The mantra ‘self-care isn’t selfish’ is starting to become more and more popular but what does it really mean for Christians? Isn’t that a contradiction?
Perhaps you’re like me and you learned this in Sunday school: JOY. It stands for:
In other words, I learned that Jesus comes first in our lives, then we serve others and we, ourselves, come last. I always believed it and I lived by it. In fact, I sacrificed my true career passions to serve other people first. Do you know where that job got me? To a place of emptiness.
In the end, I found myself huddled in the backseat of my car during my lunch breaks. I was not okay. This career wasn’t for me. I spoke to my doctor and he helped me to see that I sounded like a martyr and that perhaps I should actually quit this enviable position I had secured less than a year into the job.
I listened to wise counsel. And I listened to my gut. I quit my job without another job to go to. Instead, I sat at home reading Ken Costa’s ‘Know Your Why’. What a terrific book!
This book unravelled so many beliefs I’d acquired growing up. A year earlier I’d read Rick Warren’s ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ and taken it to the extreme. ‘Your life is not about you’, I remember reading. And I sacrificed myself for others thinking I was doing my good Christian duty.
But then Costa’s book begins with Jesus’ quote, ‘What do you want?’ (John 1:38)
The truth is that who you are matters to God. What you want to do with your life matters to him. He gave us our passions and desires for a reason and he wants us to enjoy them.
We are meant to steward the gifts he gave us, not hide them under a rock or bury them in the ground. (Matthew 25:14-29)
The truth is, that if we practice self-care, we are better able to serve both God and others – here’s why:
You cannot pour from an empty cup – The more you have, the more you have to give
I remember learning this my first year in Bible college. The pastor drew a jug on the whiteboard and illustrated the way water pours out of a jug. If we are always pouring our time and energy into others, eventually we will run dry. His metaphor was explaining that we need to be connected to the source of our energy – Jesus – and if we neglect to draw from him, eventually, we will run out of energy to give to others.
The same is true for self-care. If you are healthy and happy, you will have more energy to give to your family, your community and your workplace. You will have fewer sick days. You will be a more positive influence rather than a resentful negative person who is giving out of obligation rather than a place of overflow.
So what fills your cup? If you’re an extrovert, maybe it’s a night out with some close friends. If you’re an introvert, maybe it’s a luxe cup of tea and a good read. It’s different for everyone. I love this question that begs us to consider what we can do to refuel ourselves:
“What can you experience today that is going to fill you with the positive emotions you need to do the most important things in your life? It’s about refueling yourself in order to engage with life.”Dr Kelly McGonigal
For me, sleep is a big one. In order to be a positive mother and have the energy I need to run around after 2 kids every day, I need an early night, so I prioritise that and it makes a difference. By putting my needs first, I am better able to serve them later.
Here’s another reason why self-care is the opposite of selfishness:
Not taking care of yourself is a quick road to burnout
Speaking from experience, it is far too easy in life to end up in a dead-end job that you loathe. It’s so easy to say yes to every opportunity that comes our way, to serve others at the cost of what we really love. Self-care is more than just hot baths and cups of tea. It’s about creating a space for you to be your true self without any external influences trying to shape you into something else.
Tara Parker Pope of The New York Times defines self-care like this:
“Self-care ultimately is about setting priorities, setting boundaries and finding purpose.”Tara Parker Pope of The New York Times
For Christians, self-care is about being true to what matters to you and protecting that. It’s about making time in your life for the things that matter to you and help you to live out your God-given purpose.
Parker Pope goes on to say,
‘Giving yourself time every day to focus on your personal goals and values is the ultimate form of self-care.”Tara Parker Pope of The New York Times
Perhaps that is why burnout is so detrimental, it happens when we don’t create boundaries or make time for the things in life that truly matter to us. I strongly believe that regular self-care is so important for people to prevent burnout. If that means saying no to that extra event at church because that’s the only time each week you can get to the gym – that is totally okay! You’ll be a better person in the long run – trust me!
This leads me to my final reason why Christians need to know that self-care isn’t selfish.
Prioritising yourself first enables you to prioritise others more often.
So hold up. We often don’t prioritise ourselves because we care more about serving or pleasing others, right?
What if I told you that you could better serve others if you first took care of yourself?
Here’s a trusty old analogy: Last week I caught a plane to my new home in Darwin, Australia. My 3-month-old baby was on my lap and the flight assistant told me ‘If the oxygen mask drops, you need to put yours on first’.
Why is that? Because if I’m okay, I am able to help my baby be okay. If I’m not okay, well, he’s in trouble! The same is true for life.
If you spend time doing things that fill your cup and help develop meaning and purpose in your life, you will be a healthier person with more capacity to give generously to others – like I know you want to!
You are noble to love others so fiercely that you would give your life for them. But you’re also noble when you’re able to say no, take a minute and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
On that note, dear friends. It’s time for my cup of tea and for my face to hit the pillow.
Would love to hear in the comments below if you’ve had any revelations about self-care or any limiting beliefs you’ve had to overcome from your Christian upbringing.
Love you all,