Chronic Helpers Disease

Written by: Pastor Otto B. Schultz

When I started in pastoral ministry 50 years ago, more than one old Pastor said, “I don’t know what people mean when they refer to taking a day off in the ministry.”  They were proud of how they neglected self-care. I joined them in that pride. I needed to do lots of work most weeks to feel justified. I could preach grace with the best of ‘em, but I did not feel it for myself.

Anyone can get away with neglecting proper self-care for a few weeks, months or even years. When proper self-care is chronic, it creates permanent damage emotionally, spiritually and physically. There is a meme that says, “Working at a church is saying, ‘After this next two weeks things should slow down.’ You say it over and over until you die.” “Things” don’t slow down. “Things” seem to keep coming up because many of us in ministry have CHD. Not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, but Chronic Helpers Disease is rampant among us. It is CHD that makes us think that our busyness and self-neglect are imposed from the outside. On the “plus” side, CHD leads us to feel justified by our many good works. We need to change our attitude about quick fixes and slow fixes for self-care.

Our clinical supervisor learned that a classmate had told a patient, “I’m here to help in whatever way I can.” The supervisor exploded, “What are you, Fred, a wholesale discount house?!!” Like many of us, Fred had CHD.

CHD easily leads to quick fixes. We may seek comfort in overeating, excessive alcohol or sedative use. It lead to quick fixes through the thrills of sex, gambling or stimulant drugs. Quick fixes can increase in importance until they become false gods in our lives.  After a 14-hour day, one minister crashed in her Lazy Boy; Doritos on one side, jalapeno dip on the other and the TV in front of her. She quickly sank into a quiet state of numbness. Suddenly, (by the work of the Spirit?) she realized she was quite like her alcoholic father who sought the same numbness through beer.

The big advantage with quick fixes is that they are quick, unlike healthy self-care tools.  Healthy tools are slow but they pay off big in the long run.  Longer life. Longer healthy life. Longer productive life. More joyful life. We know those tools: daily prayer, meditation, silence, time in nature, having fun for the sake of fun. Sharing with friends. Growing in communities that care for us. When our attitude shifts we know that we are worth the time and energy of healthy self-care. God thinks so and He proved in His Christ.

Enough of work for now. I’m off to play Pickleball.  After that is a 12 Step meeting.