For the Christian, the term “self-care” is often uncomfortable. In fact, if we are honest, we might find that it almost makes us cringe. While this may be truer for some more than others, I do believe that many Christians today largely prefer words like “selflessness,” “self-sacrifice,” or “self-control.”
Why is this the case? We know and believe we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23) That we are called to deny ourselves and pursue holiness. That we are called to a life of discipline and obedience that rarely aligns with the desires of self. All of these are true and good postures to live from. But what about self-care? It may be more self-less than you thought.
Self-Care Is Not Selfish
Jesus has a lot to say about love; that’s hardly a new revelation (for all the trivia junkies out there, the ESV Bible uses the word love 552 times in the New Testament. That’s a whole lotta love!).
As Christians, we take that seriously. We love our enemies, love our neighbors, love hard kids and co-workers. But have you ever thought about giving yourself some love? In Mark 12:30-31, we read:
“’And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second [command] is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
I often read that verse and focus only on the way we’re called to love others. I fail to see that a love for self is mentioned here. But even as I read those words, I wonder: what do they mean?
Here’s what they don’t mean… they don’t imply that we are to jump into the deep end of self-focused, narcissistic living. In fact, most of us are pretty good at paying attention to our own needs and desires. Rather, I believe that what Mark is getting at is that we are to love others as we love ourselves—not instead of and certainly not less than. A healthy perspective of caring for ourselves as the Lord instructs may just be a necessary foundation to caring for others.
Learning About Self-Care from Jesus
To understand what biblical self-care means, let’s look to Jesus as our example. Throughout his ministry, Jesus was very self-aware—often pulling away from the disciples or crowds—knowing that he needed time for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. Far from selfish, these actions were a recognition of the important role that rest plays in human life. Jesus took time away because it was right; it was needed. We see the value of rest communicated from the heart of our Father, as well. The ordinance of Sabbath is evidence of that, as is the invitation to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11). Jesus models a healthy and foundational caring of self. God the Father instructs it. So, we too ought to take care of our earthly bodies and minds.
The First Step of Self-Care
You may be nodding along with me so far, thinking you need to grow in this area. If that’s you, I am glad you are here! Maybe 2020 has you hanging on by a thread, knowing some things need to change. I hope self-care is one of them. I also hope you are prepared to do hard work. Not what you were expecting? I get what you mean. Self-care sounds like it should be fun, relaxing, and maybe even a little lazy. At least, that’s what the world around us might say. But just like all other areas of the Christian life, truly embracing rhythms of self-care takes discipline and self-sacrifice.
Let’s talk about work, for instance. Do you love your job? Do you love to feel needed in your role? Is your email app the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see each morning? Do you end up working on your day off by your own choice? Alternatively: do you ever decline an invitation, knowing that you need time away and that it’s best for you?
Self-care, as defined by the Lord, is choosing to believe the hard truth that you are not God. It’s choosing to trust the God who made you is sufficient and that you were made to rest. Self-care means that you establish boundaries in your life and schedule to actively say to your soul “God will take care of this.” In other words: saying “no” to yourself is often the first step of self-care.
Self-Care Is Not Optional
It’s tricky business trying to prescribe self-care for someone else. God made each of us so uniquely, and that influences this topic greatly. For some, running is heaven; for others? Well, you get the idea. I encourage you to choose a quiet place (or maybe a loud one is better for you?) and make a list:
- What makes you smile?
- What gives you that full, deep breath?
- What is life-giving to you?
- Where do you often find peace?
As you make that list, start by considering how Jesus, family, and nature can play a role. Because self-care is God-focused (turning to and trusting in God) rather than the me-focused selfishness we see in today’s world, spending time with the Lord can remind you who God says you are and can refresh you in the process. It can help you love yourself like Christ does.
It’s really quite simple: What goes up, must come down. Thank you, Mr. Newton. Or as Tommy Nelson said, “If your outtake exceeds your intake, your upkeep will be your downfall.” Our bodies demand to be cared for—spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. And make no mistake: they will tell us when we have pushed too hard and rested too little. God has given us a prescription for self-care that involves unplugging, spending time with him, and letting ourselves rest. So, as you go and shine Christ to the world around you, my friends, be careful to take care of you.