Last night after the Scriptures were read I picked up a book devoted to Christian women written by Holley Gerth. She was talking about the necessity of self care. Women in particular are not good at practicing self care. We tend to put others and their needs first. As well, clergy are not good at the practice of self care. So as a woman who happens to also be clergy I know that self care is the one thing that often slips for me.
Way back a year ago I was at a visit with my doctor in an attempt to discover what is wrong with me. (Turns out to be chronic severe anemia probably due to an absorption problem. One iron infusion and a gluten free diet later and I am beginning to feel better.) At the time I was just bone weary, cold all the time, starving all the time and consequently gaining weight. My doctor was working with an intern that day and as he was reviewing some test results he commented to the intern, “this woman here, she is very good at taking care of others, but doesn’t take care of herself.” You know you are in trouble when even your doctor whom you don’t see on a regular basis has you so completely pegged.
Even so, the journey to self care is and always has been a difficult one for me. Just in the last few months have I given myself permission to nap if I needed it, and to ask for help with things that I couldn’t manage. Up until then I struggled to get it all done. To do it myself. To prove that I am not lazy, if only to myself.
So what Holley was writing about really resonated with me and even though I have made strides in the area of self care I know I still have a long way to go. One of the things that she said, makes sense. When we get tired, and people offer to help, we reject their help to prove we can handle it all, and then feel resentful when they take us at our word and leave us to it.
Why is it so hard to ask others for help. In the last few months I have had a friend spend a whole day in the city while waiting for me to have a five hour iron infusion. Then when I had the flu another friend came and brought juice and ginger ale and scooped the litter box. Those kinds of friends are hard to come by and I truly treasure them. I am also grateful that they have helped me with no questions asked, and even no expectation of a returned favor. Yes it was hard to accept the offers and to ask for the favor, but it made a great difference for me.
I believe that a bigger problem in our journey to self care is that we don’t ask God for help. We are so busy trying to be God’s servant, to take care of the people around us, to do what needs doing in our congregations, and shower the love of Christ everywhere we go.
But all that effort comes at a cost. Our physical, emotional and spiritual strength is limited. We need the time to renew and to restore. One thing that totally floored me when I read it last night is that when we let ourselves get run down and deplete the hormones that help keep us balanced, it takes 6 months to restore the full balance. If there was ever an insight that made me sit up and take notice that was it.
Self care is so much more important than we realize. We need to practice it on a regular basis, so that we are always in balance. And that means asking God for help. Sadly, those of us who would rather not ask for help from anyone, even have trouble with asking for help from God.
And when we do…. God answers that plea in very surprising and unexpected ways. Am I ready for the help that God gives? Well sometimes, okay most times, the way that God answers my plea for help is by doing the exact opposite of the things that I specifically ask for. It is humbling to leave my life circumstances to God, because he shows me so very often that he knows what I need better than I do. Over the years God’s help has upset me, angered me, disappointed me; but it has always been exactly what I needed. Only with hindsight have I realized that God has done for me far better than I asked or imagined.
So…… deep breath…. courage…..and let us ask God for help….. and let us with open minds and hearts embrace the help that God sends our way.
Peace be with you all.