Let me guess.
You’re so busy caring for others (people in your church, your kids, your family, your friends) that you haven’t really taken great care of yourself lately, have you?
Welcome to leadership. Especially church leadership.
You run hard. You work long hours.
And you’re so busy caring for others you forgot to care for yourself.
Usually when I ask church leaders how they’re doing personally, they admit they don’t take great care of themselves.
And when you don’t take great care of yourself, guess what you end up doing in almost every single case?
You end up self-medicating.
Every leader has a choice between self-care and self-medication, and subconsciously, many choose the ‘polite’ version of self-medication.
Do you? And how would you know if you did?
I had never heard of the term ‘self-medication‘ until I got married.
But my wife Toni is a health care professional and she uses it to describe what people do to cope with the stress, anxiety and difficulty in life.
When stress and life overwhelm you, you will either choose to respond to it in a healthy way (self-care) or an unhealthy way (self-medication).
And when you think of self-medication, don’t just think of pills or alcohol. As we’ll see below, there are some very ‘socially-acceptable’ ways even for Christians to self-medicate.
But the results are still numbing.
The choice is yours, but the first reality is this: Self-care is so much healthier than self-medicating.
The second reality is just as important: If you don’t intentionally choose self-care as a leader, you’ll end up self-medicating.
5 Socially Acceptable Ways Christian Leaders Self-Medicate
Being overweight or even obese is almost normal in some Christian circles.
As someone who has to watch my weight very carefully (and who does not understand how anyone can be a natural bean pole), I empathize. And I also know I often eat when I’m not hungry, but when I’m upset or just bored.
Food is the drug of choice for many Christian leaders.
2. Working More
Again, working too many hours is socially acceptable, even rewardable in some circles.
As a recovering workaholic, I know. But all work and no play doesn’t just make you dull, it makes you disobedient.
It’s ironic, but the way some leaders cope with the stress associated with work is by working more. It numbs the pain.
It’s just a theory, but I think when we feel bad about ourselves, we say bad things about other people.
Often church leaders who have failed to care for themselves end up with enough toxin inside that they want to take down others. In many churches, prayer requests are thinly disguised gossip sessions. And too often Christians would rather talk about someone and their terrible misfortunes than help them.
That’s just sinful.
Whether it’s retail therapy at the mall, ordering more of your favourite pursuit online, or the constant climb into a bigger house, a better car, the latest tech or the latest trend, Christians can easily numb their pain endlessly accumulating things that end up in a landfill site one day.
5. Under-the-Radar Substance Abuse
Sure, you’re probably not going to develop a cocaine addiction. But sometimes it can be more subtle than that.
Whether it’s a drink every day when you get home or an overuse or misuse of your legitimate prescription, Christian leaders can fall into the classic pattern of turning to a substance rather than turning to God for relief.
So if you don’t want to end up self-medicating, what do you do?
10 Healthy Options for Self-Care
The best thing you can do as a leader is take good care of yourself.
When you carve out time to take care of yourself, you’ll always be in a better position to take care of others.
There’s nothing truly new in these ten options, but when you do them they have a staggeringly positive impact on your personal health and well being, spiritual and otherwise.
1. A great daily time with God.
Whatever method you use (here are some ideas), time with God matters. And your personal walk with God is often a casualty of ministry. Why is that? Shouldn’t be!
Being out of shape physically means you will never be in top shape mentally or emotionally. I don’t like exercise either, so I invested in a road bike.
I get asked all the time what I ride, so here you go: a 2009 Specialized Roubaix. And I bought it used (1/3 of its original price). It doesn’t have to break the bank. And yes, I love it!
3. A healthy diet
You are what you eat. Dumping the processed foods for whole foods can make a big difference.
4. Proper sleep
If I don’t get 7-8 hours semi-regularly, I feel it. Sadly, sometimes others do too.
I really think sleep is one of the most-underrated leadership secret weapons there is. Here’s why.
5. Intentional white space in your calendar
You can schedule time off and down time in the same way you schedule meetings. Just do it! I wrote a post on time management that links to many time management tips here.
6. Healthy friendships
Ministry can be draining.
When was the last time you hung out with a friend you didn’t need to ‘minister to’? Who makes you laugh until you cry?
Go hang out with them. Regular doses of life-giving relationships can make such a difference.
I am kindest when I have the most margin. This is true in terms of my calendar, but also true of finances.
How can you be generous with your heart, time, money and attitude if you have nothing left to give?
Writing, blogging and podcasting are my hobbies these days.
You can be much more interesting than that. Take some pictures. Take up hiking. Get crafty. Study the constellations.
9. Family Time
Take a road trip, go out for dinner. Have some fun!
Play hockey in the driveway or shoot hoops.
10. Coaching and counseling.
For about 12 years I’ve had coaches and counselors who have helped me get through road bumps and life issues. Invaluable.
Yes I pay them money, but it’s an investment in my family, my church and my life. I’m different and better for it.
Better Than The Alternative
I know at the end of my life, I will be so much better for pursing the path of self-care rather than the path of self-medication.
One takes intentional planning, but it’s so worth it.
Eventually leaders who don’t care for themselves but still avoid self-medication end up burning out. If you haven’t heard Perry Noble’s incredible story about burning out while at the top of his leadership game, don’t miss it. Perry and I have also put together a lot of resources here to help leaders who think they might be burning out.
What are you learning about self-care? How have you seen people self-medicate?
I’d love to hear what you’re learning on this!