I have noticed that the culture we live in, whether it be our friend circles, church groups, or media we consume, seems to land on a similar theme and message. Of course, part of this can be attributed to the fact that we are naturally more aware of information that confirms or validates our current viewpoints; therefore, when something catches our attention we are drawn to whatever drives towards that point.
For the past 18 months I’ve had the opposite response to a theme that is thrust in my face daily in Christian podcasts, social media accounts, blogs, and books—perhaps just as frequently as in the secular media. The mantra we are so prevalently invited to live under is called “Self-Care”: make time for you; you have to take care of yourself or you can’t take care of others; and even, you can’t pour from an empty cup. These clichés are especially targeted to women in the young child-raising years.
I don’t think the message is 100% heresy. I am well aware you can’t love your neighbor unless you love yourself (Matthew 22:39). I do think though the ways our culture, and even some of our Christian brothers and sisters are serving up this banner, are at least, misdirected, and at most, flat-out contradictory to the gospel of Christ.
The past year-and-a-half I have been the primary care-giver for my young daughter who has been battling leukemia. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had well-intentioned friends and loved ones ask if I’m taking time to take care of myself. This is sometimes accompanied by a sweet gesture of a gift card for a massage or pedicure, so appreciated and even necessary when the burdens of life are overwhelming. However, when the question comes up I have to admit I want to scream and cry at the same time. I love the caring thought; but things can’t begin to offer me the solace from life’s circumstances that my heart so desperately longs for.
As I have considered why I have such a violent reaction to this message, I find myself asking, is that what the Lord has called me to do?And I think the answer we find in the scriptures is a blaring and obvious, “NO!”
So what is it that the Bible would say to this question?
- In Romans 12:1 (ESV) Paul appeals to the believers in Rome to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
- In Luke 9:23 (ESV) Jesus tells His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
- And in John 15:12-13 (ESV) Jesus lays out the second greatest commandment for His followers: “Love one another as I have loved you”, followed by this further explanation: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
It seems to me the Bible clearly contradicts the message of the world when it comes to self-care. We are not called to put our own needs first. In contrast we are called to sacrifice our lives and desires to serve and love our Creator and the people who surround us. These past 18 months the Lord has called me into a season of almost complete self-denial as I’ve walked through one of the most difficult circumstances I could imagine. He has asked me to lay down my career, my girls’ nights, my me-time, my hobbies and interests—really all of my personal aspirations—to love and serve my family.
Each time I tried to claim any of these perks for myself, I found refreshment futile. Each time I sought to find rest and replenishment in my me-things, the Lord reminded me that the true self-care I needed could not be provided by anything focused on myself, but only in full reliance and dependence on Him. He called me to lean into His Word, His presence, and the joy that comes only from knowing Him more deeply.
All this is not to say that we should live our lives constantly depleted of rest and personal comforts. I would argue though that the most important form of care we can practice for ourselves is digging into the heart of Jesus in His Word, in prayer, in meditation, and in worship. When Jesus was dealing with particularly difficult seasons of His time on earth, He turned to a form of self-care all believers can learn from:
- Matthew tells us that after preaching for a few straight days and performing the miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus dismissed the crowds, sent His disciples off in a boat, and went up on the mountain by himself to pray(Matthew 14:23, ESV).
- Mark tells us that shortly after Jesus began His ministry in Capernaum with preaching, calling disciples, and performing many miracles, rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed(Mark 1:35, ESV).
- And of course, before Jesus faced His greatest suffering on earth at the cross, He brought His disciples along to Gethsemane to keep watch so He could spend a night alone in conversation with His heavenly Father to prepare Him for the events to come.
Jesus knew the only place to find true rest was in the presence of His Father. The best way we can care for ourselves as believers is to seek out as many ways as earthly possible to be in the presence of our heavenly Father. So next time you find yourself frayed to the ends, pressed down by the days’ demands, or on the edge of exhaustion, the holiest and most helpful form of self-care you can practice is finding your way into the presence of the only one who brings true rest and restoration.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”(Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).