can’t beat that. I also learned that writing (that’s not related to church/work) gives me joy. Lunch-dates with the wife; playing with the kid when he comes home from school; walks with the family (Houston-weather permitting); catching up on that album I haven’t gotten around to really listen to; basically just anything to that gives me joy is what recharges me. And I’m always aware that God is present when I engage in these activities. Sure, they’re not outwardly God focused. But God is a giver of life and I find God is with me when I engage in acts of self-care that gives me life.
Of course, everyone is going to have different methods and different activities. Some might think that what gives me life is too introverted for their liking. But it’s imperative that we engage in things that give us joy; that return the life that we spend so energy much giving away. When you don’t give yourself time to recharge, you end up becoming a human doing and, like the Israelites, you find yourself too exhausted to listen to God and be effective for God’s mission.
So what are the things you enjoy doing — that give you joy and life?
What are some of the reasons that keep you from engaging in them on a regular basis?
What are some things you can change in your life so that self-care becomes a high priority in your life?
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.