Self Care is as realistic and elusive as Rainbow Unicorns

Guest Post by DJ del Rosario

Recently, I went to a Ryan Adams concert with my wife. It was a great show. But during the very first song, Adams confessed that he tweaked his back and was in serious pain. Watching him throughout the two-hour plus concert, it was clear that he really was in great pain.  At one point, somebody in the audience offered him some pain relief but he turned it down, saying, “No thanks, I’m not going to drink anything but water, or even take pills. I don’t want anything to get in the way of giving you the best performance.”

Adams was in so much pain that in between songs he would have to stretch and adjust. He refused to sit because he said that he we deserved his very best.

After every song, he would also tune his guitar till it was perfect. I’m positive that the concert could have been finished 20 minutes sooner if not for all the times he tuned, retuned, and stretched his poor back. But Adams was solely focused on giving the very best performance. He had a thousand reasons to lose his focus. He had every opportunity to fail, but he chose not to.

I’ve been thinking about that concert and what it can teach me as a church leader. One of the most popular topics pastors talk about is self care. In seminary, we are taught to examine the elements of our home and professional lives in order to maintain a healthy balance. We speak often about protecting our calendars and making sure that we set clear boundaries.

It’s tempting to set these boundaries as an academic exercise and then conveniently forget that the people we serve also work full-time (often more than that) and then go immediately from work to the meetings that we often schedule.

To add insult to injury, too often we then ask these good church folk to invest these precious hours in a room talking about the business of the church. Not doing it, or discussing crucial things, but sitting in meetings talking about what the church should/might/could do.

The people I serve deserve my very best but I must confess that they don’t always get it.

Sometimes I arrogantly imagine that the Rev. in my title empowers me to the deepest theological thoughts, that planning done in advance outweighs valid perspectives found in the room, and that my time is more valuable because I could be at home with my family (forgetting the same is often true for them too).

It’s easy to get blinded when we become too focused on our preferences, needs, and struggles, without taking the moment to acknowledge the sacredness of those each person brings. Our temptation is to justify all of this by saying we are practicing self care. And sometimes we are. But on other occasions we are simply being selfish and not bringing our best.

What if we approached self care the way Ryan Adams did at the concert in Seattle? He had many, many other concerts to perform after this one night. Adams already had our money and our attention. He could have dialed it in. He didn’t.

Adams understood the incredible value of this moment and this time. He honored those who took time out of their schedules by bringing his very best. He was self-aware enough to know that he wasn’t doing any long-term permanent damage and put the audiences needs above his own.

In the midst of chaos, pain and struggle; Adams got even more focused on the task at hand. Are we capable of the same?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with self care. After all, if his back issues persisted, it would be foolish for Adams to continually ignore the pain night in and night out if there was some changes he could make. And at some point it would really hurt the music he is called to share. But our practice of self care, left unchecked, can also become a practice of narcissism that keeps us from bringing our very best.

Rainbow unicorns may not be real, but our calling to service is.

Image Credit: “ryan adams” by Laura Musselman via Flickr.

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