On Sacrifice and Self-Care

I collapsed into my bed and plugged my phone in. There were no blankets to snuggle into – it was too hot. So I laid there, my face against the cool pillow, and stared at the wall.

Things were not going well.

I had worked from the time I had gotten out of bed until just before I had turned in for the night. It wasn’t an abnormally busy day – it was the same as the others. There is so much to do in the leading of a church. I can’t say that the pace was draining me that day, or that anything out of the ordinary had happened. But things were not going well. I felt it, not in the thrum of the organization, but in my own spirit.

The church was doing fine. I was not.

I wanted to lead with excellence, to see this church grow and thrive. But I was losing myself in the middle of it. When was the last time I had worked out? When was the last time I had cooked myself a meal instead of grabbing whatever was in the refrigerator? When was the last time I had put thought into my appearance, dressing in a way I was proud of?

I suppose I could have been proud of myself that ministry was going well. Leaders were being empowered, some needed improvements were coming along, and the leadership team was in health. Our team had spent months jumping through administrative hoops and sharpening our systems, and things were beginning to click along. But I was not proud of myself. I was sacrificing myself for the church.

Jesus did not ask me to do that.

As I lay in bed that night, I knew this couldn’t continue. My weight was increasing, my home was in disarray, and I had stopped paying attention to some personal administrative details. I remember praying and feeling almost sad that any part of me would still think my Father wanted a level of performance out of me that would require the sacrifice of my body, my home.

The change, I knew, would not be as simple as delegating a task to a team member or developing a plan on paper. The change would happen in the minutiae of my day. Coming back to health would require not an organizational scheme, but a very simple habit of self-care. What I needed was a resurrection of the ordinary – a return to the discipline of the boring, day-in and day-out tasks that were vital to my longevity in the ministry.

I am happy to say that night was a turning point for me. There are intentional things I have put into my day to force this self-care that might seem frivolous to someone else – taking my dog on a longer walk than normal, fixing my hair before I leave the house, cooking myself a fresh dinner – these things are more to me than the task themselves. They are a reminder that, more than Jesus wants my service, He loves me and wants me healthy. He wants me to build time into my day for reflection so that I have space to hear Him.

What is it in your life you have begun neglecting for the sake of the ministry? Is it your physical health? Your time in the Word? Perhaps it’s quality time with friends or your children – and your lack of self-care in that area is slowly hurting your relationships. Whatever it is, as in everything, there is no condemnation. Just a gentle beckoning back to health, back to life.

What areas in your life have been sacrificed for your ministry? What is one habit or change you can make to improve your daily routine? What are some areas of self-care you are doing well in?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

15 Comments

  1. Michelle Sessoms October 7, 2018

    “A resurrection of the ordinary.” I love that! And I loved how you gave specific examples of what you meant by that form of “self-care” instead of waxing poetic about it conceptually as many people do. Because that kind of thing I can do. Cooking an actual fresh cooked meal at least once a week, for a start. Because this 7 AM to 10 PM daily grind in the name of ministry- as valid and as important as it might be- is for the birds. Thanks for your words, Kelly.

    1. Kelly Delp October 8, 2018

      Yes! There’s so much pressure to be productive – and we do need to work hard! But we have to find a balance between working hard and still taking good care of ourselves.

  2. Elizabeth October 7, 2018

    I really related to this post. It is hard for me to remember to do the things that will help me thrive in the long run! They feel selfish sometimes. Even though I know they’re not! Even though I encourage others to take care of themselves too. I just don’t always practice what I preach, you know??

    At the same time, I am realizing that if I DON’T take care of this temple, it’s not going to help me serve others. I will be in more pain and discomfort (my body is where I store all my stress) and distracted or simply physically unable to do what I need to do. So I’m trying to really intentionally care for my body. I am pretty good at caring for my soul but I let my body slip through the cracks. Even though I know they are related! It’s just that too often, I forget that.

    1. Kelly Delp October 8, 2018

      Yeah! I have recently started meeting regularly with a few young ’emerging leaders’ from our congregation and in our first meeting I encouraged them to find a creative outlet that brings them joy – we can get so sunk into ministry that we lose sight of the gifts God has given us to let us enjoy life!

  3. Hannah M October 8, 2018

    This was me earlier this year. My new husband and I have been on the field separately for several years, but this was our first year married. New husband, new country, new language, managing a team, hosting short term teams…. And we sacrificed our marriage for the sake of ministry. We stopped talking because we just didn’t have the time or energy. I stopped making the bed, which is the smallest of tasks that keeps me sane. We stopped engaging with our long-term team. I was faced with crippling anxiety. We were confronted with the idea of leaving the field, which increased my anxiety. Eventually, our leadership worked with us to pit together an action plan. We were given a mandatory early curfew for two weeks to start rebuilding our marriage, we were given permission to have the final say in the short term ministry plans, and I was released from involvement in ministry for two weeks so I could go back to my first love. I am so grateful for my husband and our leadership for recognising that we had to take care of ourselves to be able to truly serve others well. We needed a few weeks to seriously recalibrate and take care of ourselves, and it has resulted in an increase in our capacity!

