Editor’s Note: This is part 5 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.
Sometimes we just need a cookie. You know what I’m talking about. You have one of those days where happiness ceases to exist. After a long, full day of work in which you seemed to create more work than you finished, you come home to a dirty house and all you want is a little something to make things better. Your eyes fall upon the cookie jar. Ten minutes and four cookies later, you start to feel a little better.
But the feeling usually doesn’t last.
Sadly, these little moments of gluttonous self satisfaction may be the only times we take a minute for ourselves. The question is, is the cookie really going to make things better, or is it just a bandage for a wound that runs deeper and is being neglected?
One of the most important, and often most forgotten, elements of being able to lead effectively is to routinely practice the art of self-care. Let me be clear, I am not writing this as an expert on the subject, but rather as a person who struggles to live this out on a day-to-day basis. Self-care is not about a binge of sweets that we may regret later, it’s about soul food.
We’re not talking chicken and waffles here either, folks (despite how amazing that sounds right now). Soul food consists of those little things we do that gives us life. They fill us up and bring refreshment. It’s those little moments of a day we find ourselves longing for when our to-do lists consists of multiple pages.
Being a leader means caring for a group of people. It requires having the best interest of a team in mind and the ability to lead them through valleys and plateaus. To lead effectively is to give of yourself regularly. The more we do this, the less we have of ourselves to give. If we are not practicing self-care, then we are leading out of a shallow or empty well. How do we think we can lead well if our well is running dry?
We need to stop lying to ourselves. We need a break. We need to experience life. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can lead others.
It’s similar to taking a shower. You could get by a day or two without one–but eventually the smell is going to catch up with you. It is not in anyone’s best interest to go without for an extended period of time. Self-care acts in the same way. We might not notice anything the first day or two of not practicing self-care, but the more days that go by the more it will effect you and everyone around you.
It is important to note that it is not selfish to practice self-care since it allows us to better care for others. I have learned this the hard way. I have gone through far too many weeks in which I pour myself out to others and never take a moment for myself. This leads to me collapsing from exhaustion, unable to do anything of substance. We are not built to lead this way.
We need a daily rhythm in which we allow ourselves a bit of time to recharge. The best way to feed our soul is to rest with God. Spend time with him, read his Word, have a conversation with him, invite him into your downtime.
Do something that brings you joy. No matter how much schoolwork I have left, or how much needs to be done at work, I make an intentional decision to have quality time each and every night with my wife. There will always be some type of work to do, but spending time with my family is precious and it helps me gain perspective on what is important in life. I will also take a little bit of time each day just for myself to do something I enjoy. That may be reading a chapter out of a book (you know, one I’m reading just for fun). I might take my dog on a long and aimless walk. Sometimes I spend an overly long time in the kitchen since I find peace when I cook.
What brings you life? What activities do you long for when you are cooped up in the office? What are some simple, memorable, and reproducible ways you can care for yourself on a day-to-day basis? What activities feed your soul so that you will be in a better place to lead everyday? Will you join me in trying to take better care of ourselves so that we can better care for others?
Let’s not settle for the occasional cookie-binge. We can do better than that.
- Leadership (part 1 of 9): Rest
- Leadership (part 2 of 9): Sabbath
- Leadership )part 3 of 9): Blind Spots
- Leadership (part 4 of 9): The Call