Part One – Is Self-Care a Pride Issue?
It’s a big buzz word these days – Self-Care. Especially in the world of Betrayal Trauma Recovery. Unfortunately, it’s an idea that’s always kinda rubbed me the wrong way. The concept feels contrary to the self-sacrificing life I’ve always believed I’m called to lead as a follower of Christ.
When the proverbial uh-hum… dookey?… hit the fan, though, I was forced to re-evaluate my beliefs in just about every area of my life. I had to take a magnifying glass to my heart and allow the Word of God to divide out the things that didn’t line up. As I started down the long road to recovery, the idea of self-care seemed to bombard me at every turn. Everyone seemed to be suggesting that I couldn’t heal unless I learned to prioritize self-care. I wasn’t buying it, but finally, I surrendered to God and asked Him to help me find truth.
The incessant drum-beat message of self-care the world pounds into us is this: We must prioritize ourselves because everyone else needs us to be at 110%. How can we expect to save the world if we’re not making sure our own needs are met first? And since we’re doing so much for everyone else, we deserve a little something for us too.
Every part of that message makes me bristle. It is prideful, selfish and completely out of sync with the heart of Christ. However,… in the process of throwing out the bathwater, I’m afraid I discarded the precious, valuable jewel of a baby as well. And while I was busy pointing the “it’s prideful” finger at the self-care community, I was missing the pridefulness at the root of my own beliefs.
Three Areas in which Looking to Jesus‘s Example Taught Me about Self-Care
As with so many other things in life, there is no better teacher than Jesus. He walked the messy, dirty paths of this life as a perfect example for us to follow. Let’s start our search for truth by examining the way He lived, looking specifically to how He did or did not practice self-care. I, for one, was surprised by what I found.
1. Jesus consistently prioritized time alone to seek out and spend time with His Father. (Mark 1:35, Matt. 14:23, Luke 6:12, Luke 9:28, Mark 6:46…)
Luke 5:15-16 – …the reports of His power spread even faster, and crowds came to hear Him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.
The Gospels make it clear that quiet prayer time was a priority to Jesus, but until recently that truth didn’t hold much depth for me. I simply thought it was an example of the importance of prayer. While it certainly is that, another truth hit me square in the face recently: The Bible says that Jesus often WITHDREW to the wilderness for prayer. In other words, people were crowded around, making demands of His time and energy, and He figuratively said no! He chose something else.
Jesus could have spent that time healing more people, setting more captives free, or teaching the Truth to greater and greater masses. But He didn’t. He had a limit. He recognized the importance of time alone with His Father, and He made it a priority.
That, sisters, is self-care. Solid, Biblical, God-honoring self-care: To recognize our need for spiritual renewal and intimacy with our Heavenly Father and to prioritize that need above the needs of others.God-honoring self care is to recognize our need for spiritual renewal and to make intimacy with God a priority. Click To Tweet
Here’s the really hard truth about that though: Too often, my problem is that I think far too highly of the importance of my own impact on the world. I think I’m the answer to the world’s problems. That unless I address the issues right now, they won’t get solved. I convince myself that to neglect these issues would be selfish. When, in fact, my god-complex is actually what’s selfish. Ouch!
When I look to the example of Christ, I am humbled. He actually WAS the answer to the world’s problems! Yet, He trusted His Father enough to obediently walk away in order to re-focus and re-align Himself to the Father’s will. Oh how prideful I am!
“Lord, help me to place the world’s problems in Your hands, where they belong. Help me to trust Your purpose and plan, and to recognize my need to seek You in order to properly align myself to them.”
2. Jesus was not bound to some ritualistic practice that could never be altered. He was able to discern the leading of His Father because He was wholly connected through the power of the Spirit.
Mark 6:30–34 – The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
I didn’t think this was a point I was going to make as I started writing this, but the Bible has a funny way of leading us into truths we hadn’t planned on learning. As I studied the topic of self-care in the life of Christ (attempting to make sure one last time that what I wanted to say lined up) this story just kept popping out at me again and again. I saw within it an important lesson. One of balance and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
In this passage, Jesus withdrew from the crowds with His disciples, as He had so many other times before. The Twelve had just returned from a ministry tour and were likely both exhausted, and excited to tell Jesus everything that had happened. Jesus understood that what was needed was some quiet time to re-group, learn together, rest, and re-focus. In other words, the group needed to practice a little self-care!
