The Well-Tended Garden

Self-care has been weighing on my mind like a quick-ripening fruit recently. John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping and The Fringe Hours by Jessica Turner sit dog-eared nearby. Small pockets of peace wait around my home—a facial mask, some doodling pens, the Bible study I’m loving entirely too much to not be considered a nerd. Bits of beauty scattered throughout my space and schedule. I used to think the whole “me time” thing was for weenies with lame theology and weak wills. (Grace abounds, friends, even for this brand of self-righteousness.) The longer I’m in ministry, though, the more crucial tending my own heart feels to me.

I’m learning that self-care isn’t selfish. If I only have as much to give you as I have cultivated in me, that turns self-care into not a luxury but a responsibility, an investment, a holy purpose that reaches beyond my own needs. This isn’t a shallow lack of faith in the provision of God. It is wise stewardship of a precious resource we are meant to offer the world—ourselves. The Lord gives Himself in abundance. We can echo our Daddy’s rhythm, we can walk in those footsteps. The more we intentionally pour into ourselves, the more we can intentionally pour out to those around us.

I think this is especially hard for professional Christians. The sheer amount of need out there can be overwhelming. Who has time to color while the rest of the world burns?

We’ve got to put on our own oxygen masks before we pass out all over the other passengers trying to help them. Even Jesus regularly withdrew from the needs of the masses to get filled back up. Neglecting our inner well-being isn’t a mark of spiritual maturity—it’s foolish (and dangerous) pride. When we acknowledge that we have to be constantly replenished, we place ourselves in a stance of needy weakness, ready to receive from the Lord. We stop trying to be God and instead depend on Him.

Look for the red flags that show you’re running on empty. Remember how the coal miners used canaries to mark a lack of oxygen? Singing birds were great. Silence meant death was closing in. We have to know our “canaries” if we’re going to survive the difficult conditions of ministry life. Mine happen to be flexibility and emotional stability. When I notice that these markers are beginning to fail (i.e., I get controlling and fragile), I know I need some serious filling-up time pronto.

There are different aspects of self-care, and I’d love to share some practical ideas for each with you. Because we’re all uniquely wired, our own blends of what we need will differ. I love curling up with a good book by the fire pit; you may long for an early-morning hike or some time laughing loud with your girlfriends. No stripe of self-care is holier than any other.

Creative Self-Care

  • work on an art project you’ve been putting off
  • fill in a coloring book
  • doodle
  • work with play dough
  • write a song, short story, or poem
  • make a collage
  • put together a Pinterest board
  • refresh your favorite playlist

Physical Self-Care

  • lace up your shoes and go for a jog
  • apply a face mask
  • try out a stretching routine
  • sweat to your favorite workout
  • grab a hot washcloth and some eye mask cucumbers
  • exfoliate your hands with salt scrub
  • paint your nails
  • take a hot shower
  • enjoy a luxurious nap
  • have a snack
  • drink some water
  • have a personal dance party
  • practice deep breathing
  • go soak up some sunshine
  • do a paraffin dip

Social Self-Care

  • make a new friend and exchange contact info
  • chat over a cup of coffee
  • pray with someone
  • offer three really good compliments
  • start or join in on a board game
  • swap stories
  • share a treat
  • give a hug
  • find five things you have in common with a person you just met
  • ask someone for advice/help with a current issue

Spiritual Self-Care

  • write a letter to God about your heart right now: the good, the bad, and the ugly
  • create a playlist of your favorite praise/worship songs
  • get by yourself and have a personal worship session
  • spend time in prayer using Lectio Divina or the ACTS model
  • make a list of how God has provided for you
  • read a book that grows your soul
  • meditate on Scripture
  • journal through general prompts or a specific situation you’re facing right now
  • copy out a passage from the Bible
  • watch/listen to an online sermon
  • just sit in the presence of God without an agenda

Feel free to turn these lists into one big grand plan, or pick a few you’re drawn to and camp out there for a while. I’m hoping this summer becomes a glorious experiment for you: the season of self-cultivation. As your interior garden grows over the next few months, the autumn can bring about a harvest greater than any that’s come before it.

What are your canaries? How do you fill back up?

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