In the wake of the presidential inauguration, with the tsunami of executive orders that immediately followed, I have watched as my friends on social media have retreated. One by one, they’ve announced they are taking a break. They need to rest. Their souls must retreat.
Of course, as these posts appeared on Facebook, that pesky comment box beckons for a response. Some comments are blessings for renewal. Some offer courage and solidarity. Others admit that they’re feeling the same pull and then… then there’s that person who insists upon engagement. Full of finger wagging shame, this person curses the rest that even God requires.
After all of the chaos of creation, God retreats. God takes a break. God declares sabbath rest and there is no one around to advise the divine that there is still work to be done.
Adam and Eve may have felt the weight of the world upon their shoulders having just been told to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28, NRSV). But, God does not seem worried. God sees everything created and believes that it is all so very good.
God still holds that conviction about you and me and this whole creation, but you might not be so sure. You might find yourself constantly refreshing your newsfeed, pushing through the busy dial tone at your legislator’s office and even gearing up for another protest this weekend. There is work to be done because there is so much that is not very good. It is this burden of responsibility that has made self-care such a mantra in clergy circles. Still, just as there are finger wagging posts on Facebook, there are those in the clergy who believe that self-care is selfish.
Lillian Daniel explains in Christianity Today, “It seems that at every ordination or installation service I attend there is a charge given about clergy self-care. One minister stands up and tells another minister that they know they are about to work themselves to death, so resist the temptation. ‘Take your day off…set boundaries…don’t try to be all things to all people.’ All this is done in front of an audience of lay people who are supposed to be impressed that we clergy would need such a lecture. It has become a cliché, and seems to have trumped prophecy, theology and the love of Jesus.”
As cliché as it may or may not have been in clergy circles, it’s what lay people are talking about all the time now. It’s advice given in Slate and the Huffington Post. The New York Times is even recommending that this is the moment for a self-care vacation.
The repetition means something. It is not selfish nor does it mean that the prophetic love of Jesus takes a break. But, instead, there is good news in remembering among lay people and clergy alike that we are only human.
We might aspire to the ways of God. We might try to see goodness in everyone and everything, but even God needed to rest after all that God had created. Just as Adam and Eve were trusted to continue every good work, we have to trust that God will be fruitful and multiply too.
This is good news for tired people. My spiritual director reminded me of this and her words are worth repeating: “Rest, renew. Keep a Sabbath hour/day free of the deluge of news and social media. You do not have to do all the things. Repeat after me: ‘I do not have to do all the things.’ You get to fall apart, to weep tears of sorrow, to escape into Netflix, or whatever it is you do. And then, you can reemerge, even reluctantly, to take up the work and let someone else rest.”
Self-care is not just for clergy, but it is good news for us all.
The Rev. Elsa Anders Cook is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who has served churches in New York City, Maine, Washington and Pennsylvania. Follow along in her adventures in ministry and writing at http://cookingwithelsa.org. You can also find her on Facebook at /elsaanderscook.