I’ve heard a number of stories recently of deacons experiencing burnout, or whose situation is very challenging and exhausting. The church’s pastoral care of deacons can be sadly lacking.
And it’s so easy for deacons to neglect themselves, especially when our work is demanding. Here are some practical and spiritual pointers for looking after our own needs as well as the needs of others. It’s from Roman Catholic site Deacon Digest (slightly edited)
DEACONS AND SELF-CARE: CARING FOR THE DEACON
Think for a moment about what your thoughts and prayers were as you discerned your call to be ordained a deacon. Chances are that your list of reasons was, and still is, topped by your love of the Lord and your love of God’s people. These loves led you to the self-giving choice of ordination to the diaconate. Now you are deeply involved in your ministry to the Lord, the Church, and to others.
Could you be neglecting someone who is in great need of your ministry, your attention, your care? Perhaps that question creates a bit of resistance, even resentment, within you. After all, you are committed to ministry to others. How could such care be missing?
While you might not neglect your ministry to others, it’s possible that in your mission to serve others, attention to yourself may be overlooked. Perhaps you’ve noted some symptoms: Been a bit grouchy lately? Less enthusiastic about your responsibilities? Weary? Slower to get out of bed in the morning? You might be in need of some TLC from yourself to yourself!
Where does evaluation of self-care begin? You might start by giving yourself permission to make you a top priority in your ministry. That is not selfish; it’s wise. In crisis situations around the world, those who step in to minister to others are admonished to attend to their own needs for nourishment and rest. That applies to other areas of ministry as well.
Have a look at the tasks and duties that generate your daily schedule. People who are faithful, willing, and reliable often have a way of accumulating more responsibilities than it is healthy to acquire. Do you find it easier to undertake a job yourself rather than invite another capable person to handle it? As tasks mount up, the challenge to your time and energy can become daunting. You suddenly feel like a day has only 12 hours. In discerning what is yours to handle and what might be well done by another, consider latent talents that might be called forth in others. Think of who needs to be involved in a deeper way in the community of your church. What you share can lighten your burden and bless another by yoking that person with you in ministry in a positive way.
If you find yourself reluctant to surrender some tasks, you might ask yourself if pride is at stake. Pride can creep into lives of dedicated people more easily than we imagine. Talk to pride. Confess it. Let it go. You will feel relieved and released.
Get physical! Energy spawns in activity. What’s your pleasure? Walking? Add a mile to your jaunt or get out for an extra trip to the park or around town each week. You’re a runner? Or used to be! Pick up the pace again. No time for that? Make time! Be a faithful caregiver for yourself. Others rely on you. Self-care is not an option. It’s a mandate for effective ministry.
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Another aspect of getting physical suggests rest and relaxation. Relaxing in a tub of warm water laced with sea salt and baking soda can aid in washing away the “worries and wearies” of the day. Add some inspiring music or recorded reflections and this time becomes prayer time. One deacon installed an oversized bathtub in his home as a place to bid the day goodbye in an atmosphere of peace and refreshment.
The duties of the diaconate often require time away from wife or husband and family. To spend more time together, include your other half and children in your “get physical” plan to provide a benefit for all. Get the bikes out, check the tyres, and find a bike trail to roll through the countryside. It doesn’t have to be at race speed. Just the breeze in your face, the movement and rhythm of bicycling is restorative.
You might not consider it a physical exercise, but a vibrant sense of humour does enliven a person. From a gentle smile to a hearty laugh at a witty remark, genuine humour creates energy and life within us. If laughter seems absent in day-to-day life, we may be taking ourselves too seriously. If we can laugh at our blunders, chuckle at our shortcomings, we will receive a generous portion of humility. That’s a wholesome ingredient for ministry.
Get spiritual! Henri Nouwen said that we must listen to the one who calls us the beloved. When God calls, listen! You are beloved! Go to the mountaintop or a quiet room in your home or a park down the road to listen to the One who loves you enough to call you beloved. You may not hear spoken words, but given space and peace and silence, you will hear a message spoken in your heart. I recall a car’s license plate that read “Listen.” As I looked at it at a stop light, it occurred to me that the letters in listen could be rearranged to say, “Silent.” It’s difficult to have one without the other.
The liturgical seasons of the Church offer a rhythm for our personal daily life as well. Ironically, the seasons of Advent and Lent, which are meant to be preparatory seasons of peaceful reflection and prayer, bring additional work for priests, deacons, music ministers, educators, and staff…and, yes, the laity as well. Preparing the Body of Christ for the special seasons of the year requires one who serves as a deacon to set boundaries.
Perhaps a day of reflection or a retreat time as the season begins will provide perspective on the days ahead and energy to proceed.
As you get spiritual, consider adding a different form of prayer to your day. To the Liturgy of the Hours, a quiet walk of praise and adoration in the garden or on a snowy morning, thanking God for the beauty of the earth can reconnect you with creation. Such a journey has the ability to reconnect your inner journey with your outer ministry.
Above all—PRAY! Prayer leads us to God. Prayer is the best way to foster care for ourselves and for others. Prayer enables us to act rather than react in life. Prayer keeps us flexible and humble, essential ingredients in ministry.