Or, self care and the cross of Christ.
I was asked recently about how I do “self care,” I know this is so different from what most consider “self care,” but it is my honest answer. Christian self care will care for your whole being, inner and outer. You are a physical, spiritual, social creature; Christian self care will be wholistic in that sense. It begins with devising a plan, fitting in the things that will truly meet the needs of your whole being. It also begins with recognizing your “self.”
When you become a Christian, you are united to Christ. You are then a new creation, a new you. For the first time you have an “old man” to crucify and do battle with. The new “you” created in Christ Jesus, hidden in Christ, known and loved by Him was created by God in Christ, for good works, for His glory, in His image. And the new you is being renewed, day by day.
You are being sanctified, you are becoming more you.
Your life is hid in Christ. No where else. You do not have a self outside of Christ, and therefore there can be no Christian self care apart from Him. You are called to crucify the flesh, or the “old man” and promised that your inner man will be renewed in communion with God, in abiding. Therefore all our “self care,” whether physical, spiritual, or social in nature, must be bathed in prayer. All things, even self care, will be “from Him, through Him, and to Him” (see Romans 11:36).
Your new self needs self care at the feet of Jesus, at the foot of His cross. True self care seeks refreshment, renewel, joy, delight, meaning and purpose, and to fan the flame of the gift God put in you (2 Timothy 1:6). Your “new self” care begins as you present yourself to God as one alive from the dead (Romans 6:13). It continues as you abide in Him with your whole being. Heart, soul and might. Or, as Greek philosophy progressed, we are told heart, soul, mind and strength. There is no separation from God’s perspective–the new you in Christ is not divisible into compartments. Heart will impact soul, body will impact soul, heart will impact body, mind will impact and be impacted by all. You get the picture.
Christian self care looks more like Spiritual Disciplines. Christian self care is sowing to the Spirit, not to the flesh (see Galatians 6:7-8). Your self care should look more like hearing Jesus say “abide in My love” and us saying “yes!” or Jesus saying “come to me all you who are weary, and learn from Me” and us responding “Yes! I want you to teach me, I am one of Your weary ones.” There is a natural need for us as creatures to depend on our Creator, and to seek His care for us.
Self Care is rather new lingo, but what your true self needs you will only find from the Wellspring of Life. Christians will do self care differently, because our hearts are set upon God, and we believe what He has to say about true refreshment. You will find refreshing from Him, and as Paul told Timothy–what you seek after for your soul will benefit your whole being, though the temporal refreshment that you seek after will benefit you for only a moment. We take care of our bodies, as stewards, but that cannot be all; and “care” that is really not meeting the needs of renewing and refreshing your weary soul is not really care, so much as “something you’d like to be doing.” Your “self” will not flourish on account of that new outfit, that facial or manicure, that extra round of golf, or that time in front of the screen, etc. Those are pastimes, and when we turn them into self care we run the risk of turning them into idols. Guard your heart, brethren.
Begin your plan
So, even though having a plan goes against my personality, I have learned the beauty of intentionally making time for what I need. A good plan starts with a two hour appointment–just you and Jesus, once a year. At home? In a coffee shop? At the office after hours? Makes no difference, just get alone, be prepared, and anticipate good things. What will you do with this time? Start by reviewing who the “new you” is in Christ. And write out other roles you play in life. Put them in order of importance to God (not to society or your creditors). This is a good way to keep in mind who your new self is, and how that new self can and will glorify God. Take a moment to ponder how the LORD has called you and skilled you in all your various roles. Here’s my list:
Child of God
Member of my local church
Bible Study teacher
Notice the shocking lack of hobbies? Hobbies must not define you, or usurp your callings from God. Hobbies should be enjoyed in their time. Mothering is much more important than gardening, or camping, or hiking, or practicing violin, etc. If we gardened in order to feed our family, then it would be on the list as a vocation. But I am blessed to have a husband that works hard to earn money to feed our family, so that I can stay home to tend to the other work, and the homeschooling. (What a blessing!) In place of “homeschool teacher” or “writer” you might put your vocation, your job. Notice I’m not a political affiliation? I’m a citizen of the United States, but being a good citizen is not what will ultimately define me, so it does not make it to the list. How do you serve in your local church? What are your spiritual gifts? That will help you define what you put on your list where I put “BIble study teacher.”
