New Year, New Focus

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions and I don’t think I am alone in that sentiment, but I do appreciate new seasons, which offer opportunities to stop, reflect, and revisit our patterns and consider how and where we might benefit from refocusing our attention. Sounds like a resolution, I know, but it’s a process that can occur at any time of year when we have a sudden feeling of sluggishness–physical, emotional, or spiritual.

My time for this falls at the start of each semester, when I pause to look over my schedule for the coming months–new courses, writing deadlines, faculty committee projects–thinking about my professional priorities alongside the regular practices I hope to either maintain or incorporate into my rhythms of life, such as exercise, exploring new recipes, checking out into the world of a great book or television series, and of course plenty of time with my family. We all have our responsibilities with work, family, and friends but also need to step back and recognize what keeps us as individuals healthy and flourishing. Beyond unrealistic resolutions (I vow to hit the gym every day this year!!), it’s important to intentionally carve out space in our lives to reset, refocus, rewrite, reorient, reimagine–all the ways we absolutely must take care of ourselves so that we can best take care of others.

People who exist amid high demand from others–educators, therapists, full-time parents, and clergy–are especially prone to the gradual process of skimming off layers of their own self-care in order to make enough space for the needs of people they serve. I certainly noticed this among the clergy families I met through my research who, like Jeff (part of a clergy couple), feel the very real demands of a caring profession:

“[T]he way I always describe it is there’s sort of this movement in life from dependence to independence. And I always thought independence was the end of it, but then there’s this stage called responsibility. And in a sense the responsibility is always there, but being a pastor and having people depend on you, being a parent, having a child completely dependent on you, things like that, it’s sort of this stage I call responsibility where burden is maybe not the right word but I feel the weight of…I feel that on a daily basis.”

Regular periods of resetting and refocusing can help halt the skimming off process before it gets too out of control or becomes irreparable.

My blog posts this past fall and early winter introduced the notion of work-life integration, focusing on seasons of life, embracing the messiness of an integrated life, and carving out opportunities for family–immediate and extended–in a vocation that can, at times, come into conflict with our conventional notions of family time. Many of these posts, though, focused greater attention on the outward lives of clergy families, exploring how to parent well or balance family holiday plans alongside work demands. All of this is important, but a healthy integrated life requires effective and ongoing self-reflection and self-care.

The themes for the next few months will be on ways clergy and clergy spouses, in caring for their inner selves, can better care for others. I’ll be exploring issues of self-care, identity, and personal faith generally, and specifically how these important elements of an individual’s life extend into the care and connection we bring to others. Because we are all unique, our resetting and refocusing processes must conform to our particular circumstances. But I hope my reflections in the coming months–which, as always, will draw from my research data and my own family’s experiences–will provide opportunities for your own reflection on what you need for a healthy inner life.

Lenore Knight Johnson

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