“Know your strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers.” Check.
“Get used to uncertainty and conflict.” Double check.
“Experiment beyond your comfort zone.” Um…really? If I already know it works…
“Take care of yourself.” Yikes. I’m probably going to have to have a hard conversation with myself.
About 15 months ago, I read these words under a heading called “Manage Self,” one of the 4 leadership competencies of the Kansas Leadership Center. I was beginning a year-long leadership program with 23 other faith leaders from across the state and we would be learning more about leadership, collaboration, and ourselves in this 12 month program. I even got to meet with a coach six times through the last half of the year. Her final words to me confirmed what I knew in my heart to be true: “You’ve got a lot of leadership abilities, but I’m worried about your ability to manage yourself. You’ve got to find some ways to care for yourself in the midst of the busyness of life.” Yeah…I’ve heard this before. I’ve said this before. But now was time to do something about it.
I have previously written about the dirty little secret of busyness…that sometimes it is a brilliant mask for laziness. I don’t really have to do the things that I don’t really want to do when I’m super busy. In my previous article, I remind myself (and readers) of the connection between physical exercise and spiritual exercise. As I’m disciplining my body, my spirit and mind are disciplined, too. This insight has been my primary breakthrough in taking care of myself. I’ve run a number of miles in the last year, lost 30 pounds, even ran a half-marathon. So…I’ve sorta got this whole “take care of yourself” thing figured out. Right? Wrong.
Despite the strides that I’ve made in taking care of my body in the last year, I’ve been reminded that discipline isn’t enough. For me to take care of myself, I have to be able to recognize what I need in order to be most effective, most productive, and most true to the gifts that God has given me. One of the things that I’ve come to recognize about myself is that despite my extraversion, I’ve got to spend some serious time in solitude. I need time to think, to write, to just be in silence with minimal distraction. Coffee shop sermon preparation never works for me. I talk to everyone. I also know that while I am good at getting things done in the last minute crunch, if I want to do my best work—the work that I’m most content with and feel like is true to God’s purposes in my life—I absolutely must have some time to simmer with ideas, try them out, and sometimes even talk about them with others. This work is not the work of the last hour. It is work that is nurtured, maturing, and ultimately, productive. And it’s not how I’ve been used to operating.
So, in an effort to manage myself by experimenting beyond my comfort zone and taking care of myself, I’ve decided that I’m going to have a recurring calendar event this year. On one particular day of the week, I’m going to schedule in a half to a full day for me work on all the projects that need my undivided attention: sermons, writing, program assessment, project development. And…the biggest breakthrough for me…I’m not going to work on them in the coffee shop, or even my office, as I am terribly vulnerable to distraction (I’m a serious people-person and extrovert!). I’m also not going to rely on the adrenaline rush of the imposing deadline to motivate me to get things done at all hours of the day and night. I’m going to own these things about myself and take care of the needs that I know that I have so that I might be able to be most effective, most productive, and most true to the gifts that God has given me. And…so that I might deal honestly with the things that challenge me in giving my best work.
Somewhere in the last decade of ministry, I’ve confused presence (which is a really significant thing in how I work out my theology) with effectiveness and relevance. Don’t get me wrong, being present, available, and open to others is essential in ministry. But in the same ways that I have hidden behind busyness, I’m afraid that I’ve hidden behind accessibility, finding my own relevance and value in how needed I am. The down side to this is that I’ve often felt like I’ve needed to be available at almost all times. If I’m not in my office or I don’t answer my phone when someone needs me, then what if they go to someone else for help? Oh wait. That would be a good thing.
Uh-oh…this whole “take care of yourself” thing has some really drastic implications. It might even mean that I am able to know how best to spend my time doing the things that only I can do and backing off so that others can do the things that they’re best qualified to do. For me it starts with making myself unavailable for a half/full day (of daylight hours—I’m putting in all the time and getting my “work” done—it’s just that it’s often “after hours” when I’m tired, stressed, and anxious) so that I might be more available when I’m with people. It means trying new things until I find a way of working that leaves me feeling like I still have something to give to others at the end of the day. And it means sticking with it, even when there are reallyreallyimportant things that pop up on my calendar that someone else needs me to do. Mostly what they need, and what I need, is for me to be faithful to God’s call in my life. And God’s call is for me to be healthy and ministering out of the overflow of my relationship with him, not simply getting stuff done in the final minutes.
This isn’t rocket science people. We all know that it all makes perfect sense. But this year…I’m really going to do it! For real this time. And I hope that you will, too.