(Brooke’s generosity Blog)
April 19, 2020

I am anxious, and I am grateful.

I have heard it many times. I have seen the demonstrations. I make a point of looking each time. Sometimes it feels as if I am the only one paying attention. The in-flight safety demonstration:

  • Seat Belts?
  • Brace position? (Never called a ‘crash position.’)
  • Emergency exits?
  • Life vests, life rafts and flotation devices?
  • Use of oxygen mask and you should always fit your own oxygen mask first before helping children or any person requiring assistance.

I like to help. I was the oldest of six children and had a lot of responsibility. I learned a lot of things. I did not learn well the art of caring for myself.

This is a learning process for many in the helping professions. Like many of us I am better at the theory of self-care than in the practice.

I learned many of my coping skills during a clinical pastoral placement at Sunnybrook Medical Centre on Bayview Ave in Toronto. For a year I spent one day a week as a chaplain in training. There were some classes but most of the time was spent in doing and then reflecting. I learned to write verbatims of pastoral visits. (Verbatim is a word by word record of a conversation. I found that I could remember the words and expressions of the person I was visiting with if I paid attention and told myself to remember. This was a revelation to me.)

These were both peer reviewed and supervisor reviewed. The feedback was sometimes brutal. And sometimes transcendent. This was real learning and incredibly insightful. I learned about my blind spots. I learned that self-care was the first step in caring for others. I learned the theory in my head, but it takes a lifetime to learn the habits of care. I am anxious, and I am grateful.

John Henderson was the minister before us in the 1980s at Knox Waterloo. John invited me to join him on a yearly canoeing trip to Algonquin Park after worship on the last Sunday of April each year (this would have been next week). For five days we canoed with two other ministers. It was a blast. We did this for 11 years. Each year we either added more people or arranged to meet up at a specific site for a visit in the Park. This was excellent self-care. I learned to love my –15º C sleeping bag. There was ice in the lake two times, and it got a little chilly. But we had so much fun. Seriously, we did not even pretend t0 talk about church!

John left Knox to become the executive director of Interfaith. John’s passion was to help caregivers learn to ‘care for themselves.” He later brought his considerable skill set to Knox College Toronto as a sessional lecturer. He was the driving force behind the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s adoption of the “Intermission” for all professional church workers. Ten weeks away from ministry, available every five-years. Once a week spiritual direction from a professional was designed at that time to be used to nurture the self. I have taken four Intermissions, each one unique and filled with both personal insights and with self-care. I am grateful.

COVID–19 has placed unique stresses upon us all. My heart goes out to those in assisted care. Some, I cannot talk to on the phone. I visualise the faces and all my memories of these individuals. I know their stories. I have conducted funerals for their loved ones. These are good people who are now feeling alone. I am anxious, and I am grateful.

I miss grocery shopping. This is my routine, and it is gone for now. I am a senior who has mild asthma. This places me in the ‘vulnerable’ category. I do not like feeling vulnerable, but this is the reasonable reality to accept for today. I am grateful to Dave (daughter Laura’s partner) for doing all our shopping. He uses a mask and gloves. He takes great care in dropping off the produce on our front steps. I am anxious, and I am grateful.

I am anxious, and I am grateful. I know I am not alone. Like you, I need to care for self before I can give to others. This is not selfish.

  • Putting on your own oxygen mask first is not selfish.
  • Taking care of self (for those of us with the nature of caregiving) feels somehow wrong yet is necessary.
  • What happens if you do not put on the oxygen mask first?
  • Then we cannot help a vulnerable person because we will be unconscious. We will have failed in our goal of caring.

Jesus took time away from the crowds to pray. Alone. Without the crowds pulling at his heart strings and asking him for healing and wise words. Who are we who follow Jesus? We are ones who care for others. And the best way to care for others? Care for self.

All I have said in this generosity blog today goes against my instinct to care for others first. Caring for self is the best way to have the energy and resilience to care for others, including the most precious people in our lives.

Please, in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of compassion and service, care for yourself. You are precious. God loves you and wants the best for you. Will you not give to yourself the same gift you give to others?