Q: Is self-care wrong for the Christian?
A: The self-care industry is booming. Its messages are broadcast loudly across social media, pop culture, and every means of marketing. The refrain of our day is: Get away for some me time, have that latte or glass of wine, take that vacation, set aside time for just you. After all, you work hard. You deserve it. How can you love others if you don’t first love yourself?
Modern pressures and pace of life have us all weary. But Christians rightly wonder if the self-care industry is for them. Something seems a little off. It’s true, we’re tired too. Followers of Christ need rest and rejuvenation just like everyone else. The refrain, though, seems self-focused. Is it sinful?
Self-care includes actions taken to preserve and protect one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s anything you or I do to make sure that we are well–mind, body, and soul. This often includes eating a healthy diet, getting good sleep, exercising, taking time to get away and rest, pursuing means of personal growth, and really any creative means of pursuing wellness in one’s life.
The very short answer is, no, self-care is not wrong for the Christian. We, like everyone else, are finite, limited creatures who need care to survive. The Bible tells us repeatedly that our flesh is like grass and we will wither (Isa. 40:6—7, 1 Peter 1:24, Job 14:2, Ps. 102:1, Ps. 103:15, James 1:10). It’s a fact of life that we must provide daily care for our limited bodies. But the way in which we do that, as followers of Jesus, will be distinct.
Q: How is Christian self-care unique and distinct?
A: Self-care for the Christian must be fundamentally distinct from self-care found in the world.
First, Christian self-care is founded on the principle of stewardship. Followers of Jesus acknowledge that we are not our own, our bodies belong to the Lord, and we are called to honor him with them (1 Cor. 6:19—20). We rightly believe that our life and breath and everything else is from the hand of God (Acts 17:25). Above all, self-care for the Christian is an act of stewarding our bodies and lives on behalf of our Maker. Christian self-care seeks to tend to what God has created, to honor him above all by protecting what he has made.
Second, Christian self-care is not an effort to ignore or minimize our stress and problems. Many worldly self-care techniques encourage us to avoid or evade the pressures of our life. We’re told to run away from it all, to empty our minds, to get lost in something else altogether. But the invitation of Jesus is
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28—30)
He does not encourage us to get away from our problems or pretend they’re not there. In him we are invited to acknowledge the weight of our stress and the heaviness of this life and confess that we cannot carry it alone. Christian self-care is laying our burdens at the feet of Jesus.
Paul reminds us that the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”(1 Cor. 12:9). The hardships of living in finite bodies in a fallen world are meant to drive us to a deeper awareness and a greater truth that we need our Creator and Savior. Christian self-care lifts our eyes up and off of ourselves and onto our kind, compassionate, and almighty God. As Christians, we don’t ignore or hide from our problems; we acknowledge them and hand them over. Christian self-care is an act of submitting our lives to our Father in heaven and allowing him to lead us through both the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, that he has for us.
Third, Christian self-care is eternal in nature, not temporary. Throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament, we see that the character of our God is to care for us–his people–made in his image. There’s a repeated call to seek him and find him (Deut. 4:29, Prov. 8:17, Jer. 29:13, Matt. 7:7, Luke 11:9, Acts 17:24—28). Moses told the Israelites to take care and keep their souls diligently (Deut. 4:9), lest they fall into idolatry and forget the mercy and promises of their God. Jesus says he came to give us abundant life (John 10:10). Our God made us to dwell with him forever.
Christian self-care is not a quick fix or a brief time-out. It is a whole new paradigm with God at the center. It is faith. It is the life-changing surety that God will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6, Heb. 13:5), that if God is for us nothing can be against us (Rom. 8:31), that no one and nothing can snatch us out of God’s hands (John 10:29—30), that one day our dwelling place will be with God and he will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:3—4). Christian self-care is rooted in the truths of eternity and our good God’s sovereignty over all of it. It lasts far, far longer than any coffee break, yoga class, or dream vacation.
To bring it all together, Christian self-care is both rooted in and grows out of a foundation in Jesus. We acknowledge that he is our Creator and Savior, and so we steward our lives for him. We don’t run away from our problems, but we allow them to drive us to him, and we rest in his able and eternal care for us. Christian self-care is distinct because it’s so much longer lasting, far reaching, and soul satisfying than anything the world offers you and me. God alone is the source and means of our care.
Q: What does Christian self-care look like?
A: The best advice or wisdom I can offer when we are exhausted, burned out, disillusioned, or stressed beyond our own ability to cope is to turn to Jesus. This is no trite sentimentality. When we turn to Jesus, we acknowledge what is true; namely, that we were created through him and for him (Col. 1:16). God is our beginning and our end–he made us for himself. We cannot run on any other fuel. The early church father Augustine of Hippo was right when he said, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you”(Confessions).
The best self-care habits–not only for the Christian but for any human being–lead us back to our Maker and Savior. Truly beneficial self-care will reorient us again and again to where our help comes from: the Lord (Ps. 121:1—2). Real self-care is humble, acknowledges our own weaknesses, and casts all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
By all means, you and I should feel free–and even encouraged–to participate in activities that are life-giving and restful. We are free to enjoy an hour at the coffee shop alone, to get a pedicure, to book a night away, to take a long hike, or to hone as many healthy habits as we’d like. But our hope cannot be in these activities or their results. While enjoyable and likely fruitful, these are not the means of restoring our souls.
It is only God who gives us green pastures, quiet waters, and restored souls (Ps. 23:1—3). Let us pursue these activities with freedom, but with hearts oriented towards our Lord. Within the context of these activities, we must abide in Jesus if we want genuine, lasting, soul-deep relief (John 15:4—5). However, we pursue self-care in practice, let’s be sure to soak up the word of God, pray to the Lord, meditate on his character, sing hymns and songs of praise, and set our minds on things above (Col. 3:2) as we go.
May we accept Jesus’s invitation to come to him. May we seek his rest. May we acknowledge that we are indeed weak, but he is strong. Christian self-care proclaims that Jesus alone is the Giver of life. It is the reorienting of ourselves back to what is true: We were made by God and for God, and he abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness for you and me (Ps. 86:15).