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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

"Four Gifts" (April Yamasaki)

TITLE: Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength
AUTHOR: April Yamasaki
PUBLISHER: Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2018, (208 pages).

Life is a gift. From the time we were born, we have been on the receiving end of blessings, giving, and many good gifts. Most of us would know that from our loving parents. Thus, it is no surprise when the Bible tells us to honour our parents in the middle of the Ten Commandments. It is recognizing that we exist not because of ourselves but because others had blessed us and given good things to us. Of course, there are exceptions to the norm in situations like abuse and parental neglect. Otherwise, it is fair to say that most of us would have received life more as a gift instead of something we earned or worked for. Stretching this further, we ponder at life before we were born. Our Creator, as in Ps 139:13 had formed us even before we were in our mother's womb. What do we then do with the gift of life? We learn to take care of it. Author and pastor April Yamasaki uses this to kick start a wonderful book about soul-care and Christian spirituality. Right from the start, Yamasaki confesses of being a perfectionist, a constant goal-getter, and one who are filled with activities and demands which in turn impacts her capacity and ability to rest.  Part of the reason is that many people equates self-care with selfishness. In this book, we are assured that taking care of oneself is not selfishness. In fact, not taking care of oneself is neglect. Self-care is essentially catering to our physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our lives. It means learning to take vacations and not turn them into work days. It means learning to thrive in the midst of busyness. It means learning not to guilt-trip ourselves into constant work and worry but to enter into a period of trusting in God's care and taking care of one's needs appropriately.

After clearing the decks of any erroneous feelings of guilt, Yamasaki launches into the four gifts of tending to our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strengths. Each chapter begins with a brief explanation of the gift followed by reasons why we should use and cherish the gift. At the end of each chapter is a list of practical steps for us to apply.

Three Thoughts
First, I applaud April Yamasaki for boldly declaring that it is ok to take care of ourselves. In a world of ministry, some of us have misunderstood Paul's instruction in Phil 2:3-4 to look after the interests of others more than self. He did not say ignoring our self interests but to make sure we do not elevate ourselves more than who we are. We are not called to put ourselves above others. Neither are we called to put ourselves down to the point of degrading our own calling. Self-denial is discipleship. So is reverence for the gift of life God had given to us. Jesus himself took time out to pray and to seek rest in God. He didn't deny himself these moments of joy and companionship in God. He knows himself and knows what He is denying Himself. The trouble with us is that sometimes, we deny ourselves both of what we need and what we don't need. In other words, it is important for us to sense the need for self-care and soul-care. Both are legitimate. After all, how can we take care of others when we don't take care of ourselves? I often remind myself about trying to help someone drowning in the lake. If we are not attached to firm ground or stable boats, the one who we are trying to save may very well pull us into the water instead, even toppling our dinghies or canoes. Attached ourselves firmly first before attempting any rescue. Put it another way, self-care is essentially helping oneself to remain useful for the long haul of ministry and care.

Second, love is not just unidirectional, that is, from us to others. It is also outside in. It is also not simply caring for ourselves, it is letting others take care of us. Though the greatest commandment is to love God and others, there is that little pronoun that often gets swept under the carpet: Ourselves. Yes, we are called to love God and our neighbour. We are also called to love ourselves. Yamasaki gives us four ways to love ourselves so that we would be better equipped and filled to love others abundantly: Spiritually, Mentally, Physically, and Totally! This is a more holistic model than the typical "take a break" or "go for vacation" advice we receive from time to time when we get exhausted. Ministry is a marathon and all ministry workers must learn to pace themselves. We can easily for a vacation and coming back with a yearning for the next vacation. That would be most unhelpful. By carefully addressing the deeper needs in our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths, we are better equipped to deal with self-care from a biblical standpoint, which ultimately benefits our whole selves. The song "Brother Let Me Be Your Servant" has one verse that really drives this point home.
Brother, Let me be your servant;
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.
The chapter on community is a vital one. Though only one chapter has been allocated to this theme, Yamasaki has consistently introduced the need for community throughout the four gifts. We learn that the four gifts are meant to be cycles of caring, sharing, tendering, and ministering to one another, in multidimensional ways. 

Finally, I appreciate Yamasaki taking time to explain important active words such as "heart," "soul," "mind," and "strength" which forms the four gifts that needed to be received and stewarded. Without this care for words, we may miss out the critical meaning behind them. Often I find believers ready to utter off the greatest commandment without much effort. They may know the commandment by heart but have they truly taken them to heart? Soul-care and self-care are the same. We may know the importance of doing them but do we really understand the meaning and the motives behind them? Do we really know God who cared for us? Perhaps, we need to read this book with one eye on caring for self and another eye on God caring for us.

There are many other relatable topics such as caring for ourselves in the midst of a digital world, the idea of mental health, and even healthy eating and sleeping. This resource is a necessary reminder for all ministry workers both past and present, as well as future to take note of. We care for ourselves because we want to be better carers for others. Kudos to April Yamasaki for driving this point home in four dimensions!

April Yamasaki is pastor, speaker, and writer about spirituality and Christian Living. She and her husband Gary resides in British Columbia, Canada and has over 20 years of pastoral experience. She blogs at aprilyamasaki.com as well as WhenYouWorkfortheChurch.com.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Herald Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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