Holistic Self-Care

When I was in the seminary, our formators talked much about physical and spiritual self-care. Many of us, including myself, sometimes made snarky comments and smirked at the human formation “lectures,” thinking that they were overreacting. Yet, in my time as a priest, I found out that what they were trying to tell us is so true. I see the potential pitfalls in my own life and in priests that I know. I have seen priestly vocations lost, people burnt out, angry and frustrated human beings who are hard to be around because they did not learn to care for themselves holistically.

As post-modern, first-world people, we tend to be very occupied with many things. From work schedules to personal agendas, from to-do lists to reminders, we are constantly on the move. We live like machines to simply function or move from one task to next. Are we living or being treated like machines that only exist to be functional, task-oriented, and expected to be productive? Think about it! How are we living our life? Are we living as a normal person being, created and loved into being by God, able to reflect, meditate, pray, and embrace all things with wonder and awe or are we simply functioning and operating? Are we too focused on tasks and productivity in order to feel needed and in control? Is that really what we are meant to be?

Perhaps the answer that all of us should be saying is “No!” We know that we are called to live as children of God instead of simply existing to function or operate certain tasks. Yet, in our everyday life and interaction, we often allow ourselves to be defined by how we operate and function. Perhaps we are the cause of our own self-defined failures because we keep ourselves (too) busy and preoccupied just to be socially functional instead of simply being who we are. We complain why we are so tired, anxious, sleepless, worried, frustrated, and the likes but forget to look deeper to why we are the way we are now and look deep from within to see what we are called to be.

As a recovering perfectionist and workaholic, I struggle every day and constantly have to check myself from overworking. I often go through sporadic periods of weight gain because I do not watch what I eat and how much time I need to exercise. When I begin to get too busy, not only do my physical health is affected, but my spiritual awareness gets dull. When I get distracted and filled with numerous worries about what needs to be done, both of my physical and spiritual health declined. When I forget to take care of my physical health with proper exercise and eating habit, I often ended up shorter on the fuse, more anxious, worried, irritated, and tired. Even though I do not show my irritations and anxieties (around my parishioners for their own sake), I can sense the daily stress and pressure build-ups. Hence, when I get too tired and worried, I tend to slack off, get half-hearted, and distracted in my prayer time with God. Even though I always try to be faithful to my prayer, those things caused me to be so distracted that my heart is sometimes not fully immersed in it.

I pray even when I am worried, anxious, and tired because I know I have to be faithful to what I have promised on the day of ordination, which is to be faithful in prayer for the people of God. My spiritual director also told me to never skip prayer because he said, “The day that you stop worrying and praying for your vocation is the day that you lose it.” I always kept his words at heart and prayed for the grace of perseverance and faithfulness to my vocation because I know how weak and vulnerable I can get without the grace of God. Yet, distractions and worries can get the best of us when we come to prayer. When we are too filled with many things to do or are too tired to pray, our spiritual senses cannot comprehend and recognize the divine presence in front of us and all around us. Therefore, it is important to calm one’s self down and be attentive to what is going on so we can truly know what is going on with us holistically.

The soul and the body are interconnected to one another holistically. Therefore, the restlessness of our body points to the greater restlessness and desire for God in spirit. That is why it is important for us as human beings to listen to what our body and spirit are telling us deep from the heart of heart. We dislike self-probing inquiries and the necessary self-reflection and meditation, but they are important. We have to be honest and humble enough to look at ourselves completely, both body and soul. Just as we try to right our physical health with proper exercise and eating habit, we have to allow our soul to rest and strengthened by prayer. Just as our endurance grows with proper physical exercises, our spiritual senses are fortified with prayer. Just as our body to rest in order to be fully functional, our soul also needs time and space to be focused and in touch with God.

We have lost the ability to rest and be recharged holistically because we have not taken the proper time to care for our body and spirit. As typical post-modern people, our body and spirit are in a constant state of flux, never have enough space to rest! Relationships break down because we have lost the needed communication and personal touch that comes from the heart. Many break down psychologically and physically because they have forgotten to care for themselves and be attentive to what their psyche and body are telling them. We cannot pray and hear what God has to say if we never have enough time to open up and to use our spiritual senses to listen, see, feel, and touch God and the working of His grace in our life. We often time are too tired when we come to relationship and prayer; therefore, both sides of the human and spiritual relationships suffer greatly. Therefore, it is important to know that perhaps what our soul and our body are trying to tell us is that something has to change! We cannot simply go on as we had before if whatever we have been doing is slowly breaking us down, destroying us from all sides, and unhappily bringing us to where we are today.

What my seminary formators used to remind and lectured us about self-care is so relevant today — especially for me as a priest. What I used to smirk at and looked lightly in seminary has become one of the greatest pieces of advice that I have received for the priesthood. I thought I need to share this wisdom with you today as well! This holistic self-awareness requires 1) a piece of perennial Greek wisdom of “Know thyself!” and 2) You can’t give what you don’t have.” If we do not know how to take care of ourselves by accepting and embracing our limitations, learning how to ask for help and let go of what is needed, and keeping ourselves accountable, we will not have much to give to people who are around us. If we are simply functioning and operating on fumes, we will have not much substance to give. If we are unhappy, physically and spiritually unhealthy, we will not be able to give ourselves fully and pass on to people what is needed to seek divine grace in their own lives.

It is fine to say “no” as we learn to say “yes” to something greater. It is good to reflect in order to reprioritize and let go of what is not needed. It is crucial to do some body and soul house-cleaning in order to clear up space and time for what is important. We do not have to be productive, fully functional, and a person that completes all tasks at the most optimal time to truly be who we are called to be as children of God. I have seen priests who said that “my work is my prayer” and lost their priesthood or simply function as an (unhappy) administrator. However, we are reminded that our prayer enriches and deepens our work as we pray and reflect on the true gift of ourselves in both words and actions. Only in prayer do we learn to truly give the gift of our self personally, intimately, and completely without worrying about what we need to do to be the best and most productive. Only in prayer do we learn to truly embrace our calling and live it out with joy as we offer our whole self, body and soul, as a way to give thanks to God for what He has given to us and share it with our brothers and sisters genuinely and selflessly.

Taking care of one’s self holistically is important because we all need to be honest and embrace who we truly are in order to be who we are called to be in our daily interactions. We are more than what we can do, how we function, or how productive we can be. We love and live fully when we give the truest and most genuine gift of who we are without self-centered pretension, justification, anxieties, and worries. Let us begin our days with prayer as we offer all that we have and will do to God, step back and enrich our days with moments of rest and prayerful reflection, examine our conscience and spirit by looking back at what happened in order to make a better resolution for the next.

Each day has to begin with God as our strength and joy, sought throughout the day with moments of prayer, as well as our criterion for love as we reflect upon what is really going. Just as our endurance grows with proper physical exercises, our spiritual senses are fortified by committed and constant times for prayer. Just as our body to rest in order to be fully functional, our soul also needs time and space to be focused and in touch with God. Let us, therefore, gauge our self with the loving standards of the Lord as we learn to humbly, lovingly, and genuinely love and care for ourselves as He has loved and cared for us.