“Oxygen and the air pressure are always being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are traveling with a child or see someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. Keep your mask on until a uniformed crew member advises you to remove it.”
I was coming home from an international trip and had heard this on the overhead speakers in the airplane a few times that week. Each time, it was as if I couldn’t hear anything else in the world on my noisy airplane except that announcement. All of the troubles in my world melted away and I was completely focused on learning what to do in case of an oxygen emergency. Honestly, the airplane announcements never really interested me, so I was keenly aware at the fact that I was listening.
I wrote the words to the announcement in my journal hoping that one day it would make sense as to why I was listening so intently.
That was three years ago.
As any church worker knows, Holy Week and the events leading up to introduce a variety of services, meetings, as well as emotions and weight to our schedules. It’s an important season in the church world and there’s a lot of emphasis placed on remembering Christ’s death and celebrating His resurrection. After all, we are Easter people.
This year, in the midst of Holy Week, our church and community suffered a tragedy that affected everyone deeply and shook us to the very core of our existence. It was horrific and life altering and consumed our thoughts and emotions. I was to lead students and families through processing this all the while figuring out the why and how on my own. Which usually just led to me screaming at God in my car because how did He ever think I was going to handle this one?!
It was about one in the morning when I finally got home and settled one night. I was emotionally exhausted and needed to settle down to try to get some sleep to prepare for the next day. I was in the middle of having a really good cry in the shower when the only thing that replayed in my head was the flight announcement that was seared into my brain three years ago. I’ve heard it several times since then, of course, but this night, it was replaying over and over again with no flight attendant voice. Just my own.
“Please secure your oxygen mask first, before assisting another person.”
In ministry we like to use buzz words and create cultures around ideas and movements, and for the past decade we’ve been pretty set on the idea of soul care.
I’ll be honest, I hate the buzz words soul care, but I like the idea of caring for our own souls. The idea that we have to rest ourselves to take care of other people – that’s something I can get behind.
So, as I prepared to sleep in the midst of tragedy and heartache and devastation, I re read the words I wrote in my journal three years ago over and over again. I knew that God was teaching me something about self care that I couldn’t have learned any other way except the hard way. This way. The tragic way. The tearful way. The 1am way. The painful way.
I know that God is for me and He will never forsake me in my weaknesses. I know that my encounter with Him that night in the midst of my heartache was to remind me who He is, who I am in Him, and that He, too, is the God of rest, not just the God of the busy.
The truth that week was that I couldn’t take a day off, I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t care for my own soul very well. I thank God that our rest comes from Jesus and not from sleep or I’d really be in trouble!
The Gospel of Matthew tells us to let our YES be YES and our NO be NO – anything other than this is evil. I was given some days off following Holy Week to rest. It was like a little gift my Pastor wrapped up in a package and handed me with his words. When I started telling people that I had some days off, they immediately began to fill my schedule with things they thought would be good for my soul. “Why don’t you come here…” “Why don’t we do this….” “Why don’t you think about coming with me here…” “We should go…” Honestly, none of those things seemed appealing to my soul. The only thing I wanted to do to care for my soul was wake up to no alarm clock, eat the peanut butter eggs that were in my Easter basket, and workout. I wanted to have no schedule, to have no plans, to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, how I wanted to do it, and with who I wanted to do it. I realized in the midst of this chaos that my life is so finely scheduled that rarely can I make a split second decision to do something that would bring my soul the deep care that it needs to be sustainable in the demanding life of youth ministry.
Friends, if we are not caring for ourselves, we cannot care for another. If we are not putting our oxygen masks on first, we will never be able to breathe life into the ones who desperately need to fill their lungs.
It is not selfish to care for your mind, body, and soul in order to serve others better.
It is not selfish to get to the gym instead of going to meet a student for coffee.
It is not selfish to find an outlet of writing, reading, music, or athletics, to free your mind of the mess it often gets in.
It is not selfish to be in your own small group, meet regularly with friends who hold you accountable, or take some extra time to read and journal before you walk into your office in the morning.
It is right.
It is required.
The world tells us that it’s selfish.
God tells us that we must do those things in order to be effective and sustainable in youth ministry – or anywhere for that matter!
Put on your oxygen mask. It’s a wild, exciting, fun, and sometimes tragic ride – and we wouldn’t want to miss it because we’ve run out of air.
Oh, and my week, you’re wondering? I’ve gotten a massage, had more iced coffees than any human should, have worked out twice daily, cleaned out my closets, and watched every single episode of Chicago Fire and Chicago PD that were ever created. I’ve had friends over for breakfast, sat in the hot tub twice, met other friends for dinner, and said no to meeting others. I’ve ignored work emails, texts, and phone calls that aren’t emergencies and I’ve said no to hanging out with a student. I’ve slept past 6am and I’ve stayed up later than 2am. It’s been wonderful. Freeing. Exciting. Fun. I feel happy again, healthy, and ready to get back to work in a few days. I’ve let my YES mean YES and my NO mean NO. I’ve made no plans 20 minutes before they are to take place and I finally laughed from my belly again.
I’m not back yet, but it’s good to be on the road to recovery.
I’m breathing much deeper with the oxygen mask on.
Put yours on, friend.
You’ll be grateful.
Questions for Reflection:
How is God calling you to better care for your self?
What action steps can you take this week to begin moving toward an oxygen-filled you?
Who can you be accountable to in order to help prevent burn out?
Megan Faulkner is a Delaware native, now claiming the shores of New Jersey as her home. She graduated in 2007 from Eastern University in Philadelphia with a B.A. in Youth Ministries and Communication Studies. She’s been in full time youth ministry for eight years now, and has loved most minutes of it!
She can often be found on an airplane to and from Haiti (not kidding), on the beach, or swimming/biking/running. She recently completed her first Iron Girl Triathlon with the goals of not dying and not coming in last!
Megan loves social media and connecting with other youth workers, especially through writing. Her blog, Joy in the Journey, can be found at meganfaulkner.tumblr.com
Ways to Connect:
@MeganEFaulk (Twitter & Instagram)