How is Self-Care Different from Soul Care?

If you feel like your feed is infiltrated with reminders about the importance of self-care, you are not alone. The $1.5 trillion self-care industry is expansive and pervasive in its influence. It isn’t an accident that you are receiving reminder after reminder of the ways that you can ensure that you are taking care of yourself. Instead, it is intentional marketing in order to capitalize on this bustling business. 

Read more

The Work of Real Self-Care: Holding Pain and Hope Together

“The work of real self-care is to hold pain and hope together.”
-Pooja Lakshmin

Back in December at a pastors’ gathering, my local denominational body used a polling app to ask the group a series of questions about stress and burnout. The consensus was clear: this was a group of people reporting high amounts of stress and significant burnout. Clergy attributed the burnout to a variety of elements related to leading our churches following the pandemic. At the top of the list of stressors were financial strain, political division, and declines in worship attendance. In response, the local denomination has started naming clergy burnout as a problem and making it a priority to encourage pastors to care for themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Similar refrains show up in the fields of education, medicine, social work, and the service industry. Apart from magazine and blog articles, just take a look at the many social media ads, and it’s clear that the push to engage in self-care is everywhere. However, sometimes it comes with a silent and subtle accusation that burnout is each person’s individual responsibility. To experience burnout becomes a personal flaw of not doing enough self-care. It means you haven’t tried hard enough or balanced your commitments well enough. It can take on the quality of a moral failing, yet another source of shame for those experiencing it.

Read more

A decorative image of a stack of smooth stones on a beach, with the ocean and sky on the horizon.

Mindfulness and Ministry: Cognitive Based Compassion Training

I’m re-doing my CPE. That’s right. I did it already: not just one unit, but four, and now I’m doing it again. That story will be told in a separate article. This article is about a valuable practice I learned about in my second-time-around second unit: Cognitive Based Compassion Training, or CBCT.  Read more

A Pastor in the Real World

The words "A Pastor in the Real World: An experiment in making meaning" in black text in front of a background of a typical board room, with a dark brown wooden table, black chairs, and white walls.

For years I have joked about what I would do with my life if this ministry thing didn’t work out. As with all jokes, there has always been a part to it that is tragic and true. In February of this year, I swore off congregational ministry. As a pastor, I experienced a type of trauma and pain that I never could have predicted. I did not want to put myself in a situation where that level of pain could be experienced again. In the throes of my grief, I couldn’t imagine a world in which I would open myself up again to love and inevitably be hurt by a congregation. 

As soon as I typed my resignation letter, I was looking for jobs in the real world — the world that felt so foreign after 10 years of congregational ministry, the world that so many of my peers inhabited on a daily basis, the world where employees were protected by legislation that would not allow what happened to me in the church to happen elsewhere. What could I do? Where would I fit? How could I repackage my qualifications to be relevant to the real world? My 3 1/2 degrees in theology did not appear on the surface to translate well to other fields.  Read more

A gravel path is shaded by pine trees and dappled with sunlight, with light blue sky coming through gaps in the canopy.

How Are You– Really?

The other night in Bible study I posed the question: Is anyone happy? 

People are not OK right now. Whether it is ongoing pandemic fatigue, financial stress, job dissatisfaction, or general feelings of ennui, many of us are feeling burned out, surrounded by other burned out people. It’s not a very life-giving situation. If you are feeling this way, you aren’t alone. Nearly everyone I talk to is feeling down in some way. 

Earlier this year I decided I was going to devote more time to one of my favorite hobbies: reading. I read more than I ever have: by the time fall started I had already finished 100 books for the year, when I usually read about 40-50 a year. It was amazing– until I realized I was using reading as a form of numbing. Reading is a great hobby to have, but I was immersing myself in these worlds to escape my own. It was my way of dealing with this feeling of not being OK. 

We all know that there are coping skills that are unhealthy, and most of us (especially pastors!) wouldn’t see reading as one of them, but I realized I was using it to numb myself rather than try to change what I could.  I decided to make some changes, find some more “balance.”  I started eating better, exercising, meditating, and journaling in place of the time I spent devouring novels. I’m still reading, but back to my pace of about a book a week (and I found that’s ok!). 

Check in with yourself. How are you— really?

