My friend Hannah is completing a Master’s Degree in Christian Counseling. It’s been my treat to taste of her coursework as she confides in me, and to learn in her wake. Recently we spoke on the sometimes sticky subject of self-care. I trust you’ll appreciate her thoughtful take on this timely and timeless topic.
Ten days before spring break I was burned out and dangerous. That morning I prayed, “God, we’re done for if I show up today. I don’t want to see what comes out of me if a student provokes me.” Two days later I took a “mental health day.” The day of “self-care”—including exercise, housework, reading, and savoring good food—helped me endure until spring break.
Practicing self-care is a trendy and attractive. There’s something about it that resonates with our souls. But I am cautious of jumping on board with an idea that the world loves so much. Jesus commands that I deny myself and follow Him.
So how does self-care fit into that reality?
As a follower of Jesus, should self-care be part of my life?
The idea of taking care of yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually fits in God’s reality. Neglecting self-care hurts you and other people. We all too easily run ourselves ragged with busy schedules. We are stressed and neglecting care in different areas of life. Everyone needs relief. We all need to rest. We need to live within the human limits that God has placed on us.
At least not in the way the world does self-care. If we are not cautious, self-care can turn into self-worship (“It’s all about me”) and creation-worship (rather than Creator-worship). Good desires become a demand for what I perceive as my needs and wants, what serves me, who I want to be around, how I want life to look, and how I want to feel. These could be a cup of coffee, a quiet afternoon, a vacation, or avoiding conflict.
Another problem with worldly self-care is it functions in a “self-referential” universe. God does not exist. The world encourages us to be hopeful, but its definition is largely wishful thinking. It lacks a firm foundation or guarantee. The world encourages thankfulness, but to whom? It often misses the Source, the One who gives every good and perfect gift.
Putting Self-Care In Its Place
Christians must view self-care in light of God and His word. “Union with Christ” and “stewardship” are two biblical categories that reframe self-care so that we can “practice self-care” in a Creator-worshipping, God-referential way.
Union with Christ
Being united with Christ makes self-care an empowered, life-giving, purposeful practice. Here’s a starter list of what God uses to restore our souls, strengthen us to soar on wings like eagles and to press on and bear up under the hard things of life:
1. Pray – Look to God at set times and throughout the day.
2. Confess your sins – Confess to God and to close, trusted people around you. (1 John 1:9; James 5:16)
3. “Practice the presence of God”— Seek to be alert to God’s presence with you. Calm your heart and be satisfied in His presence (Ps 63; 131).
4. “Set your mind on things above” (Col 3:2)—Study and read the Bible, memorize it, listen to music that encourages you to worship God, look at nature. It reveals God, His nature and glory. Pause, even for just a few seconds to breathe, pray, and refocus your heart and mind on God.
5. Consider eternal glory (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:16-18)— Our problems become less weighty. The pains and strains of this life won’t go away until you die or Jesus returns, but putting them in perspective gives endurance and hope.
6. Be in Christian community—God created us to live in community, to walk through life with one another, building up, admonishing, strengthening one another.
Stewardship puts things in a rich, purposeful framework under God as our Master. Stewards take care of what has been given to them. We are not owners but caretakers. Here are some ideas for being good stewards:
1. Take care of your body (1 Tim 4:7-8). There is “Some Value” in physical exercise.
2. Live within creaturely limits. This includes freedom to say “no” to good things we have not been called to do. In other words, “Stay in your lane,” like Jesus told Peter in John 21:22.
3. Enjoy sabbath rest. Set aside hours or days to rest and remember God’s work and provision in the past and trust Him to continue working and providing both in earthly and spiritual ways.
There are seasons of life that require more “yeses” and feeling stretched to the max and some seasons that require more rest. These seasons are a natural part of life (See Ecclesiastes 3). To have more “yeses” in a full season of life is not necessarily to work against self-care.
A Warning & A Caveat
Warning: We must beware of the temptation to turn stewardship into self-serving, comfortable living. Aspects of stewardship can be used as an excuse for placing self before loving God and loving neighbor.
Caveat: As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Christians are called to suffer for the cause of Jesus and to rejoice in that suffering and know the suffering is producing an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1) and to love sacrificially— looking to others’ interests, laying down our lives for others as our Savior laid down His life for us. We need wisdom from above to discern when to push beyond what we think possible for the sake of Christ, and when to pull back to honor God in the present and the future.
He Restores My Soul
So what actually refreshed me enough to get me to spring break? How did God restore my soul?
Yes, God used exercise, housework, reading, and good food to refresh and refocus. But on a deeper and more powerful level, the conscious reminder of God’s presence throughout those activities and my time spent interacting with God and His word restored my soul.
What does Creator-worshipping, God-referential self-care look like in your life?
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
These resources helped me process “self-care” biblically:
- Alasdair Groves – “Rest” —Where Life and Scripture Meet(podcast), August 6, 2020, https://www.ccef.org/podcast/rest/
- Marshall Segal, “The Insanity of Self-Care,” Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-insanity-of-self-care