Treat Yo Self: Self Care and the Christian
A theme that I constantly see recurring on social media is that of self care. It’s the thought that I need to take care of me before I can take care of others. I need to make sure I’m good before I can worry about anyone else. It could come in the form of buying something for yourself, going on an outing, taking a bath with a book, etc. The theme of self care can be summed up in the words of Tom and Donna on Parks and Recreation when they say, “TREAT YO SELF!”
Now, is doing something nice for yourself wrong? No, of course not. We all need some time to recharge every now and then. However, when it becomes mandatory and viewed as a solution to your problems is when I think it becomes a problem in and of itself. I want to first lay out a few reasons why I think the philosophy of self care for Christians can be unhelpful or even hurtful and then suggest where you should find your self care.
Before I get going—just to be extremely clear—there are people who literally never stop, run themselves down, and give and give until they’re exhausted, empty, and hospitalized. These are not the people I’m talking about. They need to stop and take some time for themselves. I am referring to people who seem to view self care as a solution to problems in life when it won’t fix anything and the solution should be found elsewhere as we will discuss below.
Self care says things other than Christ are what fulfill and sustain us. It says, “I need this trip to be happy. I need my morning coffee before I can be nice to anyone. I need a solid 30 minutes of relaxation to be a good human or parent.” This is completely antithetical to many things taught about what it means to follow Christ and love others. We know that by God’s power we’ve been given all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We know that because we have God’s Spirit in us, we are free and are being transformed into the image of the Lord by His power (2 Corinthians 3:17-18).
Another problem with self care is it essentially says, “I’m more valuable than others.” There are times when taking care of me first just isn’t possible. There are times that others must be put before me. There are times that if we view self care as mandatory that we will be sinning against others.
As a parent to two young girls I’ve learned just how selfish I can be. They need a lot of care and affection. There are times when they are sick and don’t sleep and therefore I don’t sleep much. They cough in my face. They don’t have regard for personal space. By the time they’re starting to get better and get their energy back I’m starting to get sick. Then while I’m sick, they still have to be taken care of. Where does self care fit into that lifestyle?
Jesus made clear for us the two greatest commandments. Love God with everything we have in us—and another is like it—love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). If we truly want to obey this then we can’t consider ourselves more valuable than others. We can’t say, “I’ve got to take care of me first and you’ll just have to wait.” Instead we say, “Holy Spirit, help me love people like I love myself. Give me what I need to do what You’ve called me to do.”
Ultimately, self care says there is something that gives me more joy than I can find in Jesus. He’s not enough. His promises aren’t enough. His love and comfort isn’t enough. In fact, I can find more fulfillment on my own than I can through Him. This is a dangerous message to communicate to a lost and dying world.
Mandatory Self Care
As Christians, there is a type of self care we should engage in every day. To take care of ourselves and have what we need to love others as ourselves, we need to be spending time every day with the God who saved us. We do this by hearing from God and knowing Him in Scripture and through talking to Him through prayer. It’s through this day-to-day fellowship with our Maker that His Spirit cares for us better than we could ever care for ourselves. It’s through this time with our Lord that He transforms us to look like Christ from degree of glory to another.
In fact, this is the only place we will find self care that truly transforms and satisfies. Just as Jesus told the woman at the well, this is where we find living water that will cause us to never thirst again. This is the kind of care that changes us. This is the kind of care that will cause a lost world to ask you about the hope that is within you because this is where true hope is found.
In a time and culture where people are grasping for anything to give their life meaning and satisfaction, we as Christians know where the only true meaning and satisfaction can be found. Why would we want to communicate that Jesus isn’t enough? Maybe the better question is have we sought Jesus and found for ourselves that He is enough?