Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray James Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There is nothing greater and, simultaneously, more draining than being in the midst of the squalls of grief that we encounter as clergy.
Recently, we had a few deaths in our congregation. I loved the people who passed away as I had gotten to know each one of them. Each death wasn’t sudden but, rather, an intense time of fading away for the dying and their families.
Being that pastoral care is probably in my top three to five passions for ministry, I try as much as I can to spend as much time as possible with the congregant ready to pass and their families. If I can and they are awake, I bring communion to them one last time. I’ll pray the “time of dying” litany in the Book of Worship with them and their kin. Each time I visit them during those last days, I see them moving farther and farther from our world, drifting closer to that side of heaven.
These are some of the most sacred moments I’ve ever experienced. God is visible as I watch their loved ones stroke their hands and kiss their heads a few final times. Quite often, it takes everything I have to hold back the tears that are ready to gush forward from my eyes.
As pastors, we want to be as invested as possible in the lives of our congregants. This means that the remaining hours in our day are weakened by our sapped souls.
Desks seem to pile up with papers and various other items. Writing slows down. Blog posts get place on the back burner. (Usually writing is a energy-generating activity. This particular season, I was even too tired to engage in writing.) Maybe I forget a detail or two – names, dates, etc. A steady stream of binge-watching Netflix becomes the norm because our minds are completely spent from our work. Naps become the new norm. Even though I’m an extrovert, I want more alone time to recharge.
Why am I so tired??? I would ask myself. But I knew I was giving everything I had to my calling and knew I was exactly where God needed me to be. I was giving life 100% of myself. The grace of God would have to cover the rest.
Like I said, I feel incredibly blessed to be present for others in the midst of life’s messy moments. But what I will overlook on occasion is that my self care needs to improve as I’m caring for other people.
As they say on the airplanes, place the oxygen mask on yourself before placing it on the person next to you. If we’re not breathing, we are no good to anyone else.
Overall, I think I do well with self care. And I know every great once-in-a-while, a rush of intense pastoral care comes into every pastor and every congregation’s life, and everything gets thrown off balance a bit. I am blessed to have the example of Jesus, who made sure to get away to pray and rest. But even with Jesus as model, it takes much for us to regain our spiritual equilibrium after spending our soul reserves quite quickly.
For those of you reading this who are not members of the clergy, at some point you will most likely become a caregiver. The same rules apply. Care for yourself as needed so that you can continue to care for your loved one. Make sure to place the metaphorical oxygen mask on your face before placing one upon the person or persons for which you care.
Through the grace of God, the love of Christ, the energy of the Holy Spirit… and some Netflix binge-watching… spirits will revive once again.