by Kathy L. Dawson

I have been observing the amazing work of educators for many years now. What I have seen is people who are creative and resilient in the face of change. In this time, we have been on a steep learning curve regarding online ways of continuing and enhancing educational ministry, as well as preparing families to do more of the hands-on work of nurturing the next generation in ways of faith. This work can be invigorating, but can also take its toll on our own physical, mental, and emotional health. Thus, we need to take care of ourselves in the midst of caring for others.

We know we need to do this work of self-care, but there are barriers during this time that hinder our ability to do so. We have all experienced a disruption in the regular patterns of our lives and are living in a world that is unpredictable. We have had to pivot quickly to a new way of doing things that may be less familiar and which takes more energy. All of this and more have kept us busy for the last few months, perhaps too busy to think about taking care of ourselves. Think of this as a time for masks, not just the cloth ones we wear outside, but also the oxygen masks that we would put on in times of emergency on a flight. I know most of us have not heard the flight attendant’s speech lately, but it is a good metaphor for this time of putting on our own mask first, so that we can help others thrive.

Some may feel guilty for taking time for yourself when the need is so great. However, Jesus knew the value of time away from the demands of ministry. There were many times when he took time away from the crowds and disciples to spend time with God and to rest. Quaker educator, Parker Palmer, writes of self-care in Let Your Life Speak.

“Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

I have three suggestions for tending to your self-care. The first is to remember that relationships, not programming, are most important. Second, Sabbath is critical, but may be different during this time. Finally, paying attention to the senses and what brings us joy can be a way of building in self-care throughout our days. Let’s briefly look at each of these.

Relationships– I think of James Fowler, the scholar who looked at faith development. In defining faith as relational, he drew a triangle with interconnecting points of self, others, and God.[1] Faith holds these things in tension, and we need to attend to all three relationships. Think about building into your daily routine times where you attend to each of these relationships. What can you learn about yourself today? Who will you reach out to among your friends, neighbors, and relatives? Where can you go within your limited space to feel close to God? How are all these relationships intertwined in your life?

Sabbath– Times have changed during this disruption in my daily routine. Often, I forget what day it is because most days look like the day before. Some of my places of sabbath are off limits now, as they are not open or involve too many people in a confined space.

There are new questions for us to address during this time. How can we schedule time in our new daily routines for Sabbath? Can we take a cyber Sabbath after particularly long online conferencing meetings? Can we build in a walk around the neighborhood when we’ve been sitting in front of the computer for too many hours? Can we say no to unexpected demands when they intrude on the time we have set aside for self-care? Sabbath will look different for each of us, but thinking of it as a spiritual practice that God began in the work of creation should help us to claim our Sabbath.

Multi-sensory– We usually think about engaging the senses in designing educational programs for children, but we often forget about the power of the senses for our own lives. I encourage you to consider what sights, sounds, smells, and tastes are most comforting in this time. As I write this, my window is open because my gardenias are in bloom. I can smell them as I type and hear the birds singing.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention touch above, because it is probably the most challenging of the senses to engage in this time. We’re washing our hands and not touching our faces, not hugging those outside of the family . . . So, think particularly of what you can touch, perhaps an instrument that you haven’t played in a while, or a hand craft that you’ve always wanted to, or the soil of your garden as you plant new things. Each of these hands-on activities bring signs of hope in a time when we desperately need to find practices that are life giving. May God walk with you as you discern what will sustain you during this time and beyond.

[1] James W. Fowler, Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and The Quest for Meaning (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1981), 17.

Author Image

Dr. Kathy L. Dawson

is a certified educator and pastor in the PC(USA). She currently serves as the Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary.