Self-Care and the Christian
We live in a society that is consumed with self. The message “love yourself” seems to be everywhere in modern culture, even in the church. The plea to make time for practicing self-care is loud and unyielding, amongst secular circles and Christian circles alike. One article I recently stumbled across while researching this topic was entitled “25 Inspirational Quotes About Self-Care”, in it were the following quotes:
“Practice self-rescue first before you ‘help’ someone else” -Maureen Joyce Connolly
“Self-care is how you take your power back.” -Lalah Delia
“If you have the ability to love, love yourself first.” -Charles Bukwoski
“Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” -Lucille Ball
“… the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself.” -Diane Von Frostneberg
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” -Oscar Wilde
“Don’t sacrifice yourself too much, because if you sacrifice too much there’s nothing else you can give, and nobody will care for you.” -Karl Lagerfeid
Self-rescue? Taking your power back? Love yourself first? The beginning of a lifelong romance? Don’t sacrifice yourself too much? Do these sound like Biblical statements? Quite the opposite, everything about these principles is completely contrary to what Christ taught us in His Word. Christians know that self-rescue is impossible, this is why we needed a Savior to rescue us from our sin. While the world may be power hungry and believe that the way to achieve power is through self-preservation, Jesus said the “greatest among you must be your servant”. Jesus also said that the greatest commandment is not to love yourself, but “To love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind and strength.” We also know that it is impossible for the Christian to sacrifice “too much” when our Savior sacrificed everything, including His very life to save us. Christians need to stop falling for lackadaisical messages that require anything less than complete abandonment to the One who gave His very life to save us. Jesus took up His cross even unto death, He requires His disciples to do the same. The world says, self-care but Jesus said, self-denial.
Jesus did not mince words on this point, He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Lk. 9:23) and “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). To “deny ourselves” according to the biblical pattern, means to lose sight of ourselves and our own interests. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.” Death, not comfort, is to be the primary theme in the life of a true Christian:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” -Romans 12:1-2
“You are not your own, you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.” -1 Corinthians 6:19-20
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20
Our lives as Christians should not revolve around protecting our own comforts and living for our own pleasure. We are here to serve:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” -Galatians 5:13
“For even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:45
It is important that Christians maintain an eternal perspective. Life is short and the time allotted to us is far too precious to waste on ourselves. There will never be a day when we stand before Christ and He looks at us and says, “I wish you would have kept more for yourself. I wish you would have invested more time in self-care routines and self-indulgence, rather than serving Me to the fullest.” We are not here to simply coast through life for our own enjoyment but to know Christ and to make Him known, this will always require some form of personal sacrifice.
Our Need and His Strength
It’s become such a common phrase it’s almost cliché- “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” In one sense, it’s true, you– in and of yourself- cannot pour from an empty cup. This is the very reason why we need Jesus and His strength. No amount of self-care will refresh your soul. It is pride to believe that we can somehow pamper ourselves into being capable of serving. We must come to Jesus “poor in spirit”, recognizing that without Him we are utterly bankrupt. It is only when we come to Him acknowledging our weakness, that we can receive the help and grace we need to serve Him the way He would have us to.
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” -2 Corinthians 12:9
Christians today, especially those of us living in the United States, suffer from a great lack of spiritual fortitude. Fortitude means gaining supernatural strength to overcome no matter what difficulties come our way. It means not letting self-sympathy push us around but letting the victory of Christ rule our actions and decisions instead. The Bible is filled with commands to be strong (1 Cor. 16:13, Ephesians 6:10, Galatians 6:9, 2 Timothy 2:3, Philippians 4:13). You see, Christians will experience times of weakness and exhaustion- we are not superhumans. Life in the world will never be easy. We have to stop believing that we will never feel tired- we will. It is in the midst of these feelings that we must cultivate and practice fortitude. The primary virtues of the Proverbs 31 woman were valor and strength. When it says, “who can find a virtuous woman?” in verse 10, the word “virtuous” actually means valiant, mighty in battle and strong. What a far cry from the “I can’t adult today” type of attitude many take on today.
Jesus said that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). 2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” If Paul could be victorious in “perils of robbers, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils of false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger… and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:26-27) we too can learn to be overcomer in smaller difficulties. Spiritual fortitude can only come when we exchange our weakness for the strength of Jesus Christ; when we stop leaning on our own ability and start tapping into His supernaturally enabling grace. Spiritual fortitude means coming to the end of our own strength, laying our weakness down at Jesus’s feet and declaring, “I cannot but He can!” with every challenge we face.
