Transcendence and Self-Care

Our theme for May is transcendence, a topic I look forward to exploring across our worship calendar and programs. Transcendence is one of those words that can be hard to get ahold of, since it means something that is inherently beyond tangible, ordinary experience – something sublime, extraordinary, revelatory, beautiful, uplifting, or deeply moving, pointing beyond itself, taking us beyond ourselves. See? There’s a there there, but it’s hard to wrangle.

So far my musings on this theme are taking me in an unexpected direction: What are the conditions for transcendence? In other words, what circumstances support experiences of transcendence? But as I’ve begun to ponder it in relationship to ministry and First Unitarian and things uppermost in my awareness, it feels like maybe I actually need to address the opposite of transcendence (or, at least, that which makes transcendence possible: giving it room and having time and energy to experience or engender or even just look around and notice transcendence) – that is, schedules and calendars and delineations of time. Because there are two things that are true for me about transcendence. One is that I hope and believe that church life, well done, sometimes can be good enough to offer us some moments of transcendence. The other is that transcendence needs some room and time to manifest. Without room and time, I don’t think it happens, at least not in my experience.

As long as I’ve been a minister, I’ve had the same weakness – well, perhaps more than one, but always, regardless of others, this one: self-care. When the First Unitarian Search Committee was talking to my references, they heard the same thing from most of them: Liz is “challenged by” or “terrible at” self-care, “the thing she’ll need the most help with is self-care,” “if I had to pick her biggest weakness, it’d be self-care” . . . you get the picture.

The first year of a new ministry is always extra busy, because every-thing is new, and so extra work goes into foundation laying and taking in new information and all the rest. Plus – what a year we’re having! I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying this time learning about all of you and Providence and Rhode Island, how much I care about all the ministry we’re doing together and all the wonderful things happening at First Unitarian. Truly, I love it and I’m fired up about it all the time. And, as usual, my self-care regimen is largely nonexistent.

I have to do better at it; in fact, one of my goals for this year – by far the most unmet of my goals – was to establish a new set of self-care habits and standards as part of beginning this new ministry. But there’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep up. So I’ve been hav-ing many meetings on my “writing day” and mostly working long, full days on my “day off” . . . and even then, it’s hard to keep up!

I’m writing to all of you about this because I have realized that I can’t do it by myself. I need to do better about letting you know my schedule, and then keeping to it. And you’ll have to know that this will mean some things may lag – or even, worst-case scenario, go undone. First Unitarian is actually understaffed for a church our size, which is an issue we’ll need to address in the future. But for now, I have to be honest about my limitations, and do better at keeping to a sustainable schedule, leaving time for my family and for some time to draw breath and work on my health and all that good stuff. To be clear, I’m not burning out, and my health is fine – but burning the candle at both ends takes a toll, and I want to do better before it starts taking a toll on me and, by extension, First Unitarian.

So, here’s my first attempt at it, sharing this weakness with you all, and asking for your support.

My schedule is this:

  • Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays: I am in the office and/ or in meetings, available by appointment afternoons and evenings.
  • Thursdays: I am working from home on writing and research for sermons, services, and justice work.
  • Fridays: My day off.
  • Saturdays: Dedicated to services, meetings, gatherings, fine-tuning worship, etc.
  • Sundays: Worship and congregational meetings.

From now on, I’m going to do all I can to keep to it. This means I won’t be looking at email on Fridays – maybe even over the weekend. It means I will be working, but not in meetings, on Thursdays. Your understanding will do a great deal to help me manage this. And, of course, if you have an emergency, please let me know. I never want the usual schedule to keep me from being able to help in an urgent situation.

Lastly, as people have pointed out to me, attending to my own self-care allows me also to model it for the congregation. I know there are a lot of folks at First Unitarian who feel swamped by responsibilities. You know – and I have preached it, and will again – that we all need to make time for ourselves, for our own self-nurture and sustenance. So please take this note as an opportunity to consider your self-care, and how you can best attend to your own needs and yearn-ings. Do it for yourself, because you deserve it. And let me remind you, along with myself, that this is also a form of faithfulness, because the stronger we each are, the stronger we can be for each other.

Thank you in advance for anything you do – or don’t do! – in support of this goal. In 2020, I will be marking my 25th year in ministry– seems like a good time by which to have made real progress on this – so I’m starting now. And I hope that, among other things, attending to this will give all of us a long and healthy tenure together, with room and time even for some moments of transcendence along the way.

See you in church,

Rev. Liz Lerner Maclay, Minister
Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
Home study: Thursday
Day off: Friday