Radical Self-Care

I am back from vacation, and wouldn’t you know it, the trip home exhausted me!  I always feel like I need a vacation at home to recover from my vacation away.  Maybe it’s because I am such a nester, or maybe it is because there is always a pile of things left undone when you return.  Lots of realities that felt good to let go of for a time, but others that I am glad to return to.

The time away was renewing for me.  I realized before I left just how tired I was.  I have a chronic illness, so fatigue is something I know the contours of well and something I am able to manage.  But this was a deeper tired, one that started to scare me a little.  The timing of the trip was perfect, and all those hours spent swimming, watching sunsets, reading, and eating pineapple and papaya helped me to reclaim my own practice of self-care in a deeper way.  I am very good at self-care, that often comes with being forced to face the realities of the body’s vulnerability.  But as I prayed in those many still moments surrounded by God’s artistry, I remembered once again how when working in ministry self-care needs to be an absolute priority.  I feel like I keep learning this lesson over and over again.

When I sit with another person in spiritual direction, always a gift and grace-filled experience, I need to come to that meeting time as refreshed and renewed and present as I can possibly be for them.  So I can listen as deeply as possible with them for God movements without distraction.  When I teach, I want to come to that community of learning able to be fully present as well and engage in conversation and challenge. My writing also depends on this kind of clarity and renewal to not feel like a chore rather than the joy it usually is.

I remembered a quote from Parker Palmer, who has so many wonderful things to say. This is from that gem of a book Let Your Life Speak  (p. 30-31):

“I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.

The word radical rose up in my prayer.  I realized that the word radical is derived from the Latin word radix which means root.  What would it mean to practice radical self-care?  Self-care that is rooted in taking care of the gifts we have to offer the world.  Self-care that forms the root of my expression in the world, good stewardship of the gifts I have been given to offer. 

Radical self-care, for me, means seeing my calling in the world intimately connected with tending my body’s needs.  Indeed it is a fundamental part of that calling.  I have long believed that calling has more to do with the wholeness of who we are and our ways of being in the world, rather than the particular things we do.  We are integrated beings.  How my body feels affects my thoughts, feelings, prayer, ability to relate to others and to God, and most certainly my capacity for creative expression.  In fact, I believe deeply that we have a sacred responsibility to practice this kind of radical self-care.  I am realizing that I need to take time now to look at the nurturing rhythms of my life and bring that back to the center.

What might radical self-care mean for you?  What are the ways you nourish your body and spirit? Do you ever feel selfish practicing this kind of self-care?  Are there ways you might grow in your ability to listen to your body’s needs? 

-Christine Valters Paintner

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