Resting. Pampering. Splurging. Self-care. Rejuvenating. Recharging your batteries.
All of these are terms we’re familiar with, and they all carry a hint of the same basic idea – allowing yourself to rest, whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. The “how” really depends on the person. Maybe it’s:
- Taking a walk
- Getting a Starbucks coffee
- Going out for dinner with friends
- Getting a massage
- Reading, whether it’s a book, your Bible, or something else
- Taking a hot bath
- Working out
- Watching a movie
When I was a social work student in university, the concept of “self-care” was a common mention in our classes. Social work, much like any ministry, involves lots and lots and lots of giving. Giving of your time…your energy…your emotions…your empathy. Whether it’s social work, Christian ministry, being a parent, caring for a sick loved one, or any number of other activities like these, a person can only give so much before they’re running on empty and in danger of stalling out completely.
But I remember first hearing that term “self-care” and thinking, “Hmm, I’m not sure that sounds very Biblical. Not sure how I feel about that idea. As a Christian, I’m supposed to deny myself and take up my cross, right? I’m supposed to live a selfless life?”
This is an important topic to me for two reasons:
- Like any other human being, I have times when I feel exhausted and need refreshment, and I want to know that how I “recharge those batteries” is a healthy practice; and
- As a missionary, I have lots of opportunities to listen to other women who feel those exact same needs, and I have a responsibility to offer sound, healthy, Biblical advice to them on how to get that rest they need.
I’ve had many conversations about this topic and have spent a considerable amount of time pondering, researching, pouring over my Bible, trying to find the answer to this question – “Is self-care a Biblical practice?”
When Stress Creeps In
Life is hard, isn’t it? In the past two and a half years my family has experienced a crazy number of health problems, family issues, losses, emotional struggles, relationship challenges – really, the list goes on. I do NOT say this as a “woe is me” or to complain. I can rattle off a list of people who have it SO much harder than I do, and I honestly feel blessed that there aren’t more challenges in my life. But, I’m just saying – there are lots of days when my humanity would like to plop down on the floor, cry or scream, and finally just say it: “I give up.” Not that I think life would be all peachy if we changed circumstances – but don’t you ever just want to run away?
The kids and I were recently out of town for a week, and when we came back, it was one of the sweetest home-comings I’ve had – ever. Josh went above and beyond to help me get settled back in – helping with the kids and the house. And we were just really, really happy to be together again. We had a fun couple days of just enjoying family time, and I felt like Josh and I were able to simply flirt and have fun, like when we were dating, without worrying about anything.
At one point, Josh said to me with a smile, “You seem really lighthearted.” It struck me, and I stopped to reflect: “Yeah, I feel super easy-going right now. I’m not stressing about getting things done, not worrying about housework or church or family. I don’t feel overwhelmed or anxious…This is great!” And it was.
And then it felt like reality came creeping in as if to steal the simple joy we were experiencing. A couple days later, I was right back at that spot of being overwhelmed, anxious, discouraged. I kept thinking as the days passed, “What happened to that lightheartedness? What happened to simply enjoying each other? What was different then that I could replicate again?”
Read your Bible, pray every day…is it ok to desire anything else?
You may have heard jokes about how every Sunday-school going, Christian kid knows that the answer to any question is always “Jesus,” “God,” or “the Bible.” I was raised in church, grew up in an awesome, godly family, went to Bible college – although I’ve had ups and downs, by the grace of God alone, I’ve never really walked away from Jesus. So, you may imagine my surprise, as I’ve gotten older, to realize that “read your Bible” or “pray about it” doesn’t always take away the physical or emotional stress and exhaustion.
I read my Bible and pray. It’s a regular habit – not to say that I never struggle or falter, but it’s a priority. I’m in church every week and spending time with other Christians throughout the week. Do these things help in times of depression, in feeling overwhelmed, in worrying, in grieving…? Absolutely. No doubt about it. On the days when I oversleep, or the baby wakes up early, and I don’t get that time in the Bible and prayer, I notice a significant difference. I’m way less able to handle things in a godly way and deal with the emotions that come at me.
But, to be honest, sometimes I get to the end of a long day, and even though I’ve read my Bible and prayed, I just want to feel a little pampered. The baby cried all day, or the toddler was throwing fits; we lost electricity, so I couldn’t do laundry, or the Internet went out, so I couldn’t work during naps; the dinner burned on the stove; I nearly grated two layers of skin off when trying to grate cheese for dinner (true story). You know the drill. Life can be crazy for all of us.
So…in that moment…is it unbiblical to desire or even give yourself some pampering, some splurging – something that seems to have absolutely no spiritual significance, like taking a bath or watching a movie?
