Catechist Wellness as a Way of Life – Nancy Bird

Libby MahowaldBlog, Catechetical Leader, Featured

Your life is not your work. Conventional wisdom tells you that to be successful, you must maintain a nonstop hustle and bustle in your daily life. You must wear your busyness as a badge of honor and always say yes to the requests from work, home, and church. There is even an old saying: if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.

Thomas Merton, in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, states that “there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which we all easily succumb: activism and overwork.” Typically, you may not see overwork or busyness as violence to yourself. Yet in today’s chaotic culture, busyness can be viewed as productivity, but it also leads to stress, burnout, and anxiety. Busyness and overwork can wreak havoc on you physically, emotionally, and spiritually and destroy your inner capacity for peace.

Your life is not your work—not even church work. Your life is to embrace your vocation as a baptized child of God—to live as a child of the light and be the light to those around you. Your vocation is to be who God created you to be. It is to listen to a voice not out in the distance calling you to be something different, but a voice deep within calling you to become the person God has already created you to be. As a catechist, you are called to peel away the layers and discover the light of God that has always been within. You are encouraged to embrace your personal call to holiness and be a joyful witness.

As Pope Francis states in “Gaudete et Exsultate,” “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts, rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. . . . This should excite and encourage us to give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eternity” (11, 13). 

Or as St. Francis de Sales said: “Be who you are and be that perfectly well.”

If you are that important to God, then you need to take care of yourself. As the flight attendant states during the important safety announcements, you are to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Put yourself on the to-do list. 

How do you do that? One way is with self-care and self-compassion. It is not selfish to take an active role in connecting to your inner wisdom to create a life that reflects your true gifts and helps you live your baptismal vocation.

You are invited to live each day in the goodness of God’s presence and to be the very best you can be. Let us look at four separate, yet integrated identities: body, mind, emotions, and spirit.


“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)

How well are you taking care of your temple? Could you do better? Here are a few thoughts to ponder:

  • Do you gobble down food or gently savor it? Pay attention to what, where, and how you eat. Eating with a friend cuts down the amount of food you eat, while conversation aids in digestion.
  • Do you believe you cannot find time to exercise an hour every day? Break it down into smaller increments of five or ten minutes. Take the stairs, pretend to jump rope, or do the “pogo prayer.” Imagine you are on a pogo stick, then think of all the blessings in your life. Jump up and down while shouting out your blessings. 
  • How well are you sleeping? There is a lot of research on the amount, types, and benefits of good night’s sleep. Read the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker or check out Arianna Huffington’s eight tips for a better sleep from her book The Sleep Revolution. Just make sure you read a physical book or an e-reader that does not emit blue light.
  • When was the last time you had a massage or manicure, or experienced appropriate human or healing touch? Self-care is not always about spa days. It is about nurturing your body and recharging your battery. Find someone to hug, and hold the hug for six seconds. 

You are a soul with a body, not the other way around. Be attentive to the gift of your body and treat it tenderly.


 “You are more than your mind tells you you are.” —Eckhart Tolle

Have you ever experienced a tape that is running in your mind? Self-talk tapes can either build you up (I am a child of God) or tear you down (I am so stupid). Have you ever replayed a situation or revisited a conversation in your mind? Remember, you are a product of your past, but you are not a prisoner of it. Here are some tips to eliminate the negative thoughts and focus on positive ones.

  • Whenever you experience a self-talk tape that is tearing you down, say out loud one of the following:
    • Cancel/Cancel
    • Delete/Delete
    • Eject/Eject
    • Erase/Erase
  • Quit “should-ing” on yourself. Avoid these phrases:
    • I should be doing . . .
    • I should be better at . . .
    • I should, I should, I should . . .
  • Curtail your intake of news and checking your smartphone. On average, we look at our phones 85 times a day and spend more than five hours browsing the web and using apps. Avoid technology for the first 30 to 60 minutes of waking as well as one to two hours before sleep.
  • Negative and positive thoughts cannot exist at the same time, so when you find yourself overwhelmed with negativity, think about one good thing. One good thing you have experienced during the day. One good friend you can call. One good gift from a gracious, loving, and merciful God.


