I cannot scroll through Instagram ONCE without seeing the phrase “self-care” or “self-love.” A few years ago, when #selfcare started popping up on social media and Pinterest, I sort of rolled my eyes because it seemed obvious that this was not a Christian movement. But that was years ago. Now, the lines between Christianity and the world are blurred, and self-care is one of those crossover terms.
I understand the argument. In fact, I understand it too well. If I’m not careful, I fall into what might be labeled as self-hatred. I think negative thoughts about myself. I don’t like my body. I self-shame. I feel guilty about decisions I’ve made or worn out because I’ve given of myself over and over and over again and said yes too many times. And sometimes, those messages of self-care and affirmation resonate with me.
But of course they do. I want to take care of myself and be confident and have me-time because —
Here’s the thing though: whether the choice is conscious or not, we naturally seek to care for ourselves. Paul said in Philippians 2:21, “For all seek their own, not the things which are Christ’s,” just a few verses after penning, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (verse 4). Our flesh looks out for itself. Our natural bent, as humankind, is self-preservation. (Seriously, just read any news article that comes up on your feed these days.)
What is normal is to care for ourselves. What is not normal is to care for ourselves for the sake of others.
Let’s talk about a verse that I’ve seen taken out of context here recently. Several times in the Bible, you will find these words: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” The way I’ve seen it interpreted lately is, “Love your neighbor after you learn to love yourself,” or even, “You love those around you as you love yourself, so keep learning to love yourself more.” The problem with that is that we already love ourselves! Even when we are speaking negatively to or about ourselves, it is still self-focused. False humility isn’t humility. Self-deprecation is not selflessness.
When I fall into the downward spiral of hateful thoughts about myself, you know what I’m doing? I’m only caring about myself. When I get into an argument with someone and start to feel bad and angry at myself for being critical or having a bad attitude, do you know what usually happens? I keep thinking about myself and all the ways I messed up. And when I’m only thinking of me and caring for me, I’m not thinking about the person I’m having an argument with or how to resolve the problem. I end up wanting to fix the problem for my own sake, so I don’t feel bad any more – rather than for the sake of the relationship.
If you’ve stuck with me and read this far, you’re probably either nodding your head in agreement or scowling at your screen.
“So what, we’re just supposed to be overwhelmed and guilty and neglect our health and wellness all the time?”
I’m not advocating that you overbook your schedule, overlook your true needs, and ignore your emotions. God did not design you to go go go nonstop, nor did He design you to suffer under the weight of guilt and shame.
“Come to me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:26-27
“Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Psalm 43:5
“Be still and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD of hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.” Psalm 46:10-11
There are dozens more passages that deal with the topic of resting, trusting, weariness, and comfort. Our Heavenly Father knows that we are weak and need refreshment. But our sinful selves often look for that refreshment everywhere else!
Rest, peace, and spiritual health only come from one place: Jesus Christ.
Epsom salt soaks are healthy. Morning routines are helpful. Thinking positive, truthful thoughts is a good thing to practice. Stretching, candles, bullet journals, and expensive coffee can all be fun, worthwhile things. But they are not the best thing. Paul David Tripp said, “The desire for even a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing.” If these good things become the most important thing to me, I have to stop and check my priorities.
You see, whether we realize it or not, pursuing these things alone leads to pursuing the idol of self. I want myself to feel loved, cared for, appreciated, peaceful, affirmed, comforted, enough. But I will never experience true peace or comfort until I actually turn from self-focus to Christ-focus.
When Jesus stepped away from the crowds or woke up early before his disciples, it wasn’t so he could journal or have me-time. It was to spend time with His Father. The Gospel of Mark gives one example of this:
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.Mark 1:35-39
Jesus stepped away to recharge and refresh the way we all are supposed to: spending time in prayer and fellowship with God the Father.
I want to repeat what I said earlier: What is normal is to care for ourselves. What is not normal is to care for ourselves for the sake of others. Jesus arose early, spent quality time with His Father, and then went to serve. We should take time away to get filled with the Holy Spirit, so we can pour out ourselves for others. Spending and being spent, like Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:15.
There is nothing wrong with taking time away to decompress. Heck, I just took a vacation with my husband last week. However, I want to make sure that I have the right mindset. I should decompress and rest so that I am ready to come back and serve.
Jesus gave us the example, and He is also the answer. God the Son took time away to worship God the Father. We are to do the same. The Holy Spirit that dwells within believers comforts when we are faint, and equips us to serve others and love like Christ.