Just before Christmas I was reflecting on youth workers and self- care. I was doing this because at the time I was and continue to do a days lecturing for a small group of new youthwork students on the EQUIP course in the north east on preparing them for vocational work with young people in the faith sector. Next week is the start of lent, a period of 40 days of time symbolising Jesus’ time in wilderness, before, but also an integral part of his ministry. There’s no harm in reflecting on the need in the work we do as youthworkers to be more disciplined or give something up, equally it can be argued that the physically and emotional giving required in such a role might also determine that receiving could be as important as giving.
Already during lent there can be great resources for young people, or for churches. But I wondered about the workers in the fields, paid and unpaid, full and part time, and suggesting for 40 days of lent, 40 suggestions for improving self care during, in order to renew, recharge and be ready for the challenges of youthwork in the year ahead.
Above all, the challenge might not be just to do these things, but to love ourselves, be kind to ourselves and in doing so then look after ourselves, so by no means are these conclusive or things that I do myself they might even be things I need to do, its the sentiment that in the work that we do, self care, self love even, might be something to prioritise over Lent.
Steven Covey in ‘ 7 Habits of effective people describes the human person as having 4 aspects, physical, spiritual, emotional and mental, these four are a good baseline to start from in terms of looking after ourselves.
Physical – i sense the biggest groan.. do i have to..?
1. Choose the form of travel or route that requires more exercise. Ie walk instead of bus or tube. Plan the day accordingly
2. Replace a few unhealthy chocolatey snacks with something healthier, especially in an office environment.
3. On your day off, that you will take (!), do some exercise, and it neednt be expensive, park runs are free, so it walking in the country or an hours swim at the local pool won’t cost too much.
4. Take that day off. and if possible take the night off the night before, so you can start to relax from 5pm, and have nearly 30 hours off in total.
5. Plan ahead with food a bit, it is so easy with work that is odd hours, long days, working lunches and youth group on the hop to forget to eat properly, or plan to eat decent food. Being physically well is going to help. So plan meals and food ahead of the game, in the week ahead. Even microwaved soup, or last nights left over casserole is better than a microwave meal itself!
6. Oh and if you’re due a weekend off (if you work weekends) – then take it! – and your annual leave – dont overwork your hours if you help it!
7. Combining physical and emotional/social – start going to an excercise class! – meet new people which also tending to your own physical condition.
8. Reduce unhealthy coping mechanisms, like alcohol, over eating, non sleeping, late night video games, drugs, addictions, aggression or what ever it might be.
1. On a day off visit a place of worship, cathedral, a monastery, a mosque or temple, somewhere to contemplate in your own chosen time your place in the world.
2. It might be a spiritual exercise to be in the present moment, so take a walk in the countryside, near a beach, or in a park without your phone. Then stand a listen to whats going on around you, take some deep breaths, and let your mind unwind itself, and your eyes be open to whats going on.
3. As well as a physical activity, tending to a garden or an open space, growing fruit or vegetables might be a good spiritual experience to connect with something growing, at the pace that it is growing. Slow down.
4. If you believe in a Holy Book, then spend time reading it, and if you dont believe in it or have one, then maybe start to read one. Either way it might be spiritual or educational.
5. Read some poetry, or great literature, appreciate an art form as a God given talent of someone, and listen to what it might be challenging you to think about and reflect on in your person, and in your practice.
6. The Bible talks about meditating ‘day and night’ on good things, meditating is nothing other than slowing down, and reducing what is being focussed on and it being something of purity and goodness, of Godliness even. Even a ‘prayer’ time might not be meditative – just another rushed activity. So, slow down, and be active in meditating on something, verses from the Bible, a poem, an art form, something natural.
7. Pray. To the known or unknown God you believe in, give away in conversation with God your deepest needs, desires, fears and frustrations, and if this for you is cathartic self talk (to an unknown God) then so be it, but in that conversation leave some stuff behind in it, and listen and be attuned to what the next steps are in response to the how your mind and spirit has received in terms of ideas, new plans, decisions or directives.
8. Read up on the Spiritual saints from before, the actual saints – such as Mother Theresa, or Saint Francis, William Wilberforce or those whos faith inspired justice and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, , their stories are well known and told through books, or film, connect spiritually and be renewed and inspired by their struggle and the trust they had in God during it.
1. Value a coffee or pint with a supportive listening friend. Do this once a week during lent!
2. Protect yourself from comparisons whether the resource than tries to help you create the perfect youth group or the statuses on social media of someone else’s great ministry or practice. Be pleased for them, encourage them, and avoid the comparison trap.
