A Ministry of Care by Dr. Daniel G. Bagby

Pastoral Care Guidance for Deacons, Stephen Ministers, and the Congregation of River Road Church, Baptist

Boundaries: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Others

Setting proper boundaries in relationships is neither non-responsible nor selfish, but a thoughtful stewardship of time, energy, and opportunity—so that we may offer our best self to another. Jesus rested, paused, slept, and absented himself regularly—in order to be available and useful at appropriate times.

  1. Know your stress signals: Stress signals are our body’s advanced warning system that we are on “overload” —physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Pay attention to difficulty focusing, irritability, drowsiness, change of sleep or eating patterns, headaches, etc.
  2. Listen to your expectations: We often place impossible and inappropriate requirements on ourselves: (“I will always be available,” “I will please everyone,” “I will feel cheerful about all requests,” “I will make everything fit,” “Loving someone is always doing what they want,” “I will make them happy,” etc.) Check toxic messages. Note “family scripts” also: “rescuer?”
  3. Set limits so you will be available: If you do not choose when you will NOT be available, you will be unable to be available at most important times. Rest so that you can offer strength; withdraw so that you can offer perspective; resist so that you can properly accept. Indiscriminate care is irresponsible care. You need time for reflection and assimilation.
  4. Monitor your own grief: In the face of change and loss, caregivers experience grief and sorrow—which requires some attention and energy to process. Don’t pretend you need not do so; find time and place where you can (church groups?)
  5. Schedule personal renewal: If you offer yourself some space to do a few things that nurture you, you will have strength and resources to nurture another. Otherwise, the “well runs dry”. Exercise. Play.
  6. Don’t confuse emotional/spiritual fatigue with lack of faith or love: There are “winters of the soul” and days of shadows when we wonder about what we believe, where God is, and whether we will survive. Most of such struggles are not lack of faith in God—but in ourselves. Allow yourself to doubt—without fearing that you will lose all faith. But be careful not to isolate yourself.
  7. Seek community—and Safe People: Don’t try to care all by yourself—let others help—because it will be a gift to them. Choose carefully with whom to associate in crisis times—some “friends” are not safe people, but highly critical folks who draw energy from us—rather than give it to us.
  8. Monitor your anxiety: The less anxious you become, the freer you are to help/serve others. As your anxiety increases, check your self-expectations, fear of inadequacy, and personal limitations. Watch over functioning and control issues.