When I was in my 40s many years ago, I worked in a fast-paced, high-stress job. Our corporation sponsored a seminar with focus groups to determine needs, in and out of the workplace.
The number one need? Sleep. We were all walking around exhausted.
I never forgot that response.
Life by its nature takes a physical, emotional and spiritual toll. Whether we are working more than 40 hours a week, working two or three jobs, doing all the chores and caregiving for children or elderly parents — we all yearn for an island of peace, quiet and vast blue oceans. Ah. To be there even for an hour.
Doing. It seems our culture is obsessed with doing. We have become a people of “doer-ship.” Yes, much of it’s necessary. But even with that “doing” we must carve out spaces of “nothing-ness” and quiet.
I know. I know. How are we suppose to do that given the zillion daily demands on our lives? I get it, believe me.
Before I retired and was working full-time, I barely could do the things I needed when I got home. Now, I’m one of the primary caregivers for my father and my time is filled with a variety of medical and health-care needs.
People will look at me and advise: “You really need to take care of yourself.”
But the truth is, I do need to love myself enough to give myself nurturing and good self care. You do, too. How we do that will be individual to each of us. And it will demand a bit of courage. If we are by nature a giving person, we may find it a challenge to give to ourselves as well.
Underlying that act may be a layer of “I don’t deserve this” as well as some guilt in not doing what we feel we’re asked to do. Many of us grew up learning how to be super-responsible and somehow, giving to ourselves may feel like we’re not being accountable to whatever or whomever we’re tending.
When any of us fail to make space to tend to our own needs, however, we are at war with ourselves. And that’s exhausting. In his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller writes:
“… a successful life has become a violent enterprise. We make war on our own bodies, pushing them beyond their limits; war on our children, because we cannot find enough time to be with them; war on our spirit, because we are too preoccupied to listen to the quiet voices that seek to nourish and refresh us.”
It’s far too easy to fall into this pit of exhaustion when we fail to stop to hear that “small still voice” of the Divine within. We become so consumed with “doing” we spiral into fatigue without giving ourselves an opportunity for renewal.
In her book, Feed My Shepherds, Flora Wuellner writes that those moments of renewal may be “gazing at a sunbeam on the floor, looking at a beloved painting, smelling a flower, touching a leaf, listening to a bird, stretching and breathing deeply, holding our hands under running water …or just quietly sensing God’s breath upon and within us.”
All beautiful advice. And I am listening to those words because I am often guilty of not heeding them. But instead of beating myself up for not taking time for self-care, I am being gentle with myself and learning. On this beautiful sunny Spring day, I went to the park and did something I’ve been wanting to do all winter.
I took off my shoes and felt the coolness of the new-green grass and warmth of the soft rich earth beneath my feet and toes. I felt a soothing breeze sweep across my face. I took deep nurturing breaths, filling my lungs with gratitude.
It was only for an hour. But it allowed me to be at peace, to center myself. Giving myself that nurturing time gave me the strength to go forward.
So, this day and in the coming weeks, may we each find what brings us peace and nurturing, whether it’s listening to sweet bird song, losing ourselves in a good book or the brilliant colors of a sunrise, or simply taking a much-needed nap.
May we make time to feel God’s breath upon us and within us. We deserve it.