Stop to take a few breaths and ask yourself – How am I… really? It’s ok if the answer is you are not OK. You are certainly not alone. The next question is– What do you need to be a little more ok? Expecting to be all better overnight isn’t realistic. I feel a little better than I did with these changes, but let’s be honest, all my problems didn’t go away because I have cut back on reading to move my body more, like dancing around my kitchen to 90s and 00s music. 

A gravel path is shaded by pine trees and dappled with sunlight, with light blue sky coming through gaps in the canopy.

This is a walking path the author comes to when she needs perspective. Do you have a place like that?

Do you need a therapist, coach, or spiritual director? A nutritionist? Use that meditation app you keep forgetting about? Do you need a night out with friends? Do you need to finally get that babysitter so you can go on a date night? Do you need to take a class to restart a favorite hobby or try something new? How about a walk in nature? Alarms on your phone with positive affirmations throughout the day? Something that makes you belly laugh? Just a reminder that you aren’t alone? 

That we’re all struggling. 

That you aren’t failing. 

That you are doing your best right now and your best is enough. 

It is enough. 

You are enough. 

You are loved. Deeply. 

Self care is never enough, though. I don’t have much wisdom for building systems of community care, because I’m still working on figuring that out myself. But I know we have to ask for help- not just from professionals but neighbors and friends too. Churches can be those spaces of community care, but many of our churches have forgotten how to do that. Can we put together meal trains not just for those grieving, but maybe for single parents for a week or two over the summer? Can we revive pastor’s discretionary funds for mutual aid? Can we advocate within our churches or workplaces for insurance to better cover mental healthcare or offer better leave options for mental health care? 


Breathe In. We’re going to get through this together. Breathe out. 

Repeat. You got this. We got this. You are doing amazing. 


I’m so proud of you. Keep going. 


If what you are feeling is too critical to rely on extra TLC and a community safety net, please reach out to a licensed therapist or dial 988, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Dear Clergy: A Letter for November

My dear, weary, fierce colleagues in ministry,

It’s been a year, hasn’t it? None of us knew going in to 2020 what would come; none of us expected to spend the majority of the year figuring out how to minister to and with people we couldn’t be within an arm’s reach of. And yet, here we are.

photo taken by the author at a clergy retreat in 2019

Let’s recap, shall we? We ended Lent during stay-at-home orders and celebrated Easter in parking lots and dining room tables. We canceled VBS, camps, and mission trips. We figured out cameras and live streaming and answered questions we never even knew we needed to ask. We learned Zoom and taught it to our congregations. Then taught it again. Then trouble-shot it. We switched platforms, software, hardware, and techniques, using skills that we never learned in seminary. We planned sermon series to speak to our trauma and danger; we found new ways to distribute food and serve our communities. We have planned and started over and planned some more; we have figured out how to administer communion in ways that are theologically and physically sound; we have presided over weddings and funerals over cameras and screens. We have held relationships together that are strained because of a contentious election; we have risked and weighed when, how, and how much to speak prophetically. We provided care over phone calls and texts instead of hospital beds and coffee tables. We have cried and prayed, wondered and doubted… all while trying to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our congregations healthy.

Whew. That list isn’t even exhaustive.

And yet. AND YET. Every step of the way, pastors made it happen. Surrounded and upheld by the Spirit, we served God’s beloved. You served God’s beloved.

Read more

Sabbath, Rest, and the Voices Inside My Head

“Would you ever consider doing something like this?” I asked. I was sitting with my friend Jeff in the balcony seats of the Wilbur Theater in Boston.

“Nooo!” he replied.

“Do you think Hannah would?” I asked.

“Nope,” he said. “What about Luke?”

“No way,” I answered.

It was intermission at a Mainstage production of the Moth, the live storytelling movement that had taken NPR and audiences across the country by storm.

I had never even heard of it.

Hannah is Jeff’s spouse, and Luke is mine. The four of us are friends from seminary and our two families vacation together every year. We were in Boston for our time together that year, where Hannah and Jeff live, and Jeff had bought tickets to the show after getting hooked on the Moth podcast and reading the first printed collection of stories. Neither Luke nor Hannah were feeling well that night, but Jeff and I went anyway, which is how we found ourselves on that balcony during intermission, discussing the similarities and differences between storytelling and preaching, and speculating about whether our spouses would ever do something like this.

