I have a thing about my batteries getting too low, and I don’t just mean on my smartphone or tablet.
It has not been lost on me that I’m moving from one profession who, by and large, takes care of themselves poorly, to another profession who takes care of themselves poorly. Physicians historically are at risk for eating poorly, sleeping poorly, ignoring and denying symptoms, or resorting to self-treatment, including self-medication with alcohol and prescription and illegal drugs. Clergy have higher risks of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Both professions have a significant risk of burnout. A great deal of attention is made at clergy conferences and diocesan events about self-care; but the fact remains clergy don’t take care of themselves nearly as well as they should.
From the very beginning of my process, I have promised myself to do better this time around. In so many ways, this is my do-over. One of the things I do pay close attention to is my “battery level.” I am very much an introvert, although, as I like to say, “I play an extrovert on TV.” Put me in a crowd, where I have to be extroverted to do my job, and I literally feel the batteries drain. There is a place where it is clear to me I’m “red-lining.” When I’m red-lining, I am prone to be crabby, snap at people, and feel profound despair. Needless to say, these are not useful pastoral characteristics.
I am still not doing everything as right as I’d like. For one thing, the flat unvarnished truth is, “My schedule is my schedule.” Until May, my life is CPE the first part of the week, doing the bulk of my seminary schoolwork the middle of the week, and being a pathologist the end of the week. That only leaves Saturdays for me and Sundays for God…and a lot of my Saturdays get clogged with errands and the occasional diocesan meeting in St. Louis, 3.5 hours away. The trip to St. Joseph is 2 hours and 45 minutes one way if I don’t have to stop for gas, and almost 3 hours if I do. When I had to drive back in a winter storm a few weeks ago, it took 5 hours.
The good news is the car rides give me unfettered prayer time. The bad news is I am almost at the halfway point in my CPE process and I’m starting to feel the grueling-ness of this constant motion in my triple part-time life. There’s little room for error–keeping all the assignments straight, working in my activities in the life of the church, working my “day job.” I have been SO grateful I have not gotten sick yet this winter. I pray I don’t have any family emergencies. Some days it seems to be hanging by a thread.
Five years ago, I could not have handled this. I think the pressure would have exploded me.
I am handling it, I believe, because I’m at least doing SOME things right in self-care. I pay attention to my “batteries.” I cook real food for myself, which cheers me, and allows me to eat in a more healthy way. My winter indoor garden really has helped chase away the blues of winter. Oh, sure, I can be prone to anxiety and despair now and then (I’ll have more to say about that at a later date), yet I do confess I’m starting to get to the place where I’ll be awaiting spring. Hebrews 11:1-3 hangs in my head: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
There’s no doubt–I’ve had anxious days. Anxiety can grip me in a way that can nearly paralyze me. But the good news is it doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to. I think that might be my own faith growing!