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Chaplain: It's Not Selfish

An article in today's (as I type this) newspaper caught my eye. The headline read Time Off Prescribed for Clergy Members and it chronicled the increase in obesity, hypertension and depression among members of my profession. While for years job satisfaction among clergy rated among the highest of any profession, in recent years it's plummeted. One pastor referenced in the article admitted that he had not taken a vacation for 18 years!

The topic of self-care is a hot one for members of the clergy these days. The stress that clergy experience, particularly those who believe that they are on call 24 / 7 / 365, is very high. Predictably, the lack of care is taking a significant toll.

Since I serve as a volunteer chaplain with our local police department, I've become acquainted with many of our officers and administrators. From conversations that have occurred in the front seat of a cruiser or in the privacy of an office, I've become very much aware that law enforcement personnel experience significant stress, more so than that experienced by us clergy. I see many of the same consequences when those in law enforcement do not exercise self-care. I haven't discovered an officer or administrator who shuns vacation, but I see many symptoms of lack of care that make we aware that this is something to which law enforcement personnel must pay attention. So, I offer this counsel and hope that it is received in the spirit that I give it.

  • Take care of yourself physically. I know that this may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but lack of physical self-care seems to be a growing problem among law enforcement. If one is sitting behind a desk all day or spends most of an 8 hour or more shift in a cruiser, physical exercise quickly becomes compromised. Obesity may not be a problem with most officers but I know a few who would confess to being overweight. Make sure that you find a way to get regular, disciplined physical exercise.
  • Take care of yourself emotionally. The culture of law enforcement is such that officers and other personnel quickly become accustomed to concealing or stuffing their emotions. While law enforcement personnel frequently are faced with the unsavory side of life, seeing and hearing things that defy imagination, very few are able or willing to find a helpful outlet for the emotional baggage that accumulates. The more emotions are stuffed, the greater chance that they will emerge in an unhealthy and unhelpful way. If you're unable to speak with your spouse or significant other or a close friend, find someone who will give you space to ventilate. Chaplains are trained to do this. If your department has a chaplain, I want to encourage you to utilize her or his listening ear.
  • Take care of yourself spiritually. Whatever form your spiritual practice takes, it is well documented that those who make time for regular spiritual renewal are emotionally healthier and better equipped to deal with the daily stresses of law enforcement.

If you're tempted to think that taking care of yourself is selfish, let me assure you that it's one of the best things you can do not just for yourself but for those you love and those you serve.