“This” was to prepare a story – a true story, and your own story – on a set theme, and then to share it with a live audience. Notes are not allowed, there’s a strict time limit, and you can’t even wander the stage; the mic stays on the stand. It’s just you and the audience and your story.

I had only begun to understand how it worked – and to understand the draw – about an hour before.

“Would you ever do something like this?” Jeff asked.

“Yeah,” I answered. Something had clicked. I was getting nervous from the very idea of it, and my breath was already catching in my chest. “I think I have to do this.”

Conclusion of the 2017 Twin Cities Moth GrandSLAM

I went home and began to research how the whole thing worked. Moth StorySLAMs are amateur night in cities around the country, where anyone can throw their name in the hat to tell a story, and ten names are drawn. After ten StorySLAMs, the winners face off on a bigger stage at the GrandSLAM, with new stories under a new theme.

I was heading to a writing workshop in a few weeks. I had a piece prepared to workshop, and I volunteered to go first so I’d have the rest of the week to work on my story for the StorySLAM a few weeks later, which seems ridiculous in hindsight, given that there’s no guarantee your name will even be drawn. Read more

The Pastor’s Advent

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

As I write this, I’m sitting on my living room couch. I showered this morning, but I’m wearing what my husband’s aunt calls “soft clothes” – a sweatshirt, and lounge pants, and slippers.

I haven’t worn mascara in more than a week.

“What are you going to do today?” my husband asked me, this morning, while he packed lunches and I spread cream cheese on bagels for our daughters, who are 7 and 3.

“I have some writing to do,” I said. “Maybe I’ll return those Christmas lights that are too short, and buy some candles for the Advent wreath.” That was the entirety of my to-do list, at least as of 6:30am. I tried not to feel like it was inadequate.

On my way back from dropping our youngest at daycare, I decided to make a lasagna. And then I decided that I would sit my butt down and actually read the two long-form articles that have been open in my browser for days, one of them maybe even for weeks.

The very idea of sitting down, uninterrupted, to read an entire long-form article – without feeling the whole time like I was supposed to be doing something else – was almost unfathomable. The possibility that I could just sit and read the entire thing, from beginning to end, rather than to read it piecemeal – a few minutes here while my kids are playing in the tub, and a few minutes there while I scarf down my lunch – made me happier than I’d like to admit.

I took the week off, you see. Read more

open suitcase on a beach with beach gear inside

Ask a YCW: Vacation Edition

open suitcase on a beach with beach gear inside


Dear Askie,

I’m a solo pastor, and as summer approaches, people have been asking me what I’m doing for vacation this year. I know everyone says vacation is important for pastors, and I have vacation time included in my terms of call, but it seems like any week I’d want to be away, I would miss something important at the church. Plus, preparing for vacation is just so much work! With arranging pulpit supply, and getting bulletins ready in advance, and finding someone to cover pastoral care, it just sometimes seems easier to stay here. If it’s so much work to go on vacation, is it really worth it?

Too Tired to Take Time

Read more

Single Sabbath

I’m sure it’s not what our church leadership intends, but I have developed a reflexive twitch of annoyance whenever I hear the words “Sabbath rest” or “self-care.” I’m not a martyr pastor who thinks the church can’t exist without me – my ego isn’t healthy enough for that. I just believe we need to reframe the conversation so that our conversations about Sabbath and self-care reflect the spiritual diversity of our clergy siblings.

Early in my ministry at my first church, my senior pastor suggested that my Sabbath day should be spent in silence and reflection because I spend the rest of my week being a talkative extrovert. I took the kind hint and stopped chatting with him as often, but it also made me think about how we talk about the practice of Sabbath. When I attend clergy gatherings, conferences, or annual conferences, they often talk about ways to deepen our spiritual practices. We hear stories of silent retreats, days spent hiking alone listening to God, setting aside time for prayer and meditation in silence and solitude. All beautiful, important parts of a well-rounded spiritual life, all assuming that I am drained by the time I spend around other people.

I think the unique solitude of singleness is sometimes lost in the larger conversations about the loneliness that clergy often face. Read more