What’s a pastor to do when she’s got the flu?

I’ll be honest: this is a tale of personal experience.

I’ve been down and out of commission with the flu, or something equally gross and debilitating. (And yes, I got my shot). Instead of feeling completely pitiful, I’ve spent my sick time trying to practice what I’m about to preach to you. Because as we all know, you will get sick at some point. So what’s a busy pastor to do?

  1. Accept the sickness. You are human. You come into contact with illness. I had to accept that I couldn’t write a newsletter last week, and I had to reschedule several appointments. Use your prayer practice to help you accept it, and to claim the reality that God loves you no matter how “productive” you are or aren’t. At times of illness I learn how attached I am to my own productivity, and how much I judge my worth by how much I get done. Embrace the reality of God’s love no matter how you feel or what you can do. Catch yourself when you start to complain. It won’t help you feel better; it reinforces your negative feelings, and it moves you away from acceptance
  2. Marshall your support. I find many clergy are happy to give help but reluctant to receive it, even in the short term. Does your church have a group who helps those who are ill? It might be a ministry to them to ask them to bring a meal. When you do ask for help, from anyone, practice being specific. “Can you bring me some chicken soup?” “Will you bring me some bath salts?” “Would you be willing to lead the staff meeting on Thursday?” And if you’re up for it, connect with your extended family in some way. Who is the most supportive person in your family? I talked with my brother (actually, he called me), and even though I wasn’t up to much of a conversation I felt encouraged by the connection.
  3. Set goals for yourself. This is especially for the time when you are recovering. They can be extremely small: Here are a few ideas:
  • Make your bed. (Then give yourself a high five when you do it!)
  • Read three verses of Scripture.
  • Spend 10 minutes answering emails (the easy ones).
  • Call one shut-in. (Oone of the ones who makes you feel happy to talk to)
  • Find an old sermon on Sunday’s text to revise. (Yes, it’s OK.)
  • Take a 3-5 minute walk outside if you can.

Instead of beating yourself up for what you can’t do, celebrate what you are able to do as you get better. Also take a minute to thank your body for all it has done in the past and is currently doing for you.

Finally, consider again and again the words of Paul in Philippians 1:4-12 (NRSV):

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What do you do to support yourself when you are ill?

In sickness and health,


P.S. I am feeling on the up and up. Stay tuned for next week’s email – it’s a good one!

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