Self-Care During This Pandemic Time
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)
In this passage from Luke, there is a subtle but important message hidden in Jesus’ instructions: an invisible boundary between home and work. For most of us, we “go” to work, and this provides a natural and healthy separation between our “job” and our home. But what happens when this natural boundary disappears, even for a short time? Suddenly, it is not so easy to maintain the healthy separation of work and family. For clergy, active laity, and Christian disciples in formation, this can mean that our work takes over our lives. Natural, healthy times apart from family members fade away and we are with one another “all the time,” which creates tensions and further blurs boundaries. One might think sequestering and separating would be restful, a time with less demands and pressures, but this is not always the case.
In these times of physical distancing and increased “homework,” it is more important than ever that we establish and clarify healthy boundaries. No one else will do it for us, and they simply are not natural to modern human beings. I want to suggest some simple “rules” for self-care during this pandemic time, based on some core principles of monastic living learned and observed throughout the centuries. Of course, these are adapted for our reality – there is nothing in Benedict’s Rule of Life that says “turn off your cell phone,” but I am confident that Benedict would have included it if he knew about them.
First, order your day. Set specific time limits for the work you will do and stick to them. If you are in a leadership position, share them. This will help set clear boundaries about when you are “at work” and available, and when you are not. Include in your order time to work, time to exercise, time to relax and rest, time to be with others (safely).
Second, set priorities. Make sure what you are doing is most important. Identify any and all non-essential tasks and reduce or eliminate the time you give to them. This is especially important concerning email, screen-time, and those things that can eat time without producing good results. If you don’t set priorities, less important work will take time from most important work. If the most important is left until last, it will be impossible to stick to your set boundaries.
Third, Sabbath and Cloister. Make sure you have alone time AND time to focus on God in prayer, scripture reading, and building your relationship with God. My assistant, Dan Dick, asks a question of clergy, “How deep is the well from which you draw?” This is a reminder that we need to be replenished; we simply cannot give and give and give or we will end up dry, desolate, and discouraged. We need to establish time each week – each day, if possible – to withdraw and renew. This means time with the computer off, the phone silenced, no media feeding us information and misinformation, but some quiet time. Our time together with family and friends will be enriched by taking some time away.
Fourth, do some physical work, play, or exercise. Monks and nuns engaged in daily service to the order, gardening, cleaning, washing, cooking, and it became common practice initially and especially among the nuns to do calisthenics and regular exercise. Body, mind, and spirit are closely tied, and attending to the body paves the way for both mental and spiritual clarity.
Fifth, stay connected and ask for help. One of the blessings of monastic life was the assurance that you were never alone and that there was always someone to rely on. We have technology that allows us to connect when we need to. Streaming and recording mean that we can provide sermons, music, prayers, etc. in both real time and essentially any time we want. For pastors and worship leaders, perhaps it is best to record your service in advance so that on Sunday you might “tune in” somewhere else and truly worship yourself.
Sixth, make the most of the time you have been given. It is easy to lose track of “chronos” time, making it hard to remember the day, week, month, or hour. This can actually be a gift. Be present in each moment, and look for blessing, gift, and benefit.
One last word specifically to our clergy leaders concerning time away. In monasticism, it is expected and required that the abbot (the head of the monastery) take time off for study, renewal, or prayer – no matter what is happening in the world. I would like to make an appeal to our clergy, and to all the laity who support them, to make sure our caring goes two ways. Our pastors are going to great lengths to make sure our congregants are cared for through this pandemic; please make sure that we all take good care of our pastoral leaders. Make sure to take your days off. Make sure to take Sabbath. If possible, take some vacation time, or even a renewal leave or study leave. Rely on the gifted men, women, children and youth in our communities of faith to step up and lead worship, make care calls, and take care of business. It must be more than a simple truism that we are all in this together. How deep is the well from which you draw? By God’s abundant grace, don’t let it go dry in these challenging times.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung