Sometimes welcoming is hard.
The struggles of our friends weigh on us until they start to feel too heavy to carry anymore. Systemic problems and unrighted wrongs eat away keep us up at night. In many cases, our efforts feel like too little, too late.
So what keeps us going? On a meta level, it is God Himself, the Source of infinite love, who welcomed us with open arms when we were strangers and teaches us to do the same.
But on a micro level—in a Thursday morning sense—we can and should implement self-care practices that can be used by God to sustain us for the long-haul.
By keeping these things in steady rhythm in our lives, we will bend but not break under the strain of the often heart-wrenching ministry of presence.
1. Make a list of life-giving activities (and then DO them, regularly).
Seriously. Stop reading this article and make a list on a scrap of paper or in your journal of at least 5 things you find relaxing and enjoyable.
These should be do-able things—i.e. I would find a vacation to a tropical island relaxing and enjoyable, but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Going to the library to browse for an enormous stack of cookbooks, however? Doable—and actually done right before I started writing this article!
Note: Your list should be things that qualify as true recreation (that is, you feel re-created or renewed after doing them). I venture to guess that scrolling social media or catching up on email, while they may give you a buzz in the moment, are not truly life-giving activities. Skip them when you’re feeling in need of self-care.
One more thing on this point: Making a list of things that revive you is not enough. You have to actually do them (…preaching to myself).
2. Make a list of your unhealthy “I’m stressed!” go-tos, and use them as warning signs.
If you think about it, you likely have predictable unhealthy patterns you use to unsuccessfully cope when you are stressed. These may include stress-eating, extreme binge watching TV (not enjoying a show, but obsessively getting lost in entertainment), compulsively checking social media, or angry nit-picking of family members.
What are your unhealthy go-tos? Don’t be ashamed of them (we all have at least one!). Instead, remember that knowledge is power when it comes to unhealthy behaviors. When you see yourself going down your favorite unhealthy path—or feeling tempted to do so—use it as a warning light telling you, “I am stressed. I need you to help me find a healthier way to relax and renew myself.” Then, refer to the list you made in point #1.
3. Stay connected to other welcomers.
As in most things in life, being a lone ranger is difficult and even dangerous. If you’re the only person you know who is investing their life in welcoming immigrants, it has never been easier to change that! I was all down on social media earlier in this article, but now I’m going to praise it: use technology to connect with others who are passionate about loving the stranger.
Online friendships can be real friendships, I believe, but also make an effort to find friends in real life involved in this kind of ministry (even if you have to invite your existing friends to GET involved). Having people both online and in-person to brainstorm with, vent to, and pray with and for is key for being a welcomer for the long-haul (not burning out after a short solo-stint!).
4. Practice enforcing wise boundaries.
This is a tricky one to get right. Notice I said wise boundaries. Theoretically, we all know that we need boundaries in our lives. But in practice, it is easy to continually allow them to be crossed because of the nature of being deeply connected with vulnerable people. And this should be ok, sometimes. But we also need to not forget that we cannot be “on” 24/7, and that eventually we do need to recharge.
Jesus is a healthy model for us in this. He regularly withdrew to be by himself or to have time with his inner circle away from the pressing needs of the crowds that followed him (i.e. Mark 1:35; 9:2, Luke 11:1). But many times, needy crowds followed him.
For example, we see in Mark 6 that he invites his disciples to get some rest because they had been busy for a long time (v. 31).
But when the crowds followed them, Jesus “had compassion on them” (v. 34), teaching them and feeding them miraculously (which also taught the disciples something about the infinite supply of the God who shows strength through our weakness).
But after that, watch what happens: “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray” (v. 45-46). We see that even when the needs of the crowds were attended to, Jesus did not forget that his disciples and he himself needed rest and solitude.
So let’s practice wisdom in enforcing boundaries. Let’s have rhythms of rest. Let’s have compassion on others and grace for ourselves when those rhythms get disrupted by urgent needs, but let’s also make an effort to not forget our own needs in the midst of meeting others’ needs, because…
4. Never forget that you’re more than a “minister.”
You are a person. A human. A beloved child of God.
You’re not the Savior. Not a miracle worker. Not the Energizer Bunny. Maybe not even an MVP.
*I’m taking a deep breath of relief with you.*
You’re just you. An ordinary welcomer. And that’s ok. We can say with A.W. Tozer, “How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations [after acknowledging them], to the God who has none” (parentheses mine).
Repeat after me: Practicing self-care is not selfish. It is simply recognizing that we are not God. At it’s core, that’s all prayer is, really—admitting that we’re not God and turning to the One Who Is—so that means prayer is the ultimate kind of self-care.
I’m not tacking this on to the end of this article to tie it up with a nice spiritual bow. Instead, I’m mentioning it last because it is the most important thing I could possibly say on the subject. Stay connected to God in prayer—even if the prayer is as simple as an exhaled, “Lord, give me grace.”
If we become disconnected from this life-giving practice, we will inevitably end up acting like God and getting burned out in the process, because we were never meant to live like that.
Staying connected to the Welcoming God, on the other hand, will fill us to overflowing with His welcoming kind of love, so that we’ll always have more than enough to share with our immigrant friends.
Remember this: We’re finite. He’s infinite. But He’s opened wide his storehouses of grace to empower us for every good endeavor, including welcoming ministry!
How do YOU practice self-care in the midst of welcoming?