Self-care is everywhere we look these days—images of tanned, beautiful bodies in cross-legged yoga bliss; blogs about taking time to unwind written by the overextended; day spas and smoothie bars promising health and renewed energy. For many, self-care messages prompt no moral or ethical conflict. But people committed to living sacrificially for the good of others sometimes struggle. Specifically, Christians tend to feel guilty about self-care.
No one argues against the global health benefits of rest and rejuvenation. The rub comes with the motivation actuating the pursuit of these benefits. For the sacrificial, God’s glory and the good of humanity drives everything. If self-care constitutes a departure from these passions, the incentive will wane. This may ultimately lead to less self-care and eventually burnout, health problems and a bitter spirit.
But what if self-care could be seen as part of sacrifice instead of a departure from it? What if instead of, “I’ll have to be selfish for a while,” we could say, “The most selfless thing I can do is take care of myself.” That would change the game and provide an entering wedge for self-care in a sacrificial life. Well, fortunately, it’s doable. Self-care really can be selfless. If I choose to build my reserves out of a desire to live longer and stronger, to be more present and effective in helping others, then I’m just as verily pouring out my life in service while making a green smoothie for me as I am while bringing a food basket to someone else.
Much overwork and self-neglect lies on the foundation of the lie of self-ownership. Those who have bought into this lie seem untouchably pious because they would never impose on others what they freely impose on themselves. How can you fault such nice people? They’ll work to the bone so everyone else can take a personal day. They’ll blame themselves in a conflict. They’ll give compulsively and serve quietly. To point out their errors seems harsh. But a lie is a lie, and the idea that I can hurt myself, that I’m expendable, that I belong to me, is simply false. We are bought with a price, morally required to care for ourselves just as we are morally required to care for others who are bought with a price. Even more, God calls us to care for His creation, including our image-bearing selves.
If you’ve stumbled over the idea of self-care because it seems to flow along with narcissistic human nature, you’re right. The generic concept of self-care has no big-picture, cosmic purpose behind it. But the same practice placed in the center of the Cross makes sense. God died for you. You were bought with His blood, of infinite value because of the price He placed on your head. You’re not your own property, you’re simply a steward of your body, mind, and heart. Care for it like you care for all of His property, but even more because He made you in His image, with infinite capacity to love as He loves.
Speaking of self-care, there are still spots left at the Abide Healing Retreat this December! Check it out: