“Self-care is so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” Eleanor Brown
Recently a friend of mine shared some feedback she had received on a product she created that encouraged women to not only love and serve others but to balance that out with taking care of themselves. The feedback went something like this: “I don’t think American moms need any more encouragement toward selfish behaviors like ‘me-time.’ We care for ourselves when we are others focused. This is the work to which Jesus has called us.”
This sounds spiritual, doesn’t it?
There are three myths this woman believes about self-care.
Myth One: Self-Care is Selfish
Is this true? That depends. If all we are doing in life is going to the spa and eating bon bons in front of Netflix, then maybe we need to do a little tweaking on our life purpose. Maybe this woman runs in some really selfish circles, but I personally don’t know anyone who lives like this.
The truth is that self-care in and of itself isn’t selfish. It is selfish to eat? Is it selfish to sleep? Is it selfish to read a book in a quiet room? To the contrary, it’s healthy to do all those things, and without peaceful activities people burn out and lose their power and effectiveness in serving others. We don’t want to be a fireworks display that gives everything in a few moments of glory and then dies down completely spent.
We want to be more like a slow burning camp fire that we carefully feed in order to bring light and warmth throughout an extended period of time. We want to spend our entire lives doing the work God calls us to do. This is a marathon, and we need to pace ourselves and take care of ourselves so we can run it faithfully.
So this assertion that self-care is selfish is not accurate. Self-care is necessary to serving others.
Myth Two: We Take Care of Ourselves by Taking Care of Others
This is the exact opposite of the truth.
We cannot be others focused unless we have first taken responsibility for ourselves. We serve out of the overflow of our emotional, spiritual, and physical health.
The Bible tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This assumes we love, accept, and care for ourselves. It assumes our self-regard is rooted in God’s regard for us through Christ. It also implies that if we don’t love ourselves well, we cannot love our neighbor well.
If we can’t connect with and accept who God made us to be, how can we accept others the way God made them?
I believe the degree to which we truly love and accept ourselves through Christ is the degree to which we truly love and accept others.
When someone is critical and judgmental toward others, I believe they struggle with their own shame and lack of self-awareness. It is this self-awareness that gives us the ability to be aware of the inner worlds of others so we can offer them empathy and love in spite of their weakness and failure.
So the truth here is that when we care for ourselves, we are better able to authentically connect and care for others.
Myth Three: Jesus Calls Us to NOT Take Care of Ourselves
Sounds spiritual (I mean, if JESUS said so…?)
Where is Jesus calling us to do this? We cannot lay down our lives if we don’t have a life to lay down in the first place. If what she’s saying is true, Jesus disobeyed Himself when He got away to spend time with His Heavenly Father and rejuvenate. And what was he doing the first thirty years of His life? Why wasn’t He in ministry? Was he just wasting His life in a carpenter shop? And how do we know when we are other’s-focused enough?
Do you see how this works-based religious belief system sounds really pretty on the outside, but it puts a tremendous burden on people to burn out in order to be viewed as spiritual and obedient?
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” (Matthew 23:2-5)
What if the truth is a little more common sense than that? There are religious people who promote a power-over theology that places women in the role of Cinderella, but our goal is not to be the best Cinderella we can be. Our goal is to bring honor to Christ in how we steward the lives and gifts He’s given to us.
There will always be people who want to use us, and meeting their demands will take us away from our true work. If we believe we are subservient to the whims of human beings, we will never learn to apply wisdom to each demand and select the ones that are in alignment with God’s calling on our lives.
When we say “no” to something, we are saying “yes” to something with a higher priority at that moment in time. Once again, it’s absolutely necessary that we take care of our own homes and yards. This is the essence of self-care.
So many emotional abuse survivors are burnt out. They don’t believe they are worth taking care of. When we take steps to care for our bodies and minds and spirits, it rewires our faulty brain thinking from the lie that “I am worth nothing” to the truth that “I am precious and valuable to my Heavenly Father and to this world He put me in.”
I’ve watched many women begin to respect and care for their bodies, their minds, their time, and their resources, and when they do this, they begin to blossom. They give themselves the freedom to find places of peace and rest in their lives—places God Himself has given them because He is a good God who loves them. When they are in this balanced place, they experience far more productivity.
If you’ve been immersed in an environment that shames you every time you take action to protect and take care of yourself, you will have a hard time with this at first. It might even feel scary. But try it. Here are some simple, practical suggestions to get you started:
- Use your imagination. Create a special place in your mind where the real you can go when you are being attacked. Mine is a place by a stream. It’s quiet except for the sounds of a breeze rustling leaves, the friendly chirp of birds, the hum of insects, and the sound of bubbling water skipping over small rocks. There are some big trees by the side of my stream, and under one is a large rock on which two people can easily sit. Jesus is there, waiting for me. I sit next to Him and lean on His shoulder. It’s quiet, and I rest in His presence.
- Use your posture. Get on your knees and put your face to the floor. Pray for a couple of minutes. Give your burden to Him. “Father, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I give it to you. Take it from my shoulders, and do something beautiful with it.” Then stand in a power pose in front of the mirror and say out loud, “I am a daughter of God, and in Him I am safe and loved!”
- Use your resources. Do you have a bath tub large enough to soak in? Soak. Do you have a view from your back yard? Sit out there and rest. Is there a park nearby where you can walk? Go walk it. Do you have finances to purchase a massage here and there? Do it. Try relaxing and strengthening stretching exercises—there are loads of YouTube videos to teach you how.
- Use your focusing abilities. Breathe deeply and slowly. Notice your surroundings. The sounds you hear. The colors you see. The temperature of the air. The way a blanket feels on your skin.
- Use your journal. Jot down two or three lovely things you noticed today. A cardinal on a tree branch. Something adorable your child said. The look of an old man on a bench. There are a million treasures to experience, but because abuse survivors are always on edge, trying to survive, they often miss the beautiful and normal things in life.
- Use your mentorship skills. Speak truthful encouragement out loud to yourself. “This too will pass.” “I will get through this.” “I’m doing my best.” “I can learn from my mistakes.” “This is not my problem.” “I am enough just as I am.”
- Use your story-telling skills. Remember that God writes long stories. Your story isn’t finished. What’s the plot? What’s the plot twist? Who are the main characters, and how will your character change and grow through the telling of the story? Spend some time thinking through your story and even writing it all down. The process of writing will engage your body and brain and help you process your history and bring some resolution and closure.
- Use your time. Take a short vacation. One hour. One day. One week. Whatever you can afford. Watch a movie. Eat popcorn. Go out with a friend. Listen to beautiful music while laying under the stars. Curl up with a glass of wine or some hot chocolate and a good book. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Do whatever relaxes and rejuvenates your body, mind, and spirit.
I was talking today with a woman who had been taking care of everyone else her entire life, and she had no idea how to take care of herself. I encouraged her to make a list of the things she has always done to care for others and then look at the list and pull out some things she can do to take care of herself.
Self-care is far from selfish. It is taking care of yourself so you can go from merely surviving life to thriving in life. And when you are thriving, you’ll be in a great place to love others well.
(This post is an excerpt from my book, Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage. It is also part of a series called Lessons from the Ladder. This series covers various lessons I learned on the ladder out of hell that I talk about in Ten Steps Out of Relationship Hell.