Fragile people: Handle with care

Helen Johnston

28.1.2022 | Global Mission, Refined

Helen Johnston, PCI’s Mission Support Officer responsible for overseeing member care for those called to ministry and mission posts at home and overseas, reflects on the lessons she draws about caring for ourselves when life feels fragile from her own experience as an overseas mission worker and her present work for the church.

An important label for this moment

I had done all I could. Deciding what to bring, then wrapping and packing that special china mug, my trusty CD player and favourite CDs. Plastering the blue-barrel with ‘Fragile. Handle with care’ was the last part of the packing I had any control over. The transporting, air-freight and customs clearing processes were not up to me, but I hoped the many stickers would work and my treasured mug and CD player would arrive intact, ready for use in my new overseas location where I knew I would need them.

Blog_Fragile_Feb.jpgAs we begin another year dominated and controlled by an invisible virus, I feel like hanging the words ‘Fragile. Handle with care’ around my neck as I muster the energy to do more than just survive the journey, this season of disrupted living, its frustration, particularly in mid-winter when spring is not yet visible and the lights and cheer of Christmas are packed away. Reflecting on those days when I transported some of my personal belonging half-way round the world, I am remembering why that was important and a sustaining thing to do. In the member care world in which I operate this is called self-care.

Who cares? Master care. Self-care. Mutual care

Experience in helping those called to full time ministry and mission positions, has taught me that we each have a very personal view of self-care which is influenced by many things including our personality and what we understand by the term. Self-care is not ‘self-help’, so prominent today, and which is based on an examination of what needs to be done to rid our lives of doubt, acknowledge our own greatness and move towards an awesome life. No, self-care is a responsibility each of us have to provide wisely for our own well-being. Why? Because it is the second only to the ‘Master-care’ that undergirds caring for ourselves and one another as followers of Jesus Christ.

Master care is the care we receive from our Lord and Master and this forms the heart of member care. Without a renewing, living, active relationship, cultivated by prayer, worship and Christian community, we will have no heart for what God has called us to, but perhaps more importantly to what he wants us to become. Our part is to look to him, trust, worship, serve and love him because he delights in us so that we are energised to work at whatever he has called us to do with our whole heart (Colossians 3:23-24).

However, a heart can’t move around without being part of the body that has a backbone, which is a good description of self-care and mutual care. This is our care for ourselves, supplemented by our relationships with others, particularly our Christian brothers and sisters.

The spine of resilience

Self-care is essential if we are going to develop and strengthen our backbone as we look to God for his care. Our backbone is not only essential for us to get out of bed in the morning (much more challenging in January than in June), but is also needed when travelling in a fast-moving train that requires flexibility as we stand in a packed carriage. That dynamic stability is what gives us resilience to stand for the journey.

A common metaphor for resilience in member-care is a rubber band. Personally though, I like another picture used in this world of having a spine of titanium. Our backbone needs to be strengthened so it is both strong and flexible like titanium. When we face things that are difficult, frustrating or just awful, we need to be people who have the agility to face reality, to engage with and grow through life’s challenges and adversities.

This comes through a combination of the exercise of our core Christian beliefs and values, inner strength, the support of others and the application of coping skills. This is where it becomes evident how important self and mutual care really are, because inner strength and emotional resilience need to be grown and developed before the reality of our fears actually happen or we won’t be able to cope when they come.

Old friends for the journey

The old-fashioned Christian disciplines of spending time in God’s word, prayerfully opening ourselves up to God and allowing him to help us look at ourselves are crucial to self-care. Taking time to be quiet and reflect so that we can hear what God is saying to us is so important. There is a Central Asian proverb that says, “a bitter truth is better than a sweet lie”. Looking within is not always easy or desired, but under God’s master care, it is always beneficial.

My favourite china mug arrived safely and was well used as I developed this self-care habit over many a cup of tea in a quiet moment of reflection. Time-out with God, even in the middle of a noisy polluted city, with mug in hand is a habit I have brought back with me and still employ as one that is well worth cultivating no matter where we are, or what we are experiencing.

Worship, sometimes combined with one of my hobbies like baking, jigsaws, walking, colouring in, is another self-care habit I have been blessed by. The old CD player has travelled that road with me and continues to accompany me on this journey. Rediscovering some of those worship CDs that had the fragile sticker on, is one of the self-care disciplines that was reenergised during lockdown when I was unable to meet with friends face-to-face.

Worshiping God was a lifeline during some challenging times overseas, particularly in times of curfew and, as these last few years have shown, it continues to be. These long winter evenings, everchanging restrictions and living through this time of social distancing though challenging, can be the perfect scenario for cultivating the habit of singing songs when feeling most challenged or fearful.

As fragile people, might this be the perfect time to hone our self-care habits under our wonderful Saviour’s ever sustaining Master care?

Helen Johnston is a member of Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Lisburn and PCI's Mission Support Officer for PCI.

Back to Blog