I was getting ready one morning, going through my routine of putting in hair products and applying my 5-minute face (ok, maybe it takes a tiny bit longer than five minutes) like I do every day.
Often this becomes my “thinking time,” and this particular day was no different. As I put on my favorite eye liner and mascara, the thought came:
“What is the most important reason to take care of myself?”
I have lots of answers for why I believe it’s a good idea; It’s a discipline that helps me feel like my job as a mom is important. I know it has plenty of health benefits. I’ve heard that there are connections between taking good care of your body and how it affects your emotional and mental well-being. But what’s the foundation – the deepest ‘why’ – behind its importance?
What’s the ‘why’?
I see the term “Self-Care” all over the place. And especially for moms, the emphasis on this topic has seemed to explode in recent years. Just about everyday on social media I see memes telling me to make time for it (or for me, rather) – that after days on end of caring for others, I need to just do something for myself because I deserve it. But so much of it just doesn’t sit quite right with me, not because I think that caring for our bodies, minds, and souls is unimportant. It’s the motive – the reason we care for ourselves – that makes all the difference in the world.
I believe that at its core, the reason we’re to care for ourselves is to bring glory to God. He made us, and we are His (Psalm 100:3). We’re made in His image (Gen. 1:27), and called to glorify Him with these bodies He has given us and bought back from sin and death by the blood of Christ (1 Cor. 6:20). Our bodies, minds, and souls have been given to us as a gift, and as Believers it’s our highest privilege to surrender these to be used to point to our loving and powerful Creator. We are to take care of our body so it can be used effectively to build His Kingdom as much as it’s up to us to do so.
The problem with much of the “self-care” stuff out there today is that the foundation isn’t about glorifying God, but glorifying self. When that is the case, it easily becomes a way of justifying over-indulgence, selfishness and discontent. It then turns into something we feel entitled to rather than a gift to be received with humble gratitude. Even is Christians, falling into this self-centered rut can happen before we even make the connection.
So how do we know it’s happened?
Here are a few markers.
We become demanding, irritable, and sorry for ourselves when we don’t get it.
We turn grumpy when we miss getting a shower because the newborn won’t settle down.
We resent our makeup routine being cut short because of needing to clean up spilled milk before rushing out the door.
We give in to self-pity when the budget doesn’t allow for that really nice lotion or those expensive supplements.
We find ourselves spending a little too much because we just had to have that shopping spree.
We feel growing discontent, envying that person’s vacation or this person’s spa day and convincing ourselves we won’t be happy unless we have that, too.
Self-centered self-care can also mean listening to feelings rather than truth. If “self-care” means eating a bowl of ice cream when I’ve already had too much sugar that day, then that’s not actually caring well for myself. Or if I opt for time alone when I know God wanted me to meet a need of someone else’s, that is not ultimately what I needed. Or when I choose to sleep in when I should get up and exercise, that’s not truly what’s best for me. Or when it feels better to browse Instagram than spend time in God’s Word, my feelings are definitely leading me astray. Caring for ourselves well sometimes means having the discipline to do what we don’t want to do, because that is ultimately what is the wisest thing for us.
A term that Judah and I started using a few years ago is Self-Stewardship. It implies that we’re caring for a body that’s not ultimately ours, but God’s. No matter what term we use in the discussion about taking care of these bodies we’ve been given, the way we as Christians talk about it ultimately needs to shift from self to God (and as a side note, if we do use the term “self-care,” we should think of it as falling into the same category as “self-control” rather than “self-indulgence.”)
When glorifying God becomes the number one motive for taking care of our bodies and minds and souls, there is infinitely greater joy found in it. When we look at it through the lens of honoring the Lord, we can see more clearly what is truly the best way to care for ourselves in each situation. We remember that the first and best way we can care for ourselves is spending time in His presence, allowing Him to minister to our souls as we delight in Him. We see those moments of slipping away to enjoy a cup of coffee or taking a hot shower or getting a haircut (I love getting haircuts) to be undeserved gifts from a loving Heavenly Father. And when we leave this area in His hands, we can joyfully give it up when He calls us to lay down the “right” to our own care to love someone else in His name, just like Jesus did when he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:7-8).
It’s all for Him
God knows us better than we know ourselves. And when our lives are fully given to Him, He provides exactly what we need when we need it. The more we seek Him, the more our souls are satisfied and refreshed in ways that can be found in no other source. He is our Living Water. Whether we realize it or not, He is our deepest longing and need. When our souls are panting, our hearts parched, and our bodies weary, He is the One who satisfies us and gives us rest (Matt. 11:28; Psalm 42:1). We were made to be fulfilled in Him and Him alone, and if we try to find this anywhere else, we’ll be left extremely wanting. But if we look to Him, we’ll be eternally satisfied.
So, let’s care for ourselves for the glory of God. He’s beyond worthy.
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What I have coined in my head as the “anti-self-care movement” I sense from the Evangelical world does not sit well with me. BUT THIS. You have written eloquently and tactfully, honestly and boldly on a subject that needs addressing while allowing that there is still room to care for ourselves. I think the biggest issue (next to the selfishness you nail here) is the lack of community around us. If we were more often in genuine community, we would have people saying, “Sweety, go grab a coffee. I have got your kids for an hour” or “My friend, you need to out down your novel for a night and converse with the Author of if your own life.” Then rather than coming always from this place of “no one cares so I have to do it myself” we would know that someone has our back. Once I was in the fetal position, on the floor, I couldn’t cope with anything much less making dinner. All Paul said to me was, “Why don’t you go get a coffee for a bit? I can do bedtime. Just go.” Suddenly I had the strength to get up and make dinner. I know it sounds manipulative, but I promise the anxiety I was allowing to control me in that moment was very real. But the permission I had been given was freeing. I realized he was not judging me on whether or not I made dinner. That he cared about me and what I was feeling. And with that support I was able to function a little bit better. Long way to say I appreciate how you have handled this. Thank you for the excellent reminder that God is with us and we can honor Him in the ways we care for others AND ourselves.
Thanks so much for these thoughts, Carey! Yes, I think lack of community is a huge issue. Christian community is so key in helping point us to Jesus and “bearing one another’s burdens.” And this means helping one another take care of ourselves well! Appreciate you!