    1. Michele October 8, 2018

      So encouraging to hear of a leadership team that takes ‘member care’ so seriously! Mi

    2. Kelly Delp October 8, 2018

      Wow! Thank goodness for leaders who help us care for ourselves! I am single, but I have thought about the fact that my pace would be totally unsustainable if I threw a marriage into the mix! Praying for you & yours as you guys walk this path together!

  4. Michele October 8, 2018

    This is so good… It’s often not till relationships are falling apart or depression sets in that we recognize we are not caring for ourselves. Or we just focus on whether we are neglecting ‘spiritual disciplines’ like time in the Word and prayer. I love the idea of just paying attention to ordinary self-care. It seems like stopping to recognize when we’ve stopped exercising or making the bed would head off deeper problems or burn-out down the road! I am looking back over years in cross-cultural life/ministry and I can see that I slid into seasons of dryness or over-busyness when I stopped paying attention to things like that. It seems sort of obvious now, but your post just opened my eyes to it in a new way and I want to use this as part of self-evaluation and helping friends and ‘mentorees’ to check themselves.

    1. Kelly Delp October 8, 2018

      It seems a little silly in a way but something as simple as making sure I’m putting lotion on my hands is important! I can get so busy that I don’t ‘check in’ with my body to see what it needs. It’s so true that letting the simple things fall can lead to much bigger issues – I’m so thankful for the correction of the Holy Spirit at the early stages!

      1. Elizabeth October 8, 2018

        The need to “check in with my body” — I am bad at that! Trying to get better at it. Borrowing a time I heard from a dancer lately: “Be nice to your body.” We don’t think about the fact that we can in a way abuse our bodies — be unkind to them — even if we don’t use drugs or alcohol. I’m trying to remember to check in too!

  5. Shanti October 8, 2018

    Ooh this post was really what I need I needed to hear. The past ten months have been crazy busy trying to balance life on the field with being a mum and wife . I don’t know whether I am coming and going. I was passing a park the other day and it struck me how much beauty is around me and many opportunities to go out with the kids just to breathe some fresh air but it seems we never have time for it. I think one step in self care for me would be having an afternoon where we go out and play and enjoy the nature around us.
    Thank you so much.

  6. Shelly October 10, 2018

    I don’t think I can say that I am busy in the traditional use of the word, but I am unsettled as I learn how to be in a different set of circumstances than I had been in a few months ago. I’m on a fairly steep learning curve, not so much about how to do life with dad, but that there is an uncertainty about it. I had figured out how to deal with the ambiguities of life in my host country. Medical ambiguities are a different matter. In the midst of this there is some routine to this life with my dad. It’s just not my routine. There’s the rub. And it keeps rubbing though I try on different routines hoping to minimize the friction between our respective routines. I’m not exercising my body or feeding it the way I’d like to because I have taken on my dad’s schedule thinking that’s what I should do as a care giver. In my head I know that’s not healthy, so this post is another reminder among several others recently.

  7. Anna October 14, 2018

    I struggled with the meaning of self-care for years while I was in ministry, single. Creating margin, boundaries, and occasionally cooking that one meal per week someone mentioned. I got married a few months ago and we returned to the same ministry both me and my husband worked in for a few years as singles. And all of a sudden, cooking meals for us every day and organizing my home is a totally accepted and expected thing, whereas before it was considered the luxury of self-care.Granted, it’s just the beginning of this ministry season and we don’t have a leadership role on the team and we have talked a lot about being careful not to ruin our marriage in this first year,and I don’t have little ones yet either, so maybe all those are helping for a good healthy self-care rhythm. But for me it’s such a change in mentality that is a little frustrating. Why isn’t making a meal and doing your laundry and taking a “bubble bath” or doing your nails an acceptable thing when you’re 30 and single and burning out fast? Is it the expectations of the ministry or my own expectations? Or both? I know this will be an on going conversation, thanks for bringing it up again here.

    1. Kelly Delp October 14, 2018

      Ah I found this comment so interesting that I read it to one of my (single) colleagues on our way back from church today. This is so true!

  8. Laura Jane October 14, 2018

    I’m also grateful for this post– thank you for your honesty and vulnerability in it. It resonates with where I’m at right now, too. I sat down this week over Skype with my parents and cried over how powerless I felt in the face of all the pressures of a picking-up of the pace in ministry and trying to pursue taking care of my thyroid and growing back pain in a underdeveloped country. When you’re single, young and know the language… let’s just say that I praise God that I have a team who understands the need for rest– and even then I find myself needing to push for my margins sometimes (I think it’s more because of my personality than theirs though). Anyway, all this to say, I hear you, resonate with you, and needed to hear this today. Thank you!

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