In recent times there’s been a lot of talk about self-care. It seems to be everywhere – in blogs, in books, on tv. In reaction to the busyness of life that seems only to be hurtling forward in this society, it’s a conscious decision to take a break and care for yourself. Sometimes, the way its presented is not just self-care, it’s selfish. Putting myself as number one. Doing what makes me happy and not caring what anyone else thinks. But, self care doesn’t have to be defined by its extremes. Self care doesn’t have to be selfish.
When asked what the greatest commandments are, Jesus gave us two – to love God with everything in us and to love our neighbour as ourself. The concept of self-care as we know it today would have been foreign to Jesus’ original audience and we must be careful not to transplant 21st century values onto a 1st century text. I don’t think we can say then that Jesus gave us three greatest commands and exalt love of self to the same level as the others. For Jesus, it seems as if love of self, the effort we put in to make sure our basic needs are met, is just assumed. Yet, there does seem to be a connection here with love of self and love of others.
I think this connection between loving ourselves and loving others might be the key to self care that isn’t selfish. Here are a few principles to help clarify the issue.
Loving yourself so you can love others
Our self care isn’t simply an end in itself, its the means by which we can love others more fully and more wholeheartedly. It’s like that analogy of the cup – in order to pour into other people’s cups, we need to have our own cup filled from time to time. Sometimes you need to withdraw completely from other people and spend the day pampering your body and your soul. By all means, when you need to, do that without any shame. But see it not just as something for you, but as something to recharge your batteries so you can go out the next day and love people with renewed energy.
Practicing regular self-care
Sometimes we need that full on, cut yourself off from the world, for hours or days at a time self-care experience. But often when we need that, it’s because we’ve neglected to fill up our cup so many times that only something radical can get us back on track. Maybe the better way is to remember self-care each day, a little bit daily to refill our cup. I’m an introvert, so I need this filling-up time frequently. I’m not sure what its like for extroverts, but you know how things work for you. I find for me, my morning and evening rhythms of time alone with God work wonders for my inner peace and my ability to go out into the real world.
Coming to God for your self-care
This is what sets apart Christian self-care from any other type. There are countless ways that we can care for ourselves and restore – reading something inspiring, eating something special, looking at the beauty of creation. But we must not forget God in all of this. Coming into his presence is the best way for us to recharge and be filled. Jesus’ 1st century audience may not have understood the modern concept of self-care, but they did understand Sabbath rest. It’s about taking time out of our busy lives to rest in God’s presence. My evening quiet time is so sacred to me, because that’s when I can take time to slow down, to read the Bible, to reflect on the day, to pray and to plan out the next day. Even when we’re completely exhausted and in need of some intensive self-care, we can still invite God into that. Simply lie down, put on some worship music and reflect upon God’s great love for us.
Our self-care should be a part of our daily life, just as we take efforts to feed and clothe ourselves. But not only for ourselves. By looking upward, drawing strength from God, and looking outward, with the ultimate goal of loving others, we can find self care that isn’t selfish.