The Four Gifts by April Yamasaki evokes for me Jesus’ search for solitude after his work of healing among the crowds. It seems that some of the most oft-told stories of Jesus are of his crossing the sea to get to the shore of the next crisis. Less often lauded are the stories of his crossing to the other side alone to seek intimacy with his Father. These encounters helped him renew for another round of engagement with people.
If Jesus needed to care for himself in order to care for others, surely we do, too.
Yamasaki’s exploration of self- and other-care is biblical and Jesus-centered. She helps us avoid loving self only or others only. She affirms L.R. Knost: “Taking care of oneself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.”
Yamasaki — who served Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C., for 25 years as lead pastor before departing in November — structures her guidance around Mark 12:30-31, in which Jesus identifies the greatest commandments as to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. Yamasaki mines the four gifts of self-care buried in the words heart, soul, mind and strength.
For me, the brightest gem in the “heart” section is Yamasaki’s treatment of boundaries. She cites the writer Anne Lamott’s declaration that “ ‘no’ is a complete sentence.” It does not make us bad Christians if we do not consider everything and everyone our responsibility. Boundary setting is the humble acceptance of our limits.
Yamasaki writes of discovering that the things she had taken on only to avoid disappointing others represented excess weight — “throw off everything that hinders” (Heb. 12:1) — that kept her from joyfully running with the other tasks God had placed before her. She found that she didn’t need to worry about disappointing others because people quickly moved on to someone else. She was removing things that weren’t hers to carry.
Establishing good boundaries meant more than drawing a line and refusing to cross it: “While boundaries can bring clarity and focus, when taken to the extreme and rigidly applied, boundaries can become barriers to compassion and living a full life.” She thinks that’s what happened with the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Whatever commitments they may have had, whatever religious laws they were bound to keep — instead of healthy boundaries, these became barriers to helping a fellow traveler.”
To set boundaries rather than barriers, she suggests creating a don’t-do list. First, ask: What do I need to stop doing so that I can take care of myself and devote energy to my core commitments? Then commit the don’t-dos to God in prayer. Think of this as a work in progress that changes over time.
The “soul” section’s gem is simple but not simplistic: Listen. Yamasaki emphasizes the word “listen” in Mark 12:29. “Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel. The Lord our God is the one and only God.’ ” Struck by the force of the word, she almost stopped reading in the middle of worship: “If we are to love God, we are to listen. If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we are to listen. As far as the great commandment goes, listening is right up there with loving.”
Centering prayer and lectio divina — a prayerful method of reading Scripture — are two ways to foster listening. She writes, “In silent, centering prayer, I sit quietly, breathe slowly and turn my thoughts toward God — the Creator, the Redeemer and Sustainer of all things.”
Her tips on Sabbath-keeping include fasting from social media, meeting a friend to listen with a loving heart, and being kind to yourself. You aren’t perfect. God is still God.
Next, Yamasaki invites us to “mind” our priorities. Eighty percent of the value of a to-do list comes from 20 percent of the items. On a list with 10 items, completing two may be worth much more than all the rest put together. If you tend to deal with goals and priorities on the fly, take a moment to stop, pray and address your mind to them more deliberately. Consider what your feelings tell you: Joy, anxiety and other emotions can help discern our goals.
Finally, the “strength” section encouraged me to visit the gym whether I feel like it or not. That will help me to care for the temple of my embodied self. She writes: “What we do in and through our bodies matters, because we belong to God. That makes caring for our bodies an act of stewardship.” Some tips for body care are simple: Breathe, stretch, move, sweat, nap.
I’m glad this book was on my to-do list. It prompted me to lighten my load of excess cargo and reminded me that Jesus is in the boat with me, stilling the storm.
Laurie Oswald Robinson is a freelance writer from Newton, Kan.