I am writing from GMCN in Antalya, Turkey. I would be most encouraged if you find any of this helpful to pass it along to colleagues. Equally, I’d love feedback, whether a differing viewpoint or another thought or idea that is spurred in you. Thank you.
This is the fifth in a series of five themes on dynamics that facilitate ill health and ineffectiveness amongst global workers. Here is the original list and links to read the previous entries:
1. Spiritual Anemia (read hear)
2. Holistic Exhaustion (read here)
3. Relationships in Crisis (read here)
4. Identity attached to role and performance (read here)
5. Lack of permission for self-development and self-care
I ended theme #1 on spiritual anemia with the following paragraph:
“The bottom line is this: living cross-culturally requires a higher level of spiritual intake (and other forms of self-care I will mention in the next post) than living in our own culture. Anemia is deadly. What people in the world need to experience is not a well-oiled team or a slick program. Anyone can do that. What they need is the Risen Jesus Christ. Either he is overflowing from your own topped-off well or not. Not much latitude there. We need much more time in the Word, in solitude and prayer, in personal reflection, in rest, in reading books that stimulate us, in seeking counsel from others and a lot less time numbing ourselves on the web or other entertainments or pure, frenetic busyness. Nothing wrong with those realities in and of themselves within reason. (And strictly speaking, if you are living in a world of anemia, you will have a very limited ability to judge where the line of reason falls). But they will not nourish our souls to the point that we will thrive. Let me state it again – we need a lot more time nourishing ourselves spiritually. Do you feel guilty or afraid even thinking about what that might mean? Then you are going to have to wrestle with God over that reality.”
Many of us do indeed feel guilty about tending to ourselves. There can be various causes for this. Many do not know what to do or how to do it. Some have their identities so intertwined with performance that there is no allotted time for “non-performance” activities – like rest, relationship and spiritual care (see theme 4 for more on this dynamic). Some are still seeking to justify their existence in their location to financial backers, leaders, teammates and even themselves. So we keep pushing hard. Saying ‘no’ seldom seems to be an option.
Yet, the concept of on-going growth, self-development and care, is a biblical one. For example, Paul encouraged two of his younger proteges, Timothy and Titus, toward this concept. The simple fact is, our walk with God is fundamentally a relationship. And all relationships take time and energy, focus and intention. Any relationship that is neglected will wither, like a plant that has not been watered, tended to. We are invited to follow God to where he is inviting us. We have the opportunity everyday to respond to God’s ceaseless invitation to commune with him, learn of him, follow him, and lay our lives down by his bidding. These responses to God are wise ones that allow for our on-going formation.
Let’s look at both of the invitations to self-development and self-care.
Each of us have God-given skills, gifts, and personalities. Each one of these areas can be honed to a sharpness that allows ultimate kingdom contribution. Every role we have in our lives requires ongoing development: relationships, parenting, friendship, walking with God, professional skills and spiritual gifts. Each one is an opportunity for growth. Some people learn well by reading and study. Others are much more hands-on learners. Some of us are deep thinkers while others are verbal processors. Regardless, each of us has tremendous capacity for growth if it is invested in. When was the last time you budgeted time and money to attend an event where you had no responsibility other than to receive? I would encourage this be done annually. Ideally we can each attend an event or training that develops us professionally and another event that shapes us personally (e.g. spiritual retreat or marriage event) every year. Here is a truth: that which is not nurtured and developed becomes weak and dull over time. We are either growing or fading. I have witnessed far too many who have plateaued in their late 40’s and onwards. This can be avoided, but it takes intention.
The concept of self-care is the same. Everyone living and working cross-culturally needs and deserves piles of care. If you have been following this series, one reality that has been emphasized is how profoundly demanding and complex it is to live cross-culturally. More wear and tear means more care required. If this is neglected, breakdown is only a matter of time. What are some wise ways to care for ourselves? Here is a list to get you brainstorming:
- Hobbies – time to play. This is needed weekly, at least several times a month.
- Sabbath – one day a week to shut it all down. No email! No work! Don’t dabble in rest, rest well.
- Times with others – date nights; one-on-one with kids; hang out with friends; lingering conversation over good food.
- Exercise – ‘nuf said.
- Debriefing – For those working overseas, regular, personal debriefings are a must. A personal debriefing does not address work effectiveness. A personal debrief addresses the questions of what have you experienced in life of late and how did that impact you. That explanation of a personal debriefing is massively oversimplified, but you get the gist. A debriefing is a time where another one hears your story and helps you put words to what you are experiencing in life. Without regularly debriefing, life “stuff” accumulates. Things like losses, griefs, transitions, major life events – all the stuff of life piles up within us over time.
- Vacation – are you taking the allotted days? I love the recent TV commercial that has kids talking to the camera as if to their parents telling them that unused vacation days is “the stupidest thing I have ever heard of”. Well said.
You know all this stuff. Why am I even writing on it? Because we all lose focus. We get sidetracked. We forget. Take care of yourself. You alone are responsible for the stewardship of your life. Think in terms of life-long maturation and influence, not just this year’s commitments.
Regarding permission. I am sure your companies and organizations have policies. Are you taking advantage of what is granted? If not, why not? What is driving you? Do you simply need to be reminded of your own self-worth? And if you want to look at this missionally, once again, you cannot give away that which you do not have. If our lives are a wondrous overflow of the beauty, love and life of God, others will be attracted. If our lives are a tangle of busyness, angst and perpetual motion, well, who needs (or wants) more of that?
Allow God to tend to you.
Shepherds: Help others come up with a custom fit personal growth plan. These are not meant to be self-determining, self-developing constructs. They are meant to provide intentionally designed structure – a way forward if you will. And then follow-up. There’s nothing worse than spending time on such a concept and then never having someone follow-up with you on it. Likely, most people need coaching on some of these life skills. Simply telling people to get their act together, no matter how gently said, simply piles on the pressure. Discover where God is drawing people, go in that direction, and then provide every resource you can offer – especially the example of your own life and mentoring them as desired and needed.
Let Your Life Speak by Palmer Parker (Caveat: Parker has a rich Quaker background. When he speaks from this background he provides wonderful insights. Often he needlessly wanders from this legacy and comes across rather eclectic in his spirituality. Like anything, read with discernment. Glean what is valuable, set aside the rest.)
Embracing Soul Care: Making Space for What Matters Most By Stephen W. Smith