Now that I’m clear on what roles are important as my new self in Christ–I can begin to write for each, how that role will occupy some time. Write a sentence or two of how you can pursue that role to God’s glory. You may need to consult some mentors or teachers in the phase, if you are wondering how this could be pursued to God’s glory. Then think through what will renew you and refresh you in these roles. I will not be writing things like “shower, drink coffee, eat food, buy expensive wine, vacation on credit card…” Some of these are needs, others are not self care, they are simply desired ways to spend money, others are not even allowed if you are to be a steward of all God has given you. See here.
Self care gurus have now asked us to seek joy, seek peace, seek dreams, to “do you.” They do not know that the way of the cross is not the laying aside of responsibilities. It is rather that of getting into Christ’s yoke, wherein the world (and all its diversions and definitions) are crucified to me and I to the world (and all its empty promises.)
It is true that if I neglect “myself” I will fail as a wife and a mother, and a family member, friend, and member of Christ’s body. But, running away or laying aside my calling (my God-given roles of wife and mother and homemaker) is not self care. The temptation is to lay aside those roles for a few hours, a weekend, a week or more, in hopes of finding “yourself” and returning with a freshness to the “daily grind.” But as you lay these aside, is it a retreat further into Him in Whom we abide? Or is this a retreat to away from reality? He is our strength, our healing, our joy, our peace, our passion, our energy, our wholeness. Are we seeking Him and our life that is hid in Him, or something else? He has revealed Himself, and promises to manifest Himself to His own, but have you left His Word out of your “retreat”, your “respite” or your “self-care” running away? Perhaps an escape is not needed, but rather wisdom on how to order your days. Are you redeeming the time, or looking for an escape with a drink and some mind-numbing television?
Look through your list, and the ways you will fulfill those roles, and ask what will encourage you and build you up that you may continue. What will help you persevere? (You may want to read this post: Know Thyself). My own current plan, always subject to change if needed, in addition to once a year reviewing my roles and the ways I ought to carry them out, includes:
At least three evenings out each month to read extra Scripture, journal, meditate on His Word.
Intentional fellowship with friends who love Jesus, and will point me to His Love, pray for me, speak truth and beauty into my life, and not excuse my ‘old man’ but encourage me to crucify it. (Small group? Bible Study?)
Once a year, a spiritual retreat.
Daily times (times, not one daily time) in prayer and in the Word.
Daily exercising–well, maybe five times a week
Daily eating heathy, feeding my body what it really needs. Weekly treats, to enjoy.
Occasionally seeking out ways to be creative, or exercise the skills He’s given me.
Weekly times to study, write, prepare notes for teaching.
Weekly Sabbath. Rest. Ahhhhhh. The Sabbath was made for man, for this purpose, for rest and looking to Him who refreshes you. A time to remember that we are creatures, He created and sustains us, He redeemed us, and renews us.
Reading books each year that touch on my various “roles”. So, one marriage book, one parenting book, several books on education; and many that will equip me as a student and teacher of the Word.
Nature. Time outside, walking in the woods, enjoying the stars, the sunset, the song of birds, the breeze, flora and fauna, gurgling streams, moss covered rocks… Hiking when I can, but sitting and enjoying daily. No self care can be complete without time delighting in the Works of our God, and being in awe of Him. He will enlarge your heart and soul as you do. This is the Creator’s way for us to relieve stress.
The things that didn’t make it to the list are simply not “self care” they are things I ought to do, like shower, brush teeth, care for children, cook, clean, errands…you don’t need this list.
The things on my list will build me up, these will usher me into His renewal and care, and are wholistic. Stewarding my time, skills, resources, etc will help protect against moments that make me feel like the only solution is running away and indulging my flesh, enjoying my self pity and self focus, giving my sorrow to an idol rather than laying it down at the cross. What do I recommend in those moments? Pray, sing (have a list of Psalms that will help you do this handy), and seek out the fellowship of someone who loves you and loves Jesus, get outside, do a work out and get those endorphins pumping!
Seek Him–and His peace will fill you (Romans 8:6). Run away, or seek an idol and His care and flourishing will elude you. He is your daily strength, comfort, and Sustainer. He holds the universe together by the Word of His Power, and He holds you in His loving, everlastings, arms.