Before I went to theological college to train for the ministry, I worked in a Christian bookstore. My official role was to manage the music department. It was a fun job that allowed me to play the latest Christian music over the store’s sound system. This usually led to a tug-of-war between me and Hazel, the bookstore’s manager. Hazel liked the music soft; I liked the music loud.
In fairness to Hazel, she liked to be able to converse with customers without having to yell. I thought turning the bookstore into a dance floor would stimulate more music sales. Of course, the sales would be of good, wholesome, Jesus-honoring music! Hazel determined there was an acceptable music decibel level, and if I flew into the loudness “no fly zone,” she would assign me to the worst job of all—inventorying the books remaining on the shelves. It was a dull and tedious job and usually quelled my desire to be the store DJ for at least a few days.
On one grueling tour of book-counting duty I noticed a book titled, When I Relax I Feel Guilty. I remember thinking to myself, Who are these people that feel guilty when they relax? At that time, I certainly never felt guilty about relaxing, chilling out, or putting my feet up. However, my season was coming.
Running the Self-Care Red Light
After a decade of ministry and parenthood with so much to do, I also came to feel guilty when I relaxed. If I took a breather, my mind would quickly start ruminating over all the jobs I needed to do. It felt like “doing nothing” was poor stewardship of my time and that one day I would stand before God and have to explain why I rested when there was so much work to be done. You know, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” I had become a Christian workaholic. I was a devotee of to-dolists (and I still am). I was the ambassador of getting stuff done. No way was I going to stand before Jesus as a lazy person. Perhaps you can relate to Christian workaholism?
It was not until I commenced my graduate studies in marriage and family therapy that I was introduced to the concept of self-care. Until that point, “self-care” meant regularly going to the dentist, wearing clean underwear, and making sure I lathered up with sunscreen before going to the beach. Perhaps that is why, as a pastor, I ended up running a self-care “red light” and smashing into ministry burnout!
Sure, I was discipling people to follow Christ, but I eventually discovered I was not completely following Christ myself. Yes, I was a formidable Christian worker, but I was not an exemplary Christ follower. It makes me slightly uncomfortable to admit to that, especially as a ministry leader. What was I thinking? Well, I figured I could always rest when the work was done. That’s premium flawed thinking. The work is never done!
In John 21, Jesus’ disciples had temporarily returned to their profession of fishing. As fishing trips go, it was a bad one. They fished all night and caught nothing. Now, it’s one thing to work hard and come home with the tuna, but when you work hard and come away empty-handed, that wears on a person’s spirit. Fortunately, Jesus blessed the disciples with some divine guidance—“relocate your nets.” It produced a net full of fish. Large fish—153 of them to be exact. I love that somebody measured and counted. That’s what I would have done.
Then Jesus told his disciples to join him for breakfast. Wait a minute. Isn’t that irresponsible? I may have said, “Hey Jesus, you’ve blessed us with a bountiful catch of valuable seafood. Good stewardship demands that we get these fish to market while they’re fresh. Let’s catch up later and do lunch instead!”
Now, before you judge me, let me ask: How many times have you skipped a meal for the sake of ministry? How often have you skipped your personal time with Jesus because of ministry work? (Or am I the only one who has done that?)
Fortunately, the disciples all joined Jesus for breakfast. This gave Jesus the opportunity to do some deeper work with Simon Peter. It is likely that Simon Peter, having denied knowing Jesus three times, would have been feeling insecure as a follower of Jesus. Yet, Jesus masterfully brought healing to Simon Peter’s injured soul. In doing so, Jesus implored Peter to love his Savior by taking care of his Savior’s sheep.
Is it too big a leap to suggest that Peter was a sheep too? And that Christ included Peter as someone who needed care and feeding? Surely Jesus would not say, “Feed and take care of others, but starve and neglect yourself in the process.”
I still struggle to adequately care for myself. I still feel a little guilty when I relax. It’s especially hard because I love ministry work. However, I am getting better at feeding and caring for a sheep called Dr. Wes Beavis.
I have learned we are more effective as Christ followers when we tend to our needs for rest. I may be committed to the work of discipling others, but when all is said and done, I am just like you—a lamb that needs a shepherd who says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).