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The Six Self-Care Tanks

by Julia M. Bruce, MSPC
CEO, Wellspring Christian Ministries
 “Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast,
immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work,
knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
— 1 Corinthians 15:58 (HCSB)

We need to make sure that when we practice self-care that we are taking care of all the multifaceted parts of who we are and who God created us to be. He didn’t make us just spiritual beings or just emotional beings. We are complex and unique to every other species of creation. Just as you would not (or shouldn’t) only change the oil in your car and ignore the tires, belts, hoses and all the working parts of your car, so you should not take care of just one part of who you are.

The Six “Tanks” that need Self-Care

Taking care of our spiritual needs only represents one-sixth of who we are. Each part is like a tank that is empty, full, or somewhere in between. As human beings, created in the image of God, we have six “tanks” that we need to keep filled: spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, sensory, and social. We can be running low on one tank, several tanks or all tanks. Even if only one tank is low or empty, we can lose our effectiveness in the ministry.

In a previous post, I referenced a research completed by Thom Rainer on burnout in the ministry. From the responses received in the research, Thom Rainer narrowed all the responses into twelve categorical responses from pastors that were asked: “What did you do to reverse the dark spiral of burnout?” The twelve categorical responses were:

  • spent more time in prayer and the Word
  • dreamed again
  • stopped comparing
  • developed relationships with non-Christians
  • moved my focus from the negative to the positive
  • learned to have fun
  • ended draining relationships
  • expressed gratitude regularly
  • spent more time doing things that energized me
  • got in better physical shape
  • made a commitment to have a greater servant spirit
  • began to pray for my community (Rainer, 2013)

For each response above,  see if you can relate them to at least one of the six “tanks” that we need to keep filled.

Self-Care Self Evaluation

Now, take a moment to do some self-evaluation. For each of the “tanks” listed below, evaluate how full you feel your tank is right now. Self-care isn’t necessarily about how full you are or are not in each of these areas, but how you feel they are full or empty or running low. Then as we explore each of these tanks in more detail in coming posts, I will ask you again to self-evaluate and see if you change your response.

  • Spiritual Tank:                                                                  
  • Physical Tank:                                                                  
  • Emotional Tank:                                                                   
  • Intellectual Tank:                                                               
  • Sensory Tank:                                                                  
  • Social Tank:                                                                      

Which of your tanks are on empty right now?
Which ones are between half-full and empty?

Self-care is a moment by moment self-evaluation

In reality, your responses to these questions can change from moment to moment. For example, you could start your day with full tank in all six areas and then receive a call that a loved one’s lab report came back and the results are not good and you need to take them immediately to the emergency room. Which of the “tanks” above could be affected by this news?

Certainly your emotional tank takes a hit. If you’re not well-connected to God in your spiritual life, your spiritual tank might take a hit. Over time, as you juggle work, ministry, family, finances, and hospital visits, your physical tank will take a hit.

On the other hand, as you learn about what is going on with your loved one’s medical condition, your intellectual tank might be getting filled. If you’re a squeamish person and there is a nasty wound, then your sensory tank might be getting overloaded. Likewise, with all the doctors, nurses, and everyone who cares about you and your loved you, you might feel overloaded in your social tank as well – despite COVID and social distancing.

Reading your “Tank meter”

In your car, you know when it is getting low on gas because you have either an analog or digital meter that lets you know it’s time to go in for a pit stop. But what let’s you know any one or all of your six tanks are low and need attention? God didn’t create us with a meter and a “ding” to let us know we’re running low…or did He? Our bodies often let us know when we’re running low, but we have to pay attention to what it is telling us. If you ignore the meter in your car, you’ll find yourself without gas in rush hour traffic and hopefully on the side of the road. If you ignore what your body is telling you, you’ll find yourself sidelined in your lane of ministry.

So it becomes important, then, for us to self-evaluate often and make sure that we are taking care of ourselves. When something feels off in your body – such as, you’re tired or have a headache, or you’re irritable – it’s a good time to check in with your self and re-evaluate all six of your tanks and see just how full they are – or are not.

Fill my cup, Lord!

As you look at your self-evaluation, perhaps your spirit cries out to God, “Fill my cup, Lord!” Maybe you look at it and say, “Not doing too bad.” Or maybe all your tanks are full to the brim. Whether you are reading this blog series because you are in full burnout mode and ready to call it quits or because you know someone who has reached this place, this blog series will help you find the way back to full tanks so that you can then, once again, pour into others.

What to expect from the self-care blogs

As you continue following this series of blogs, I will first break down what self-care is. Then we will discuss the differences between stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. As we break those down, you will learn the danger signs of stress, burnout, and compassion fatigue. We will next look at each of the six tanks individually and give you ways that you can practice self-care in each of the six areas.

Self-care is not a miraculous cure-all

I must point out that self-care is no miraculous cure-all to what ails in your ministry. It will not fix the problems or make them all disappear. It will not make all your parishioners get along.

As long as Satan prowls this earth like a mighty lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), then we are on a battlefield and we need to be able to stand firm in our calling until the day of Christ’s return. Practicing continuous self-care will allow you to keep your “tanks” as full as possible so that you will be more capable of standing firm, steadfast, immovable and always excelling in your work for the Lord. It will give you the strength you need so that you don’t choose to throw in the towel and walk away from your calling.

Pressured in every way but not crushed

As we close out this blog, let’s return to 2 Corinthians 4:8. Paul wrote: “We are pressured in every way…” Look up the verse in your Bible and read verses 8-9 out loud as it appears in the box below as a letter God wrote to you. Say your name in the blank and then read the verse.

2 Cor 4 8-9 Part 4
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