The value of energizers when you’re dying for a break

By Merrie Eizenga

It won’t be a surprise to anyone that at Kerith Retreats we talk a lot about self-care. In the past, I think some leaders thought this was just a phase and that, given time, it would be forgotten, and we could get back to building the Kingdom of God. But it is now widely recognized that if we don’t take care of ourselves – our bodies, our minds, our souls and our hearts – we simply will not have the reserves needed to care for others.

One author suggested that “taking care of ourselves is holy work.” I liked that thought and it has helped many of our retreat guests reframe what they had previously considered as simply selfish indulgence.

While the topic of self-care can take us in several directions, I want to centre in on the importance of routinely adding energizers to your life. Research has shown that one of the keys to staying healthy in ministry is finding ways to offset the stressors we are experiencing with energizers. Now, if you are one of those pastors whose life is stress free, you can stop reading now, but if you’re like the hundreds of leaders we’ve met over the last eight years, stay with me.

Stressors vs. energizers

During one of our sessions at Kerith Retreats, we ask our guests to share the stressors that they are dealing with right now in their lives. Their answers, as you might imagine, run the gamut. And then I ask, “What are some of the energizers you have in your life?” More often than not, the room goes completely silent. Crickets. Guests are looking at each other hoping someone will answer to fill the awkward silence.

I jump back in to assure them they are not alone in not knowing what energizes them. But I also have to remind them that if research is accurate and energizers are the way we offset the stressors in our lives, then many of us in vocational ministry are in trouble.

So, here’s the challenge. On a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle and under the heading “stressors,” write down those things that are causing stress for you. It’s likely the list is long. On the other side of the line, under the heading “energizers,” write down those things that energize you, fill your tank, make you smile and that you are routinely incorporating in your life right now.

That’s the issue for most of us, isn’t it? Even if we know what energizes us, we’re not regularly practising them.

Incorporating energizers into everyday life

Here’s the hard truth: Although a three-week vacation in the summer is wonderful, that break is not enough to offset the daily stressors we are dealing with. You need to know what energizes you when you have two hours on a Thursday morning or two hours on a Monday afternoon. These two-hour time slots, practised regularly, have helped scores of pastors not throw up their hands in despair and simply quit the ministry.

Carey Nieuwhof says this type of break “is any activity, hobby or past time that you can do fairly regularly in two hours or less that gives your mind a complete break and refreshes you.” Carey adds that “the time frame is important because most of us won’t do it frequently enough if it takes longer than two hours.”

And while there is no right answer to “what energizes you,” some of our guests, after time to consider, have answered: time in the hot tub, painting, window shopping, a walk by the river, a great cup of coffee, a bike ride.

Obstacles to regular practice

It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Why then is this so hard for us to incorporate these practices into our schedules?

Well, here are two reasons I’d like you to consider:

  1. For most of us, when we get busy or stressed the first thing to go missing are our energizers, right? This means that what we need the most in a busy season is eliminated completely because we don’t think we have the time. This is a problem.
  1. Secondly, I wonder if sometimes what we think are “energizers” are really just “escapes.” Sit with that a minute.

My husband and I had to wrestle through this a few years ago. We had just moved to Alberta to take over as program directors of Focus on the Family Canada’s Kerith Creek. The learning curve after pastoring for 35 years (especially for me) was challenging. At the end of most days, we would eat our dinner on trays in front of the TV, mindlessly listening to hour after hour of Judge Judy yelling at people. After some soul searching, we had to admit that even after a long, exhausting day of work, this was not energizing for us – it was simply an escape.  Here’s the difference: an energizer fills you; an escape fills time.

Now take a look at your list and be honest with yourself. If you have any energizers written down, is it possible that they have just been escapes for you? No judgment on this end! I gave away hours and hours of my life watching an elderly judge holler at people.

It’s our hope at Kerith Retreats that including energizers to your life will both add a little joy and be a reminder that self-care is not selfish. Everyone wins when you practise it!


Merrie Eizenga is one of the program directors at the Alberta Kerith Retreats location with her husband, Marshall. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

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