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A Walk in Oxford: or, Remembering about Self-CareBy Greg Garrett
It is sixty-one degrees outside today in Oxford, England, where I am teaching at Christ Church College for the summer. As some of you know, I try to get away from the Austin heat every summer, and I’ve certainly managed that here in Oxford.
It has been an amazing opportunity, but like much of the work that we do that has positive things attached—whether it’s leading a group to the Holy Land, attending General Convention, or simply the day to day work of our vocation—it has ground me down. For the first time in my life, I feel old.
Old in my bones.
Old in my soul.
I have been talking generally this summer about all “my kids,” a large group divided up into two smaller sets: “my students” and “my children.”
I am responsible for 21 students from Baylor University who are looking to me for intellectual and spiritual leadership—and to make sure they get on the right train.
My family is also here—my wife, Jeanie, our girls Lily and Sophie, my son Chandler—and all of them need and deserve attention, especially since our family suffered a tragic death in the middle of the summer.
I have been speaking and doing media appearances to support a recent book from Oxford University Press.
And I have been traveling, as many as five days a week, around England and Wales with one or both groups of my kids in tow.
So as amazing as the experience has been, as much as I am learning, as much good as I think I might be doing in the lives intersecting with mine, I have given out much much more than I have gotten back.
That’s why it was life-saving (metaphorically if not physically) when my classmate the Rev. Zane Wilemon (MDiv, 2007) arrived in Oxford to write and pray for a few days. On the day we had agreed to meet under Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower, I was supposed to take a dozen of our students on a beautiful long walk frequently taken by C. S. Lewis to a pub on the bank of the Thames. Zane and Chandler were planning to come along.
But no one besides the three of us appeared at our rendezvous, and when one of my colleagues at last arrived to tell me that the walk had been postponed, I was filled with relief.
I know I’m not the only one of us who rejoices at cancellations, but what, I wonder, does it tell us about our lives that we are so happy not to have to do something we’d previously agreed to do?
Well, Zane understood. He is a dear friend, and as dear friends can, he had diagnosed my malaise with a look.
“We’re still going to The Perch,” he said as my Baylor colleague walked away. “But now it’s a walk with the guys and a couple of pints. You need some self-care, Buddy.”
The wisdom of that hit me like a slap; of course I did.
That was just precisely what I needed: self-care.
But, as with many spiritual truths, that need for self-care is one we constantly seem to forget. My spiritual director Joe Berry says its human nature to need to relearn things over and over. I don’t know about that, but it certainly seems to be my nature.
So as Zane, Chandler, and I were walking along the green and flowering banks of the river on a cool overcast afternoon, I was relearning.
We talked about the ironies of pastoral people who refuse to be pastoral toward themselves.
“We talked about self-care from the very first day of seminary,” Zane said as we walked.
“I know,” I said. “We still talk about it all the time. We just don’t do it.”
But on this day in Oxford, we were doing it. I was taking a few hours from the work I’d given myself to. So was Zane. (So, I guess, was Chandler!)
We stopped to photograph flowers, to watch men fish, and to watch a women’s crew team row.
We had lunch at The Perch with a pint of a fine local ale called Oxford Scholar.
And going, returning, and during lunch, we talked about what was giving us life now.
We took deep breaths.
As we walked back into Oxford town from the countryside, I knew I was returning to my kids. All of them.
I knew that I was getting ready to take up my work again. All of it.
But I also knew that I felt different. I was tired. A little sleepy. But I had a spring in my step that had not been there before.
I felt young.
The prophet tells us, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
But what he might have more truthfully said is “those who wait for the Lord—and take care of themselves as well as others…”
And I relearned that lesson again, far from Austin, but thanks to a friend given me by the Seminary of the Southwest.
What good advice have friends given you about taking care of yourself? What is the best advice you could give others?
Greg Garret (@Greg1Garrett) currently serves as the Writer-in-Residence at Seminary of the Southwest. As a member of the adjunct faculty of the seminary, Greg helps future leaders of the Church to write, interpret, and communicate effectively.
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