“I can’t take on another thing.”
I imagine many pastors have heard those words at one time or another after asking parishioners to take on some new role in parish ministry, perhaps even when they asked someone to take on the meaningful and critical role of compliance officer!
In fact, it is important that we take care of ourselves. Our goal of protecting children, youth, elders and all those we serve will come to nothing if we make ourselves sick while pursuing it.
Fortunately, research suggests ways to balance personal needs and ministry. There is a lot that we can do to enhance our health while saying “yes” to the needs around us.
In a recent article, Professor Roger Walsh, Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior at the School of Medicine of the University of California, Irvine, cited convincing evidence that “therapeutic lifestyle changes” can positively affect both mental and physical health, even in very busy persons.
This idea is not entirely new to us. Diet and exercise probably are two lifestyle changes we think of first. And truly, they are powerful in their impact.
But Professor Walsh found six other lifestyle factors that also enhance health: time in natural environments, recreation, relaxation or stress management, religious or spiritual involvement, healthy relationships and service to others.
There surely are a lot of ways to help ourselves stay healthy! And, as you probably noticed, the last three factors are right in the wheelhouse for people of faith.
Consistent with more than two decades of previous research, Walsh found that investing in religious and spiritual development has a multitude of health benefits, especially when it is rooted in love and forgiveness.
And even more intriguing is the interaction I see among those benefits.
First, these benefits are expanded by the social support that is at the core of being part of a religious community.
That is, when we are active in our parish, getting to know and spending time with our fellow parishioners, the benefits of religious and spiritual development are likely to be multiplied. Certainly, this finding would be consistent with our Catholic tradition, which teaches us that faith development is not a solitary enterprise, but is better realized in communion with others.
Second, health seems also to be enhanced by giving service.
When we are actively collaborating with our fellow parishioners in helping others, within and outside the parish, the benefits are quite possibly even greater. The only qualifier is that the service we’re doing is freely given, not seen as a duty or a burdensome responsibility.
So, there it is: a pretty good deal.
Professor Walsh calls it the “paradox of happiness.” If we nurture our faith in religious community with others and if we express our faith in freely given service, the good we do for others becomes something good for ourselves.
Doesn’t that sound pretty close to what Jesus taught us?
Give some thought this month to how you are giving of yourself in your parish, and see the Lord smiling at you.
If you or anyone you know has experienced abuse by a priest, deacon, sister, brother, employee or volunteer for the Roman Catholic Church or for the Diocese of Tucson – no matter when or where the abuse happened – we urge you to report the abuse immediately to law enforcement. Also, we encourage you to call the Victim Assistance Program of the Diocese of Tucson at 1-800-234-0344 in Arizona and the Office of Child, Adolescent and Adult Protection of the Diocese of Tucson at 520-792-3410. More information is available at www.diocesetucson.org/ocaap.html.
“I can’t take on another thing.”