I recently went through some major life transitions (marriage, moving cities, starting a new job) — all within two weeks. It was a lot. I quickly realized that emotionally, this season would look a lot different for me. Back in college, I tried to conquer every hour of the day with productivity. In this new season, it was all I could do to make it to 5 PM. I was easily overwhelmed, constantly tired, and confused by feelings I didn’t really understand.
I knew that I needed to start paying closer attention to my rhythms and have grace for myself about not being able to do as much as I used to. I knew I needed to start doing some things solely for the purpose of bringing life back into my heart. But I found myself a little confused about it would look like, and also a little guilty for needing so much care. So I started exploring what self-care really is, and what God has to say about it.
Misconceptions of Self-Care
As I began this journey of finding out what self-care is, I looked up #selfcare on Instagram just out of curiousity, and found 6.7 million posts. There were pictures of bathtubs, yoga, coffee, hair tutorials, ice cream, etc. Here are a few of the things I saw…
- “Make yourself a priority. At the end of the day, you’re your longest commitment.”
- “Spent a solid 2 hours at the gym today and don’t have one bit of mom guilt. #selfcare”
- “Put yourself at the top of your to-do list.”
- “Finally going on a vacation….I deserve this. #selfcare”
Some of this stuff just doesn’t sit right with me. Make yourself your top priority? Spend hours at the gym away from your kids? You deserve vacation?
Vacation, working out, watching movies, taking a nap — none of these things are inherently bad. But as I saw this worldly perspective on self-care, I caught myself wondering — is self-care selfish? As Christians, shouldn’t we be spending more time caring for other people and bringing the gospel to those around us? Doesn’t Jesus command us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him (Matthew 6:24–25)? And did we ever really get promised a comfortable life?
Self-Care is Selfish (sometimes)
To answer these questions, we need to understand what self-care is and is not in light of the gospel. Yes, Jesus did say we should deny ourselves and follow him. This means that we will probably (definitely) get asked to sacrifice things that aren’t easy to give up and do things that are uncomfortable — we will have to deny our flesh what it wants when it comes into conflict with the will of God. And so when self-care is used to promote the kingdom of self, it is wrong. If your self-care is about putting you at the center of the universe, ensuring you are always comfortable, and helping you escape difficult circumstances, it is surely not from God.
When self-care is used to promote the kingdom of self, it is wrong.
For all of us who are tempted to use self-care as an excuse to be lazy and neglect our God-given responsibilities, let this be a warning:
Self-care should empower you to serve, not enable you to be selfish.
The purpose of self-care is not just to help you “live your best life” by enjoying lots of good things. God has a plan for your life that involves reaching the world for Jesus in a way that is completely unique to you, which means you have very important work to do. One reason self-care is essential is to cultivate health in our hearts, minds, and bodies so that we are able to fully carry out God’s purpose for our lives. In this way, self-care is a lot like resting.
If your reasoning for self-care begins with “I deserve…” then stop right there. I would remind you of what the Bible says we all deserve — eternal separation from God for our sins (Romans 3:23–26). We are not entitled to comfort, fun, rest, peace, entertainment, or anything of the like. It is only the grace of God that has done the unthinkable and made us alive with Christ while we were still sinners! We must always remember that everything we have has been given to us by God. Self-care is not an excuse to disobey the commandment to literally offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
Self-Care is Essential (when you have the right heart)
But self-care is not always wrong. In fact, I believe there is a strong biblical argument for tending to ourselves so that we can grow and thrive. In Romans 8:18–25, we see that God’s Kingdom is not just coming through us, it is also coming inside of us! We ourselves—our souls, our hearts, even our bodies to an extent — are to be a picture of what the redemption of God looks like.
This means that the love, grace, and total restoration of God’s Kingdom are for us as well as the world. Don’t miss this.
We aren’t just workhorses for God’s kingdom.
We are his masterpieces.
You must learn how to partner with God to take care of yourself. There is a part that is distinctly God’s — some circumstances you will not be able to handle alone; some emotions will be too overwhelming. But you can use your resources and your creativity to begin finding coping skills that provide appropriate responses to the emotions you feel and the stress that wears on your life.
Self-care is a means by which we present ourselves holy and acceptable to God. Of course, Jesus has already paid it all and there is no condemnation for us when we are in him. But we also have a role to play in working with God as he makes us into his image and the Kingdom comes both in us and through us.
If you do not practice this type of kingdom-minded self-care, you will not reach your full potential as a masterpiece of God’s. And that’s why I think learning true self-care is one of the best things you can do to be ready for what God has in store for you.
Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”