Is it unbiblical for me to recommend those seemingly unspiritual things to the women who share with me their struggles and anxiety and sadness, women who just seem to need a break?
Jesus took breaks.
Well, it doesn’t really matter to me what I think. I mean, it does, ‘cuz I’m human and I care, but the point is – what does the Bible say?
In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah finds out that Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife, is out to kill him. The guy freaks out, high tales it to the wilderness, and basically drops down, all alone, and prays that he would die. Sounds pretty much like he’s overwhelmed, depressed, filled with anxiety, right?
What happens next? An angel comes to him, twice, and gives him food and water. He tells Elijah to eat and drink, or he won’t have the energy to keep going. Elijah does, and then he follows God’s leading to a mountain, where he has an awesome meeting with God Himself – a time of correction and restoration.
I am not a theologian, and this is not meant to be a theological expose on the life of Elijah. But what I see is that Elijah was beside himself, worn out in every way and ready to give up. Now I realize that Elijah was not taking care of himself here, but the point is that in that moment, the angel brought him first physical relief and then pointed him toward spiritual restoration.
This may not be an exact formula, but I see a Biblical example here to follow, both in my own life and in the advice that I give to others who are feeling in need of rest…sometimes we need to take care of the physical, the emotional needs in order to take care of the spiritual.
God Himself instituted a day of rest for the Hebrews. We also know that throughout Jesus’ earthly life, He took time out to pray, to rest, to sleep, to be alone with God the Father, and to eat with His friends. Even He, in His humanity, needed to take breaks. In His ministry to others, Jesus brought physical healing to many people, and through that, He pointed them toward spiritual healing, as well.
So, is self-care a Biblical practice?
I don’t have all the answers, but what I have found in my searching is that we are just humans, with real human limitations and weaknesses, and sometimes our physical bodies and emotional nature need a rest in order to have the strength to keep going. Does that mean the Bible, and Jesus, are not enough for us? Nope. I didn’t say that. But, I believe the Bible offers the wisdom that sometimes we need those physical or emotional recharges – eating, exercising, resting, hanging out with friends…those things that help us lay down the physical and emotional exhaustion and stress.
Now, I’m not saying we should do whatever the heck we want or makes us feel good in the moment. Again, this is not a theological post – it’s not meant to exhaustively discuss healthy Biblical practices. Clearly, the Bible also gives us some guidelines as to habits that are truly healthy and those that are not. For example, generally speaking, if the practice is actually detrimental to our health or the good relationships in our life, it’s not going to bring the true rest and rejuvenation that we need.
Another realization I’ve come to in my searching is that self-care isn’t really the phrase I’d choose for this concept. While most of our “self-care” activities themselves may immediately benefit only ourselves (no one else is really helped by me watching a movie or working out, or even, in the exact moment, in reading my Bible) – but, in the long run, these activities actually benefit those around us.
Think about it. If going for a run is your thing that helps clear your head and physically energize you, aren’t your friends, family, co-workers better off when you take that run? I know based on experience that if I’ve “taken care of myself” I’m less likely to lose my patience over my toddler’s tempter tantrum or more likely to hold my tongue when I’d otherwise make some sarcastic comment to my husband. In that sense, “self-care” is meeting my physical and emotional needs in a way that empowers me to take care of the people around me.
But it’s also important to note that those practices in and of themselves aren’t the end-all answers. I’m not going to be rejuvenated on a spiritual level simply by watching a movie or working out. These activities are a means to an end in my life, hopefully a means to an end in the lives of the women I share with, and that end is the spiritual restoration.
Elijah’s physical needs were met so that he could keep going and meet with God. Jesus took time out in order to be alone with God, the Father. As a Christian, the ultimate goal isn’t to take care of myself or even the people around me. No. The ultimate goal is to be in relationship with God and to glorify Him in my life.
There are times when I, or the women I minister to, need a physical or emotional break. I don’t have to feel guilty or selfish for taking a nap or going for a walk, and I can whole-heartedly recommend to them that maybe they need a night out with a friend or they should get a massage. But the goal isn’t just for me or for them to feel good. That’s a blessed benefit, for sure! And honestly, the goal isn’t ultimately to benefit our kids, or our spouses, or our friends around us.
No, the goal is to be physically and emotionally recharged so that I’m ready for God to do what He wants in my spiritual life.
Self-care. I may not personally phrase it that way exactly, but, yes, I believe that physical, emotional, and spiritual rest and rejuvenation are a Biblical concept.
Let’s hear from you!
So what do you think? Tell me your thoughts on rest and recharging your batteries. What do you do to take a break? Do you have any recommendations on habits you can engage in throughout the day with minimal time to recharge in a busy life?