We must be diligent in prioritizing our spiritual health first, as when our hearts and minds are at peace, we can enjoy the benefits of physical and mental self-care fully.
Recently, I had the opportunity to get together with a few girlfriends. We are all in the throws of motherhood, the height of careers, plates overfilling, and flirting with burnout. One friend shared that mom's guilt almost prevented her from coming, while another confessed she felt stressed about leaving her chores and to-do list for the weekend. Intended as encouragement, one finally chanted, "Don't feel bad; we all need a little self-care. That is what this time is for, so we can rest and recharge."
But for some of us listening, this statement about self-care only caused more anxiety. For some, the mention of self-care causes the praise hands to go up, and others cringe at it. How can two little words cause such a difference in reactions?
Coined in the 1950s, self-care isn't a new concept. But in the last few years, it seems as if you can't scroll social media, browse aisles lined with magazines, or scan literature without being reminded of the need for self-care.
Self-care isn't harmful, but like anything intended for good, humans can become overindulgent, turning a neutral thing into an idol—one tell-tale sign is if you've crossed the line from self-care into selfishness.
What Exactly is Self-Care?
If you're reading this article, I assume you have a pretty solid understanding of the concept. However, I've discovered that self-care means different things to different people. Everyday Health writes, "Self-care is anything you do to take care of yourself so you can stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well." That seems like a pretty good idea; I think most would agree that we want to keep as healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally as possible.
The issue is not self-care but more with how people engage in self-care to achieve these results—because taking care of ourselves isn't a one-size fit. It could be taking a walk or reading a book; for others, it could be allowing yourself to say yes to the second piece of cake or taking a trip to the spa. No matter what avenue, the goal is to help us maintain and continually be the best versions of ourselves.
It is easy to see how the idea of self-care can cause friction within the Christian community. With phrases like "you deserve this" or "you need to put yourself first" associated with self-care, it can quickly appear a selfish and inward-focused practice. But, like so many things in the Christian life, we must examine our heart's motives behind our actions, and self-care is no different.
Does our definition of self-care align with scripture?
Two verses are repeatedly sourced to promote self-care from a biblical perspective:
Genesis 2:2, "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."
Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
There are numerous examples in Scripture of resting, relaxation, and restoration times. God made us finite creatures; we require food, water, and sleep to function, and when we don't have those things, our bodies perish. So the concept of rest and taking care of ourselves is biblical. But, we must be careful not to add our interpretation or twist Scripture to manipulate or promote a personal view of self-care.
In Genesis 2:2, God rests, not because he needs to, but to remind His creatures that they have physical limitations. He also introduces the concept of the Sabbath as a day of rest for people to worship and praise God. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus reminds his followers that he offers spiritual rest through salvation. While we will experience troubles and turmoil in this life, those in Christ will have eternal peace with their Lord and Savior.
So, taking time to recuperate our bodies, rest our minds, and restore our souls is a concept found in Scripture. So how do we guard against selfish self-care?
We look out for red flags:
1. Your Priorities are Out of Order
We've established that only caring for our bodies and souls is essential; God commands us to practice rest. But, we must be careful not to make rest, or "keeping the sabbath," out of legalism but instead as a way to honor the Lord. Maybe you enjoy reading as a way to practice self-care, a great practice to regroup and restore. However, if the reading comes at the cost of making sure your children are fed, or taking care of someone who depends on you, then neglecting your obligations to engage in self-care has become a selfish pursuit.
2. Comfort Is More Important than Spiritual Health
In the verse from Matthew above, too often, people give rest the same level of importance as spiritual health. Spiritual health takes priority over all other self-care in our lives. If our hearts are not in tune with God's will, through the proper allocation of being still and abiding with the Father, we will never feel the rest of which Jesus speaks. I am guilty of prioritizing things that feed my physical and emotional need for rest and rejuvenation over my spiritual health. I find it easier to cuddle on the couch with a good book, take a leisurely hike, or enjoy a lengthy chat with a friend over the discipline of opening my Bible and engaging in prayer with God. We must be diligent in prioritizing our spiritual health first, as when our hearts and minds are at peace, we can enjoy the benefits of physical and mental self-care fully.
3. Self-Care is Now Your Idol
Uncovering if self-care has become an idol is tricky; it forces us to focus on our heart's motivations. An idol is anything we prioritize or serve (even unintentionally) over God. It comes naturally to humans, and it's why self-care can quickly become an idol in our lives. Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods says, "An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you what only God can give." Some questions to ask if you think you might be slipping into putting self-care on a pedestal include:
Can I be content without my weekly self-care regime?
Am I hoping to find peace and comfort in self-care?
Am I using self-care to mask pain or hurt that only God can heal?
Do my thoughts, time, and money revolve around self-care?
4. You Make Excuses or Feel You Need to Hide Your Self-Care
We don't owe our friends or family members explanations for where we spend our time or money; however, we should pause whenever we feel we need to hide our behavior. Perhaps you enjoy a nice dinner as a way to unwind, but at the expense of an extravagant charge on your credit card. Maybe what started as harmless retail therapy has escalated to numerous unpaid bills and hidden shopping bags. Or it could even be that you prioritize a lazy Sunday afternoon but engage in white lies to protect that time on your calendar. Ask yourself why you feel the need to be deceptive. What is your behavior that you think you need to hide from others? Examine your motives, and if you discover your self-care has become selfish, abandon or alter your current self-care rhythm or routine.
The Bible is not a magic eight ball that provides answers and specific guidelines for every issue in our lives. Instead, God gives believers the gift of the Holy Spirit and a personal conscience that we must consult daily. What is right for one person may not be suitable for another, so taking inventory of our heart's motivations and desires is critical. Enjoy the excellent gift from a gracious Father of rest, but be diligent that our desires are that of the Lord's (Psalms 37:4).
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