Taking time off. It doesn’t seem like something you should do if you’re truly committed to helping the homeless, right? Wrong!!! The absolutely worst thing you can do for yourself and your clients is to not allow yourself time off. You are not a machine. You are a normal, flesh and blood human being and just like that machine, you can break down if you don’t take care of yourself.
The cost to yourself isn’t just physical, although that can be pretty tiring in itself. In the course of loving and serving your homeless friends you will see, hear and experience heartbreaking, unspeakably hard things. Over time this has a cumulative effect. If you don’t carve out some separate time for yourself to get away both physically and most importantly, mentally, you will implode. No one was ever meant to keep just “going and going”. You are not the Energizer Bunny. Your batteries will definitely wear out.
But “What about my clients? Who will they turn to if I’m not there?” you ask yourself. It’s a good question and it shows you have heart. Fortunately, there are answers. First of all, there is no law that says you have to be available 24/7. You set boundaries at the beginning of your ministry and try to stick to them. Along with taking care of yourself, you have to take care of your relationships. Your family and friends deserve occasional glimpses of you too.
Eventually you will have volunteers and maybe even an assistant who can hold the fort for a few days while you disconnect and decompress. This is ideal. However, until it happens you need to keep reminding yourself that you are not the only service provider in town. The homeless become very resourceful. They survived before they met you and they can certainly get along for a few days or even “gasp” a week or two without you. Allow yourself permission to take time off “guilt free” or it won’t work.
I always try to let our clients know when I intend to take some time off. It’s a courtesy I feel strongly about that lets them know I’m not just disappearing and I will be back! Not surprisingly, I have yet to have anyone call me names or pitch a fit about it. In fact, they are much more likely to graciously say, “Good, you deserve some time off”.
By taking time for yourself to rest both physically and mentally from time to time, you will find you are able to come back and serve your clients with a renewed passion and energy. That way, everyone wins.