Missionary Self-Care and Spirituality
Being on mission is so much more than going on a trip; it is a lifestyle. Seeing your life as being on mission with God allows you to see all aspects of your life as vital and important. Everything in your life is part of your mission, including your family, workplace, relationships, marriage, children, and even how you care for yourself.
When you first think of self-care, what comes to your mind? For me, it was getting enough sleep, eating the right food, and drinking plenty of water. However, while all those things are important, they contribute to their care of my physical self. What about my spiritual self? My emotional self? My mental health? Each of these is vital when taking care of yourself to complete the mission God has on your life. Any lack of care in any of these areas can cause you to disconnect from God, those around you, and even from yourself. But what can you do to take care of not only your physical self, but your spiritual, emotional, and mental self as well?
Talk, Time, and Tears: Wounds left untreated in the physical can get infected and much worse if left untreated. But did you know that same principle applies to wounds of the heart as well? When we let past hurt go by unspoken and unacknowledged, it leads to fear, doubt, bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, even possible anxiety, and shame. When we are hurt spiritually, emotionally, or mentally, we must allow ourselves to experience the three T’s: talk, time, and tears. Talk – Do you have a safe circle of people to talk too to express your pain openly and honestly? Time – Have you given yourself time to process your pain with God and the safe circle around you that you have identified? Tears – Have you been allowed to vulnerably express he pain you have felt without the need of needing to put on a face/fake smile/mask?
Lament: Sometimes the pain we feel in our hearts and in our spirits need more than just a good cry; sometimes we need to shout, cry out, and be raw with God. Lamenting is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. In other words, you are raw, real, and openly expressing your grief to God without holding anything back. God does not want us to “pretend” that we are ok. In fact, in Psalm 34:18 it states that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (ESV). By inviting God into our pain, we are inviting his love, comfort, guidance, and direction. It allows us to openly express our emotions to allow the Father to comfort us. The practice of lament is a great tool when needed to help heal the heart, mind, and soul. The book of Lamentations is a great read to see and understand how God welcomes our raw expressions of pain and sorrow.
Forgiveness: "To forgive is also to release yourself from whatever trauma and hardship you have experienced and reclaim your life as your own" (Tutu, 2014:18). Forgiveness is not something to rush into nor is it something that makes whatever was done to you “ok.” Forgiveness is actually a gift for you. It allows anger, bitterness, anxiety, and maybe even fear, to be recognized and talked about. Forgiveness allows your heart to release chains that may have bound you from ever moving forward with your life. Although it is not always easy to do, it is possible with God. Talk, tears, time, and even lamenting about what was done to you can allow the pain and hurt to be expressed in full force, which could then allow you to see a path to forgiveness. Let me be clear: forgiveness does not mean that the other person gets away with that they have done; it does not excuse the wrong that was done to you, regardless if it was intentional or unintentional; it does not mean that you are letting the other person off the hook; nor does it mean you are a bad person if you are not yet as a place to forgive someone. Allow yourself the time needed to get to that space; but, also allow yourself to get there.
While everyone’s self-care journey may look different, caring for yourself physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally are all important. Regardless of your mission field (aka, where God has you now), taking care of yourself is vital. You matter to God. Your health matters to God. Your family’s health matters to God. So, it also must matter to you.