(post written by Rev. Andrew C.D.Haire)
During my first few months or so in ministry, I allowed myself to be consumed by the needs of other people. Before long it became clear that my family was suffering for it. The main sign was the tension that developed between my wife and I. At times, it was so thick that it could be cut with a knife. In addition, one day I realized that I had not seen my daughter in four days because I left the house before she woke up and returned after she was asleep. I had to learn, and I am still learning, how important it is to manage my time and make time for my family. This is what is often referred to as “self-care”.
As a person in the ministry, we are stretched for time. Between phone calls, e-mails, sermon prep, hospital visitation, board meetings, bulletin preparation, counseling, etc., it is often hard to find time to complete all the tasks that we are facing. More often than not, our lives are devoured by the needs of other people and the tasks that are not completely urgent, while our selves and our families are neglected and placed on the back burner.
One of the simplest solutions is often the hardest thing to say – NO. There is something about saying no that seems it should not be in a pastor’s vocabulary. It is important though to be able to say no when things are not absolutely pressing. If it is 3 o’clock in the morning and someone has had a car wreck and you are needed at the hospital, that is completely understandable – you should be present. However, if it is your day off and you are trying to spend time with family and someone is having an ingrown toenail removed, it is okay to say no to being present. I know this sounds ridiculous, however some people will be tremendously upset. It is important to know that is ok. Part of our jobs as pastors is to grow our people in maturity. It is important that we as pastors have confidence in our staff and elders of the church so that we may delegate certain tasks they are capable to complete. This helps the pastor but also helps others to gain experience in ministry.
Another thing that has helped me is to schedule time in my calendar for family time and time for myself. This works well, however I have to force myself to stick to it. If someone calls wanting to schedule a non-urgent meeting during the time you have “self-care” scheduled, you can simply respond by telling them that time is unavailable. There’s no need to elaborate on why it is unavailable. This will help ensure that you take time to care for those most dear to you: yourself and your family. If you do not practice self-care, you will eventually be drawing from an empty well and making withdrawals from your emotional/spiritual bank account that will cause you to “overdraw”.
Also, I have found it helpful to come home early when I am caught up on my work and there are no pressing issues that must have my attention. This unexpected time off also helps compensate for those unexpected calls out.
I think the most important thing in the whole issue is communication. Being able to have an open line of communication with your spouse will allow your spouse to know when “duty calls”, but it will also help you know when there are important needs at home that are not being met.
This is not something that will be solved overnight. It will take discipline, prayer, and proper communication between you and your family. Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up – it can be done.