During the olympic GAMES, American gymnast Simone Biles shocked the world by withdrawing from the team and individual all-around finals. This was shocking, because Biles is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). She withdrew to focus on her mental health.
There was a backlash. Some called her selfish and a quitter. Many accused her of not caring about her teammates enough to go out and perform.
As one who has participated in team sports all my life, I found Biles’ actions brave and inspiring. I cannot imagine the pressure she was under.
I wondered how her teammates would respond. They were depending on her to lead the team. I was pleased with the support they showed. They rallied behind her and put together a great team performance, earning a silver medal.
Biles’ teammates understood her struggles and the pressure she was carrying. In one of the interviews after earning silver, they all said it wasn’t fair to her that she was forced to carry the team all the time. They had talent too, and they showed it.
We as Christians can learn something from Biles and her teammates. Often when we talk about self-care, we place the responsibility on the individual. We tell people to make sure they are taking care of themselves, but we may be the ones who’ve applied the pressure.
In one breath we tell people to take the time they need, yet we fail to acknowledge the pressures that contribute to a lack of self-care.
We love to talk about selflessness and the importance of community. We’re less likely to acknowledge church can be exhausting.
Much of this stems from over-reliance on certain individuals. We expect them to give all of themselves. We expect them to prioritize church work. This pressure we put upon them can lead to burnout.
I have seen people leave the church because they were asked to do too much.
I have seen people refuse to join the church for fear they will be asked to do too much.
While we want people to be deeply committed to the work of the church, we have to remember they have lives outside the church. They may need the church to be a place where they can take a break from stress. It is important for the church to be life-giving, not life-draining.
Jesus paid attention to his disciples’ need for self-care. Imagine the pressure they felt, leaving their families to follow Jesus and create a new community.
In Mark 6:30-32, Jesus gives the disciples a short rest in preparation for their next assignment. Jesus had sent them out in groups of two to share the good news with all who would hear it. When they report back to Jesus all that they had done and taught, Jesus tells them to get on a boat and to go to a deserted place to eat and rest.
Jesus acknowledges their need for rest and preparation before the next big thing. Being in tune with his community, Jesus knows the disciples need time for self-care. This alleviates the pressure they may have felt if they had to keep going without taking care of themselves.
We need to watch for signs of burnout in our church communities. Who are we calling on to show up and shoulder the burden time and time again? Who are the ones we keep running to without giving them a chance for rest? Sometimes its good to give people the space and option to just show up without the burden of responsibilities.
By being in tune with our community, we can know who may need time for rest and how we as a community can step in and help out. Self-care is not only about how an individual cares for himself or herself. It is also about how a community cares for an individual. Are others prepared to pick up some duties? Do we understand the situation a person may be facing?
We can learn a lot from how Jesus responds to his disciples after all of their work. We can learn much from the teammates of Simone Biles. When the people around us need self-care, we have to listen to them and be prepared to fill in where we can, like good teammates.