The Curious Case of Daisy the Dog
Even the rescuers need help - reflections on how pastors can practise some sensible self-care in this most challenging of times. By Darren Blaney
Given what is going on in our country at the moment, you might feel that you are having a bad day, a bad week, or perhaps even a bad 2020! What’s more, 2021 might not be looking too great at the moment either.
If so, spare a thought for Daisy the dog. Over the summer, Daisy was with her owners trekking up Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in England. On the way down, however, she started to get into distress. She had pain in her back legs which was making walking increasingly difficult. Suddenly Daisy did what many of us wish we could do...she just stopped.
That was it. She was walking no further. As a result, 16 volunteers from the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team spent nearly five hours carrying the 121lb pooch down the mountain on a stretcher.
There have been times during this year when I have felt much the same. Perhaps you have to? We know that the Good Shepherd will be there for us at such times, yet would it not be better if we could be sensible and wise and avoid getting into such a state in the first place? So here are some things that I have been trying to incorporate into my life, with varied success, to make sure that I don't have a "Daisy on the Mountain" experience.
1. Enjoy time with God, not endure it
When it comes to time with God, it is all too easy to think in terms of "got to" and the need for discipline. We can have the “I've got to have my Quiet Time otherwise I am a bad Christian and won’t be blessed” mentality. This often includes “I have got to get through my Bible Reading Notes for the day” and “I have got to pray for everything on my prayer list.” I would be the first to say that discipline in prayer is important. However, in the season we are going through perhaps we should think of "get to", not "got to", and of the need for grace more than the need for discipline.
It is not that I have got to spend time with God. Rather, I get to spend time with Him. Life is busy and stressful at the moment for everyone, not to mention uncertain in many ways. In the midst of that I get to spend time with the One Person who has the wisdom, power and love to help me. It is a gift, not a chore. It is an oasis of water in the midst of a desert. I think now is the time more than any other when we as believers need to see our Devotional Time as a gift from our Heavenly Father. It is there so He can minister to us in this time of crisis, not so that we can tick things off of a religious 'to do' list.
I have learned a lot about this from Terri Savelle Foy who talks about the balance between discipline and grace in her own walk with God. That she will have a Devotional Time is a set fact. It is discipline.
What she will do in that time is flexible, however. It is more a matter of grace. Sometimes she focuses more on prayer. Other times she journals. On other occasions she enjoys silence and stillness and waits on the 'still small voice of God'. On other occasions she will study her Bible and yet again on others focus more on praise and worship.
Personally, I think seeing my Devotional Time as a gift from God not as an obligation, and making this move from “got to” to “get to”, is perhaps the most important spiritual shift that God is teaching me through this pandemic period.
2. Taking a daily walk
I have started parking my car half a mile from the office. That means a minimum of a mile a day walking. In addition I am taking a 30 minute stroll over lunch, out to the nearby seafront. This latter walk has additional benefits. It gets me close to the sea, with the sound of waves and the smell of the salt. Then when I get to the vantage point known as the Crow's Nest at the end of the Harbour Arm, I have five minutes to pray for God's blessing over the town.
We all know walking has many physical health benefits. It is also good for our emotional and mental health too, all the more so if you can walk in (or close) to nature. Add in praying, and it's practically a total workout - body, soul and spirit.
I have to confess that since first drafting this article, it has proved increasingly difficult to keep up the lunchtime walk. The answer? I have had to out-smart myself. I now park the car ONE MILE from the office, so I guarantee myself some extra exercise! I also park near the local Memorial Gardens, so I still get to walk through nature as well.
3. Avoid news and social media
I have a friend who suffers with mental health issues. As the pandemic hit he was pleased to discover an online course from a national charity designed to help people stay mentally strong during this difficult time. He eagerly signed-up. He told me, “Lesson one was really straight-forward: stop going on social media and limit what you watch on the news.”
If I was only going to recommend one thing, it would probably be this. The news is mainly negative and social media is overloaded with conspiracy theories and critical comments. It really is no good for your mental health.
What are we to do? I now get my news from the BBC News website. Not only does this have a far more balanced variety of stories, but also I can choose which to look at in more depth, rather than having that decision made for me. Turn on the TV News and it is all to easy to have negativity and fear forced down your ears and eyes. I also find the web-based reporting far more factual and neutral in tone than the TV and Radio.
As for social media, I limit myself to the Tim Vine Jokes page and the Dad Jokes pages on Facebook. All clean, nothing nasty, and some very funny.
How much time are you spending on news and social media? Perhaps a little break might be good for the soul?
4. Have a distraction
We all need something to take our minds off of what is going on around us at the moment, for at least some time every day. I've been so grateful for cricket and Radio 4's “Test Match Special.” Ten minutes listening to Jonathan Agnew and Phil Tufnell talk about a guy they met in the hotel who had a funny coloured labrador, while they patiently wait for the rain to stop, is enough to make anyone forget about impending Covid produced economic catastrophe. Heh, as long as England's middle order don't collapse we can worry about economic collapse another day.
Seriously, we all need something. For me it is cricket. For some it's the Archers, for others it is a favourite TV program, or a book, or a half-an-hour in the garden, or finally finishing that jigsaw puzzle. Whatever it is for you, find it and use it.
5. Read more
I’ve been working hard to find some extra time to read and to make sure what I am reading is something good and encouraging for the soul. Of course, if you don't like reading, you can try listening. Audible from Amazon offers thousands of audio books. Youtube also has audiobooks you can listen to, along with an amazing collection of talks, interviews and seminars. It's not all silly cat videos.
I use Youtube like an educational library and through the summer I set myself the goal of listening to one good teaching message each day, for at least 20 minutes. What about you? Just reading for 20 minutes a day at an average reading speed will get you through 12 books a year. Amazing isn't it?
6. Don’t be afraid to access counselling
Just recently I had a little blip in my mental health. Nothing major, but just enough for me to get the message that my mind was struggling. So I have accessed counselling through a local charity that offers a discounted rate. I’m not looking for life-change or for the mysteries of my childhood to be explained. I just need a safe space to explore and talk through all the stresses and strains of my current situation.
I used to feel bad about using counselling until a friend who is a professional counsellor pointed out that she herself is expected to see a counsellor regularly! They call it Professional Supervision. It is designed, she says, to enable her to talk about some of the issues that she is dealing with in the counselling room and how they might be affecting her. Apparently it is standard practice in the profession. She said to me she was amazed that clergy were not required to do the same!
So if it helps you to access it, don’t think of it as counselling. It’s Professional Supervision to help you process all that stuff you have to deal with as part of your ministry of soul-care.
These then are some of the things I am trying to do to stay sane, healthy and positive. What are you doing that is keeping you keep-it-together? If you have any pandemic related ideas for keeping in good overall health, please let me know. We might even produce a list of them in a future article.
In the meantime you'll be pleased to know that after a few days the BBC News website announced that Daisy was back home with her owners having made a full recovery. What was particularly ironic in this story was that Daisy was a St Bernard! Yes, Daisy was part of that noble breed originally raised to be rescue dogs, working in the mountains of the Swiss and Italian Alps.
It all goes to show that on occasion, even the rescuers need help. Perhaps that is the main lesson from Daisy that all of us in Pastoral leadership would be wise to take away with us.
Image | Shirley Tittermary | Unsplash
Darren Blaney is minister of Herne Bay Baptist Church
Do you have a view? What has helped you during this time? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.