SELF CARE FOR COMPASSIONATE CHRISTIANS
It is very common for compassionate Christians to experience burnout. We know, however, that to be effective, having some down time to replenish our batteries is vital. How many of us actually make sure we are in good form to serve the people we serve? Remember the analogy of being asked to put your own life jacket on if there is an emergency whilst on a plane?
Here are some things to consider:
Am I working from rest?
God calls us to be fruitful and though he did create us to work, he also created for us what the Bible terms a “sabbath rest”. I believe this is all about being replenished so that we can work from a place of resting in Jesus. Jesus said “Abide in me and I in you and you will bear much fruit” (John 15:5). Abiding gives me the idea of being in complete togetherness.
Whilst I do not believe we should be legalistic about sabbath rest, there are clear principles in Scripture about taking a day to recharge, to focus on Jesus, and be in His refreshing presence. That might mean worshipping him, being alone, reading or reflecting on what he has done for us. It might equally mean just doing something different. There is something to be said in our highly device orientated world for spending some time away from devices and from the demands of our daily life. That is not selfishness: it is setting healthy boundaries.
"...there are clear principles in Scripture about taking a day to recharge, to focus on Jesus, and be in His refreshing presence. That might mean worshipping him, being alone, reading or reflecting on what he has done for us."
Am I aware of my trigger points?
If we consider the neurobiology of trauma we will know how important it is to be calm, regulated and in a “just right” state to face the challenges ahead. Learning about what can trigger our own dysregulation is healthy. Try to sense what your body is doing and the tell-tale signs of stress or dysregulation. You might notice that this can be evidenced by an increase in heart rate, extra sweating, feeling sleepy, neck and shoulder pain or pain in the stomach, for example. We have all learnt to push past some of these things, but sometimes we need to listen to what is going on.
What makes you go into high alert? What makes you become sluggish and unable to rouse yourself into action? Perhaps you need something simple like some food or a glass of water, or maybe another coffee (or not!), or to engage in some high impact exercise. You may also need something more drastic like a break from work. Also, at times like this we should ask what is the Holy Spirit trying to say to us? We often say that the Holy Spirit speaks through the still small voice, but he also speaks through our bodies!
Our triggers push us outside of our window of tolerance. What do I mean by a window of tolerance? This is the “optimal window” where we feel most able to function effectively. It is to do with our ability to remain regulated and how roused we are. Some people have a very narrow window, and others have a larger window and can tolerate vast amounts of pressure. (Although in my experience appearances can be misleading - a person who seems to be able to tolerate a lot of pressure, may not actually be able to so. Don’t forget pressure is cumulative and when under pressure in a challenging situation the gasket can easily blow). Since we are working with people who may have heightened levels of emotional arousal, then the likelihood of being pushed outside our window of tolerance is higher.
Am I aware of my default style of relating to others?
Our default pattern consists of a set of attitudes, (sub-conscious) strategies, and behaviours that we resort to and that emerge when under pressure. They are actually related to our attachment needs. If we were brought up by parents who were sensitive to rejection then we may have a natural tendency to need to please everyone, not always appreciating the need to feed our inner selves. If we have been brought up in a family where people are not able to express their own needs, we may be prone to cover up our needs. It’s great to want to serve and we are called to lay down our lives for others, but exercising healthy boundaries is essential. If we were brought up in a highly charged and unpredictable household then we may have insecurities about
how our needs will be met. We may display behaviours that draw others in and mislead them of our intentions. Our own vulnerabilities in looking for a secure base may lead to unhealthy choice of relationships. This will probably impact how we respond to a trauma experienced person.
The type of nurturing care that we have had in our own family will impact the way we nurture others. None of us have had the perfect upbringing and whatever experiences we have had will impact the way we empathise with trauma experienced people. Perfection however does not equal resilience and sometimes those who have had the rockiest journeys can be most effective in supporting resilience in others.
If you are finding yourself becoming irritated with a person who engages with your ministry then it is important to ask yourself what is being triggered here? Is there someone that he or she reminds me of? It may be simply a case of talking your irritations through with the leader of the group and increasing your prayers for this young person, or perhaps seeking some professional help to work through what is going on.
Being a healthy team
Working in a team means that we can share the load and when one person is struggling others can be there to support. There is no shame in admitting that we need support. Have you noticed that Christians are often quite bad at providing one another with an opportunity to be vulnerable? Churches and Christian leadership can have very high expectations and if this is the case there is a danger of compassion fatigue. I notice how people who were brought up in the church can be almost too self-sacrificial at the expense of their and personal life, mental health and family.
"There is no shame in admitting that we need support."
The bible says clearly “love your neighbour as yourself”. This means
that we do need to love ourselves. Think about what loving yourself
really looks like? Make time to journal, go and enjoy a movie or
spend time with good friends. It is said that we become like the sum
of the 5 people we are closest to. It is worth looking at what the 5
people closest to us are like. If we tend to hang out with people who
are always procedural and not at all nurturing, then we may not
have enough balance in our connections.
5 TOP TIPS:
Take time to reflect on what scenarios cause us to become more stressed or dysregulated.
What makes you go into high alert? What makes you become sluggish and unable to rouse yourself into action?
Choose a Psalm such as Psalm 23 to meditate on. Picturing the beautiful fields, streams and a spread of tasty food is helpful!
If you are in leadership, put in place some safety guidelines and support networks with built in times of check in (ideally have individual check ins with each team member).
Don’t shy away from having professional help to explore and work through your own past trauma. It will undoubtedly shape you into a more effective and compassionate, trauma informed support to those around you.
By Ruth Stephens | 4th September 2021