3. Give time to people who are outside of work and ministry, like your family.
4. Forgive yourself for the daft thing or mistake pretty quickly – especially if it was done in all innocence! – we need not beat ourselves up – especially if we were brave to take a risk, or develop an idea.
5. Use Social media in a positive way, use it to connect with people and have a conversation with a ministry colleague wherever they are in the world, at least once a week. They might need the support as much as you do.
6. Get some kind of supervision, personal supervision someone who will ask you the difficult questions, but also support you through tough stuff, you neednt feel alone, there are plenty of people who can support you.
7. Spend some time examining your personal motives, dreams and goals, whilst walking or reflecting, once your youth work practice is in some alignment then there will be some kind of inside and outside integrity, when its out of sync its obvious to yourself.
8. Spend time away from the rushing around to deeply connect with another person, a colleague, friend or young person – in all the activities, stop and be present with them and attune yourself to listening, give of real emotions – not just active organising ones.
Mindful and creative
1. Take up a skill that involves a tangible end product and enjoy it, so cooking recipes, bread, wine, cake, making for example, needle work or sewing, diy or gardening.
2. Read up on a youthwork hero, get reacquainted with a person’s theory and practice since yours might have changed since you read them last. So Friere, Jeffs and Smith, Pete Ward or Kerry Young. There are others…
3. Start a journal of practice, renew a practice of reflection that might be been long gone since college days. Reflect on what you’re learning, and question why you might not be.
4. Watch the kind of movie that disturbs, challenges or invokes the senses and thoughts in a different way to your usual. Something different might be mind stirring.
5. Read a paper that’s different to your normal worldview. It may disturb, irritate or annoy. But engage with it creatively, protest accordingly but at least be engaging in a different view of the world.
6. Read a few texts from an area of practice linked to youthwork but not an area you might know so much about, so a political leader, a philosopher, a uniformed organisation, social work, might be mine but what might be an area you might reflect on. http://www.infed.org might be a good place to start.
7. Commit to learning something new every day – whether its a skill, a piece of knowledge, a piece of history, or something from a young person, or something else, and be deliberating in looking for it.
8. Develop your own learning programmes with and for your young people, take time gathering resources for the programmes, and be creative – enjoying the thinking and learning through them.
So, using Coveys four aspects, there are 32 ideas to help you as a youthworker/minister with self care during the upcoming Lent. You will have noticed that it is impossible to separate the four areas, simply because it is impossible to consider ourselves as separate parts, all are connected, are interchangeable, and in another way it is why looking after ourselves is going to be positive for our work lives, and vice versa. So, here are 8 further self care tips and maxims that might be helpful:
- Do one thing a week just for you. And stick to it, and make sure its healthy/good for you too
- Take more of the credit when something goes well, God has given you gifts to use, use them and recognise that you have these gifts – dont give God all the glory for achievement, but only blame yourself for when things go wrong – this is a ministry condemnation/self image downward spiral.
- Visit someone elses practice, not to revel in what they’re good at but to spend time learning and appreciating what they’re doing, to be inspired, and also how your practice is distinctive.
- Be realistic about what you can achieve every day. The phone will ring, the do list might be endless, but set realistic goals and try and focus on the not so urgent but more important things every day.
- If you feel like you’re continually fire fighting. Then you will burn out. Balance reacting with strategising and preventing. That’s not just you personally but also maybe the organisation/church you’re working for….
- Make a decision not to compare yourself with others, and challenge a comparative culture. Its your mission, your call, your context, find a culture of support and understanding for your ministry and person, not a place of comparisons or achievements
- Avoid the numbers game, and if others are playing it dont join in – value quality.
- Find a good way of being on top of the game in regard to personal organisation. I still use a paper filofax, it works for me like google calendar just doesnt. But thats just me. It you’re an organisational mess, then building team is very difficult.
So, for 40 days of lent – here are 40 hopefully realistic suggestions for you, busy, stressed out, youthworker than might enable you to renew yourself, care for yourself and create in yourself a measure of good practice. We might be good at supervising others, or managing them, but we have to do the same for ourselves too. If things need to be ‘got rid’ like the discipline of lent might awaken us to then great, but most of all, how we love and look after ourselves is crucial.
God this is embarrassing to read now. Look at me dishing all this out, whilst at the same time hiding away from the problems in my own life. Im sure this post might be helpful to some, but the reality is that if you need some of these things as a coping mechanism, and clearly i did, then dealing with the stuff you’re trying to cope with, however difficult is far far better. im not saying i did any of that in a deliberate way, i was forced to confront it all, then get support, then counselling, then realise through it all so much, about me, about life, about love, and about hope. Self care is important, even now, but id have to say, there may be some potentially huge things you might need to deal with, before being able to do any of them and really enjoy the peace, or tranquility it might offer.