Several years ago, I sat at the kitchen table with my husband, and I proceeded to hammer him with a list of questions related to a Bible study I was in. This, my friends, is one of the benefits of being married to a pastor. After exhausting him with my imploring questions, he looked at me and said, “You should consider going to seminary.”
I considered this for about six seconds before moving on to my next theological inquiry.
At that point in my life, I had not been in enrolled in an academic class since college. And the last class I remember in college was on Shakespeare. And the last academic paper I wrote was done in a computer lab—do those still exist? And so, six seconds was about all I gave to this far-fetched idea of going to seminary. Ridiculous.
But I couldn’t shake the thought, and so I jumped far out of my comfort zone and decided to audit a class. My plan was to sit in the back row, take a few notes, and just see what it was like.
By the end of the semester, I had moved to the front row and took notes so voraciously that the notebooks I have are hardly legible. I was a sponge, absorbing every word, and I was hungry for more. Not long after, I enrolled in seminary and began my journey toward a Master’s in theology.
You don’t think seminary is for you? Neither did I. For several reasons:
I’m Not A Theologian
My idea of seminary was that it was a room full of young men who were either experts in biblical studies or who were well on their way to being connoisseurs.
It didn’t take more than a week for this assumption to be shattered. In each class I met men and women from all walks of life, all different stages and ages. I was placed in a group for my first seminary assignment with three other students. The youngest student suggested that we keep our work on a Google doc, and I panicked. For the love of papers, I had never heard of a Google doc. I pulled up my trusted Microsoft Word and scrolled through the headers looking for “Google doc.”
Friends, this should do nothing but assuage your fears, especially if you are a “late” starter in higher education. We all come to seminary with different experiences, backgrounds, perspectives, assumptions, and we grow. We grow in our understanding of who Jesus is. We grow through discussions and honest questions. And we leave changed…
My father was dying of cancer, and I was caring for our twenty-two-year-old son who had already had three surgeries for a brain tumor and now required IV antibiotics four times daily. I skipped my yearly physical and my yearly mammogram. I ate more sugar and exercised less. I slept poorly. Strands of hair came out in my hands as I washed it. Dark half-moons carved themselves into the skin under my eyes, and fatigue fell over me like a persistent fog. During my most intense season of caregiving, my self-care deteriorated rapidly, and my body paid the price.
According to the 2020 AARP Study on Caregiving, I was not alone. Of the approximately 53 million people who are now providing unpaid care for an adult with “health or functional needs,” at least 23 percent say caregiving has worsened their physical health.[i] Kelly Markham, LCSW and palliative care expert, explains the lethal cycle: The caregiver believes that she alone can tend to the loved one properly; the loved one often reinforces that belief. Under the chronic stress of caregiving, the caregiver’s health suffers. Committed to caring for her loved one, the caregiver neglects her own care. Such neglect of self-care has been shown to lead to an earlier and higher mortality rate for caregivers as compared to non-caregivers.
One in five people are now unpaid caregivers and 61 percent of caregivers are women. Chances are, you know an unpaid caregiver. To minister well to our caregiving friends, we can help them understand the gospel call to self-care and assist them in practical ways.
The Gospel Call to Self-Care for Caregivers
First, we can help the caregiver recognize that the type of self-care advocated is not self-indulgence. Sadly, some people have destroyed their own health in the name of denying themselves and taking up their crosses (Luke 9:23). When Jesus called us to deny ourselves, he did not mean for us to deny or denigrate our humanity—our mental, emotional, and physical needs for rest, exercise, good nutrition, and medical care. Jesus himself acknowledged his human limitations by sleeping and eating and taking time away from his ministry to pray and rest (Mark 4:35-40; Matthew 14:22-23). Jesus tended to his physical health and to that of others, showing us how to live our calling to “glorify God” in our bodies, because they are “the temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Self-care of this kind is not self-indulgent, but rather, responsible stewardship…