I am what you would call a workaholic, one of those who feels guilty if there are unproductive moments in my day. People close to me have always encouraged me to engage in meaningful self-care before I burn out or, worse, make an early departure from this terrestrial abode. When I think about it, it is really a blind spot in my life-it is sad when a minister does not take the notion of Sabbath seriously.
I’m not speaking about the Sabbath in terms of worship, but in terms of rest. In scripture, we are told to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Many only interpret this as a call to maintain the holiness of worship as a religious ritual or observance, but if Sabbath also means rest, there is the simultaneous call to maintain the sanctity of rest.
You would be surprised at the number of my colleagues in ministry who do not honor Sabbath rest. Some of us are so driven by a desire to honor and please God that we often engage in destructive self-neglect. We are so consumed with working for God that we often overlook Godly work; and taking care of one’s self is truly Godly work. There are numerous stories of clergy who have died or suffer from poor health because of pushing themselves to the limit. The fact of the matter is that the battlefield of stress is littered with many casualties of war-persons who have worked themselves to death.
On Tuesday of this week, in an effort to engage in self-care, I reluctantly went for a therapeutic massage. I say reluctantly because, in my mind, being the workaholic that I am, I thought there were better ways I could have spent this hour. It became evident that this time of rest was needed when, seven minutes into the treatment, I fell asleep. It was the kind of sleep that so suddenly overtakes your body that you are not even cognizant of falling asleep. It was beautiful, and it was just what I needed.
I woke up from my massage-induced slumber to some shocking news. Apparently, while I was sleeping, the New York metropolitan area and several other areas along the East Coast felt the tremors from a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. I was taken aback because I slept right through it-I missed it completely.
When I left the facility and went outside, it appeared that life was continuing on as normal. Although the earthquake had temporarily discombobulated the day, when it was over, people got back to doing what they were doing before the tremors were felt. As for me, I learned two valuable lessons.
First, I learned that it is possible to find rest even in the midst of a crisis. There are times in life when we are so overwhelmed by the immediacy and urgency of challenging circumstances that we neglect creating and maintaining a self-care regiment. It is easy to be so goal-driven or task-driven that we disregard engaging in activities that promote health and wellness. We move from issue to issue, crisis to crisis and rarely pause long enough to enjoy the life we have been given.
Second, I learned that the world seemed to survive during my hour of rest. Amazing! The world seemed to manage quite well without my activity.
Years ago, while serving as a minister at Duke University, a colleague of mine said something to me that was quite profound. Ted, my colleague, noticed that I had been working very hard and was making little time for self-care. Ted stopped me in the hallway one day and said, “Michael, make sure that you leave some good undone every day. Tomorrow will always have some work for you to do.”
Ted was right. I can’t do everything every day, but what I can do is always make time to take care of myself. It took me a while, but I finally got what Ted was trying to teach me-and I learned it while sleeping through an earthquake.