 “Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humor.” —Pope Francis

Which comes first, the thought or the feeling? Do you know that with each thought, a physiological change takes place in the body? Toxins and endorphins are released. During times of stress, nonessential circuits in the brain shut down. Therefore, when you feel anger or frustration, you may react quickly instead of thinking through the problem or situation first. Whether you chose to believe it or not, you are in control of your emotions. Your emotions do not control you. Here are some ways to get the good endorphins (serotonin) released into your system to make you feel good and curtail negative emotions and hasty reactions.

Dr. Dale Anderson, in his book Never Act Your Age, describes how laughter turns on your body’s upbeat chemistry. He says that those “drugs” dispensed from your inner pharmacy can make you feel happy, healthy, and years younger. He suggests that every morning you look in mirror and kiss it. Yes, kiss your own reflection! He also says we should do a 15-second, deep belly laugh. Fake it till you make it, he says. I must tell you that looking at my morning reflection definitely makes me laugh. 

Medical experts say that three to five minutes of belly laughing equals three minutes of strenuous exercise. Laughter stimulates circulation, increases your heart rate, kicks your immune system into gear, stabilizes blood pressure, massages inner organs, facilitates digestion, and increases the oxygen supply to muscles. 

We cannot just laugh away all life’s problems, but we can used laughter’s healing power. Life is tough, yet as catechists, we walk by faith, and God always walks with us. There is a deep and comforting joy knowing that truth.

If you cannot laugh, at least smile. The same endorphins are released, so practice smiling. Pay attention to your face and notice what is happening. Ponder the things that bring you joy and make you smile. Look for surprises each day. Smiling is contagious, and it is difficult to be sad when you smiling.

 “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” —Anne Lamott


“God is doing something in me even though I do not see it or feel it.” —St. John XXIII

What is God doing in you right now? 

It may be difficult for busy catechists to find time for renewal, rejuvenation, and recalibrating. As much as you would love a weekend away or monthlong retreat, life gets hectic. One small step is to make time to nurture yourself throughout the day. Here are three simple suggestions.

  • Wake up with gratitude.
    • The minute your eyes open, revel in the extraordinary gift that you are alive. As you slowly place your feet on the floor, give thanks for the gift of mobility. Consider what God might be inviting you to do this day. Open your heart to the opportunities that await you. What kind of holy mischief can God and you get into today?
  • Celebrate the day.
    • Be Alert. Ask the Holy Spirit to nudge you. As did Mother Teresa, look for the face of Christ disguised in those your encounter. Remember that you mirror God to them. Notice beauty and look for surprises as you go through your day.
    • Live the new commandment. Friends of mine try to find ways to “out-love” each other. Imagine a world where everyone is trying to love as God loves, even on the busy highway or in a long line at the grocery.
    • Breathe. When the day gets hectic, take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly breathe out through your mouth. Breathe in God, and breathe out love.
    • Smile more. Pope Francis says, “I can’t imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile.” There are 80 different ways to smile; we can surely find one or more reasons to do so. Look up from your mobile devices to smile at others too!
  • Sleep in peace.
    • The friends who try to out-love each other shared that at the end of each day they hold hands and say the Our Father, keeping in mind all the prayer requests that came to them that day. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” What a beautiful way to bring the day to a close.

The spirituality of wellness, self-care, and self-compassion is a long and continuous process. Integrating body, mind, emotion, and spirit sounds easy, but it requires attentiveness and intentionality. Christ has no hands but yours. You need to take very good care of your hands, your legs, and your complete self. As catechists, those entrusted to your care deserve the best. You deserve the best!


Nancy Bird has been involved in religious education as a catechist, parish catechetical leader, and youth minister. She combines practical experience, creativity, and motivational enthusiasm to energize those called to embrace and live their baptism joyfully. She serves as director of training and professional development for RCL Benziger Religion Publishing Company, resides in Tallmadge, Ohio, and continues to be a volunteer catechist. You can reach her at