Self Care and General Conference
Working our way through this abbreviated season of appointment-making, pausing to participate in General Conference, and returning to the joys and struggles of two Annual Conference sessions, are the rhythms of our office and our Bishop during these months of April, May and June, 2012. Two Burning Questions have come my way over the last month, both of which relate well to these rhythms: “What do the Bishop and the members of his cabinet do to maintain their health during these very hectic days?” and “What difference does General Conference make for our little church out here in the ‘boonies?’”
Self-care is a critical issue for all clergy in the Michigan Area! As a group we have poor health, and, for the most part, it is because we exercise such poor self-care. And, if truth be told, that is about the only exercise that many of us get. We tell ourselves that our work is “necessary” and that our time is precious and we have no time to “waste” on exercise or even, in some cases, sleep. We rise early, work late, grab meals on the run and try to find left-over time to pray. I have read pastor’s self-evaluations that tell how the only books being read are the ones which provide sermon fodder; even Scripture reading for many of us is limited to what we will be preaching on this week. You may be looking at your own disciplined life and thinking that I am way off the mark, but health insurance companies support the truth of what I’m saying. It is something that, as human beings and clergy living in Michigan, we are all struggling with, and the Bishop and Superintendents are no exceptions. But self-care begins with awareness and I can truthfully say that Bishop Keaton and both conference appointive cabinets have talked about self-care issues in recent weeks. They are trying to help one another be in healthier places even as they face their unique job challenges. Three things seem to have surfaced from these conversations that might be good examples for those of us who need a little encouragement: rest, exercise, family time, to which I would add a fourth: devotional time.
It will come as no surprise, to those who have been observant, that Bishop Keaton is a recovering workaholic who has struggled over the years with giving himself time to rest. He has worked late and risen early, and sometimes those opposing boundaries have come dangerously close to one another in the middle of the night. He is still working hard, but he is learning to give himself permission to rest when he needs it. He has learned that his body will tell him when he needs to take a break, and he is getting better at listening to his own internal guides. He will take a walk, he will step away from the desk or cabinet table to enjoy a 15 minute change-of-pace, and he will even close his eyes from time to time. As I have worked with him, having struggled with some of the same issues – though not to the same degree – I have begun to learn to rest as well. It has been life restoring. Short breaks, longer breaks, even vacations have all been times of rest that served as a Sabbath for my body and soul. I urge you to claim this gift for yourself.
So, too, the gift of regular exercise. Not many of our cabinet colleagues can match the exercise regimen of Laurie Haller, Grand Rapids District Superintendent, whose daily discipline of running has resulted in several completed marathons and triathlons. But we can all give ourselves permission to make daily exercise a priority in our daily schedule. Problem is: we promise ourselves that we will walk or lift or swim or run just as soon as our daily tasks are done. But did any superintendent or bishop or local church pastor ever go to bed at night with everything accomplished on their to-do list? Probably not. (If they did, their list may have been too short!) Instead, we need to move exercise up on our priority list. Because, when we exercise regularly, we feel better, we work better, we deal with people better, we all do our ministry better. So our investment of time and energy is truly a gift to those whom we serve as well as ourselves.
Family and friend time is time and energy we invest in bringing balance to our lives. We have discovered the “truth” that we need to spend time – quality time – with people who see us as something other than Bishop or Superintendent or even Pastor. Husband, wife, parent, child, friend – we need to spend time with others learning to be these things too. They can teach us and we can learn, but we have to be physically, emotionally and spiritually with them for this learning to happen. This means that these times will also need to be higher on our priority list. Cabinets are learning that when the phone rings in the middle of a family dinner or friend time they don’t have to answer it right then. Answer it, of course. But not necessarily in the middle of the meal! We are all trying to learn balance.
Finally, there is the whole matter of daily time with God. Each of us will develop this time for ourselves and our rhythm of life. But we forego this at our own peril. My own experience suggests that being in the local church helped me with this particular discipline. Cabinet and Episcopal rhythms are so different that it takes a particular commitment to keep this discipline as part of our daily routines. But there isn’t one of us who has not experienced the agony of Psalm 22 at some point in our journey.
All of which is to say that Bishop Keaton and the Superintendents have not yet reached perfection in this, but I can testify that they are going on to perfection. Praise the Lord!
As to your second burning question, what the General Conference does in the way of vision casting and their quadrennial adjusting of the Discipline could have a profound effect on the whole Church, including every local congregation, or it could have none. If the delegates spend all their time quarreling over the rules and trying to preserve some particular piece of the way things are done now, then there will be little to show for all that time and money expended in Tampa at the end of the month. But if they focus, first, on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and then on implementing legislation which helps us get to this “new” place, this General Conference could be the next step in a return to a vital, growing movement which truly does serve the kingdom. I’ll not speak to particular legislation, but I do want to make a case for everyone paying attention to what our delegates do to move us closer to our preferred future. Please keep them and the whole General Conference in your prayers – daily, if not hourly. I do believe that this is that important a time in the life of our denomination. Failure to act is truly failure, and we will feel its impact for generations to come.
Thank you for the opportunity to come into your life for a few moments, and to share my answers for your Burning Questions. I look forward to hearing from you soon, and I hope you’ll speak to me at Annual Conference if you get an opportunity. Till then – peace!