By Jean Bloom
My father was the pastor of a church of several hundred people when I was in my early teens, and my parents, brother, and I lived in a parsonage next door to the church building. One advantage to that provision was our each being free to leave for Sunday programming and services at will, rather than having to wait for everyone in the family to pile into a car. We could also each walk the few steps home on our own. For me, that was after all my friends had left for their Sunday dinners.
I guess that’s why I didn’t notice my mother skipping church for weeks at a time.
Many years later, Mom and I were talking about the full life and expectations I was facing as a wife, mother, professional, and pastor’s spouse. At the time, all those roles were mine, and she had held them all too. Having returned to the workforce after years at home with my children, what she had experienced as well, I might have been grappling with balance and wanted to know how she’d managed. I don’t quite remember. But I vividly recall her revelation:
“Don’t you know I didn’t go to church in January for several years?”
Caught up in my own teenage life, no, I had not—and now I was shocked. Especially as the wife of the pastor of a church, how did she pull that off? Why did she feel the need to do such a thing? How could she have subjected herself to the inevitable criticism?
“I needed the rest,” she told me in no uncertain terms. “I had church by myself for a few weeks, and everyone just had to understand. If they didn’t, that was okay.”
No matter what you think of her decision, you must admit my mother was a strong woman, not afraid to say, “This is what I need.” I didn’t ask her what my father thought about this retreat, but I’m sure she adequately made her case. No one at the church was going to be damaged by her temporary absence, although they might be offended (the real risk). If she was teaching a Bible study or a class, someone else could step in for a month. She didn’t discount her roles and callings, she didn’t merely “abandon” them, but she did determine what she needed. And she found her first January “off” so effective—and perhaps accepted better than she had hoped—that she took that month of Sundays several years in a row. Maybe enough women of the church understood very well.
I never followed Mom’s plan during the years my husband pastored churches, and as far as I can remember I never felt the need to do so. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t—or don’t—need to care for myself. We all do. No matter how few or many roles we fill, no matter what stage or season we’re in, we women tend to give our all. That can be exhausting. And carving out time and resources and executing plans to care for ourselves can be just as exhausting, leading to the easier “giving up.”
Don’t give up.
Determine what you need. Is it time alone? Time with friends? Uninterrupted…anything? It might take a while if you’re embroiled in doing for others, but dig deep to find what will rejuvenate you and give you rest.
Enlist help. Unless you can take all your “me” time when the kids are angelically asleep, when the phone never rings, or when someone else is home to answer the door, someone must take over for a while on a regular basis. Find that someone—your husband, a relative, a friend, a paid babysitter.
Banish the guilt. If you’re not truly neglecting your duties and callings or destroying your family’s budget, you have nothing to feel guilty about. Remember, you can care for others better if you’re not run-down for lack of self-care.
Stand your ground. Your to-do list will always be there, others will always wish for or even demand your attention, and your mind might resist turning away from whatever or whoever calls you. But it’s okay to say, “No” or “Not now.” If someone is offended, that might be their problem, not yours.
I didn’t notice my mother taking her month of Sundays, and perhaps most others didn’t. Does that mean the time she took didn’t make a significant difference in the lives of her family, in the life of her church, and in her service as a professional?
Oh, I think it did.
Jean Kavich Bloom is a champion coffee drinker and a freelance editor and writer for Christian publishers and ministries. She doesn’t garden, bake, or knit, but insists playing Scrabble is exactly the same thing. Jean and her husband, Cal, live in central Indiana. They have three children (plus two who married in) and five grandchildren. She blogs at bloominwordstoo.blogspot.com.
Photograph © John Mark Kuznietsov, used with permission