Catherine Booth once wrote to her struggling daughter, “Do not give way to lowness while you are young. Rise up on the strength of God and resolve to conquer!” The solution to weariness is not to be soft towards ourselves, but to practice fortitude, by God’s grace and with His help. Remember that He has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and Jesus Himself has set us a perfect example.
Christ’s Perfect Example
How would Jesus respond to the above statement? Did He ever have to pour from an empty cup? How did He respond when others came to Him with needs? Did He send them away saying “Sorry, I can’t heal you today, I need a day off to practice some self-care.” On the contrary, Jesus said His food was to do the will of Him who sent Him. Our calling, no matter how we may feel, is to lay down our lives and follow Jesus. The Lord Himself has set a beautiful and perfect example for us which we should strive to emulate:
In Matthew 14 Jesus received the sad news of John the Baptist’s death. After this, He went away to be alone and mourn but a multitude of people followed Him. As Christ was grieving, He healed the sick- all day long. Afterwards, the crowd was hungry but when the disciples wanted to send them away to find food, Jesus looked upon them with compassion. Instead of sending them off so He could be alone to continue His mourning, He performed the miracle of feeding the 5,000 with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
On the night before Jesus was betrayed, He could have said, “I need someone to comfort me right now!” But instead, He was the One comforting His disciples. He spoke these loving words to them: “let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.” -John 14:1
As Jesus was carrying His cross on the way to Golgotha, in excruciating pain after the cruel flogging, beatings and crown of thorns, not to mention public humiliation, what did Jesus speak to the people? “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children.” -Luke 23:34
Hanging on the cross, Jesus was still caring for his mother (John 19:26), the thief beside Him (Luke 23:43), and the soldiers who were crucifying Him (Luke23:34).
Jesus was others-focused, even when going through unimaginable pain and suffering Himself. The Lord has called us to do the same (1 Corinthians 10:24). Don’t turn to self-care to meet your needs, Jesus Himself will meet your every need. Run to Him and keep serving others.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
-1 Corinthians 15:58
“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and the one who waters will himself be watered.”
“Heaven will come soon enough, we are here to serve, give yourself away to this world, every cost will be worth it.” -John Piper
“If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.” -John Piper
“If by excessive labor we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master’s service, then glory be to God. We shall have so much less of earth and so much more of heaven. It is our duty and privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus.” -Charles Spurgeon
The Right Way to Rest
There is, of course, a need for rest but it should be the right kind of rest and it should flow from the motive of being refreshed in order to continue serving others. Far too often, we feel justified in indulging our cravings. We had a stressful day and allow ourselves to go on an ice-cream binge or movie marathon. We go through a tough breakup and go on a shopping spree with friends. We are feeling frustrated after a rough day with the kids, so we have a rant session on social media. We are prone to look to frivolous comfort, instead of the supernatural comfort of Jesus. Of course, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the good foods God has given us, taking time to do fun activities with our families, or even going on vacation. A good nights sleep can be extremely helpful and sometimes it is necessary to unwind after an intense day, but far too often we use our personal struggles as an excuse for self-indulgence and catering to the whims of our flesh. There is a far better way to refuel and gain strength for the daily battles we face.
At times, Jesus needed rest- the Bible describes different times where He would withdraw from the pressure of public ministry, the crowds, and even His closest disciples to go be alone with the Father. Jesus carried more weight on His shoulders than any of us could ever imagine, after all, He was fully God but also fully man- He knew weakness and experienced tiredness just as we do. Yet He knew that the only way to gain strength was to spend time with God. When we find ourselves in need of rest, strength, perspective- we shouldn’t just run to things with no eternal value that will distract us temporarily. We should run to Christ. The best “me time” is typically God time. Spending time in His Word, reading a Christian biography, sitting at the piano and worshipping Christ, going on a walk to pray, journaling, talking with a Christian friend who will encourage you and pray for you etc. It is important that we do not heed the voice of the culture which says, “You deserve some self-indulgence. Forget about everyone else for a while. Put your spiritual life on a hold for a bit and just take time for YOU.” Remember that there is no area in our life that is exclusively ours, every aspect of our life belongs to God. Even our resting should serve a purpose- to refill us so that we become better equipped to serve God and others.
Next time you feel like you are in need of some “me time” take a moment to consider what will refresh your soul. Run to the feet of Jesus instead of the comforts of the world. When you do, you will experience the kind of strength and refreshment only He can provide.