Something a little different happened, though. The crowds saw them leaving and followed. When the group got to the place that was supposed to be a quiet retreat, a crowd of over 5,000 men, women, and children waited expectantly.
The Bible says that Jesus saw them, and “had compassion on them.” He knew the disciples needed some time alone with Him. He knew He needed time with His Father. He had left the crowds in order to meet those needs, and yet when a different scenario presented itself, Jesus responded with compassion.
Can I say the same? If I’ve planned some quiet time to eat, sleep, read a good book, watch a movie, take a nice bath, or even to study the Bible or pray, and God presents me with an opportunity to minister to someone else instead, do I respond with compassion? If I answer that question honestly, I would have to say that unless I am fully walking in the Spirit, my response is unlikely to be compassion. It’s far more probable that what will spill out is either some sort of reluctant obligation riddled martyrdom, or snarky irritability. Either way, it’s not in any way Christ-like.
It’s sort of a double-edged sword though, isn’t it? How do we learn to have the humility to realize the world doesn’t need us in order to get by, while at the same time being sensitive to the fact that God might ask us to get involved in something we intended to leave alone? How can we ever hope to know the difference? How can we know when to say no, and spend time seeking God and when to set aside our self-care plans and compassionately give of ourselves instead?
I believe the answer can be found in this final point:
3. Jesus understood the spiritual danger in over-prioritizing physical comfort, and in so doing showed us what truly matters when it comes to self-care.
Matthew 4:4 – But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
After Jesus was baptized, He went out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights to be tempted by Satan. I’m sure we all understand that this time was stressful. What we might call a “high pressure” situation. So we can safely assume that He spent extra energy on self-care in order to be adequately equipped to handle those temptations. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that in preparation for the showdown Jesus took a long walk, or ate a box of chocolates, or got a massage. What it does tell us is that He spent those 40 days fasting and in prayer.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to fast for an extended length of time, but it’s not easy! It doesn’t “feel” good, and it certainly wouldn’t fall into the stereo-typical category of self-care. Yet, it’s a spiritual discipline with the power to demolish strongholds, and to draw the worshipper into deep, intimate relationship with God. As Jesus faced off with Satan, He found Himself fully equipped because He had spent 40 days spiritually preparing Himself for the challenge.
What I glean from this is that personal strength of character does not come as a result of pampering or indulgence. Rather, it is the by-product of fierce dedication to the Lord God Almighty. When I face the trials of life, I don’t need to stop and take time to spoil myself. I need to stop and take time to empty myself before the throne of God and ask Him to fill me back up. Doing so is an absolute MUST! I won’t heal, I won’t thrive, I won’t find victory if I don’t tenaciously insist on whatever I need to get that done. In turn, I can trust that when I do, He will come through for me, just as He did for His Son. I can rest assured that when I’ve given all that I am to Him, He will in turn make sure I’m cared for.
When I face trials, I don't need to pamper myself. I need to empty myself before God and let Him fill me back up. Click To Tweet
Matthew 4:11 – Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus..
Let me assure you that I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with doing the things the world would qualify as “self-care.” It’s not wrong to indulge in a decadent dessert or enjoy some time doing something that brings me pleasure like taking a bath or reading a good book. (Or all three, at the same time!) What I am proposing is that those things won’t offer any solutions to the problems of life. They’re not the answer the world wants us to believe they are.
Rather, the self-care that matters, the practice that will provide answers, is a commitment to seeking God with all that we are. When we follow the example of Jesus and prioritize our spiritual health above all else, we will find answers to impossible questions. We’ll know which paths to take. We’ll be able to navigate life with a peace that passes all understanding and be filled with the joy of the Lord in the direst of circumstances. I think this verse in 1 Timothy sums it up pretty well:
1 Timothy 4:7-10 – Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” This is a trustworthy saying and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look even deeper into the issue of self-care and I’m going to share much more about what God has taught me about this important issue. Including some practical application steps. What I’ve learned has changed my life.