One of the reasons I love the Bible is because of the parameters it gives. It’s not that I love being held back, it’s that I love being protected. If I’m not reined in by God’s wisdom, only the Lord knows where I’d end up. One way the Bible kindly leads Christians is by giving us language to use. God’s Word is sufficient and authoritative because it’s his. This means that I have the lingo, of sorts, that God himself wants me to have.
One way to stay in my good, God-given parameters is to remember that God used words on purpose, so we should use our words on purpose, too. That’s why buzz words always give me pause.
“Self-care” is one of these buzz words. It’s precedes from a culture seeking to promote wellness. The best version of this idea is like hearing the flight attendant remind you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping the child next to you. The worst version is to selfishly take the best care with and of yourself first and foremost.
Does God speak to this idea of “self-care?” Instead of caring for ourselves in the way the world tells us to, God says to love Jesus, to grow in grace, to discipline our bodies and minds so that we might spend ourselves on others.
The best way to put your own oxygen mask on first is by loving Jesus most. Love for Jesus keeps our paths straight. The right kind of self-care is active trust in him (Prov 3:5-6). So, we must learn Jesus’ understanding of life because his way is perfect. When our affections are spent on Jesus, it’s the greatest thing we can do for ourselves. This means I spend my time reading his words, learning about him and talking to him. When I love Jesus, worldly self-care pales in light of what he offers me.
Discipline your body.
Apostle Paul says holy discipline proceeds from the fear of God (1 Cor 9:24-27). We discipline ourselves because we are in awe of God and we want what he has to offer. In a way, how we treat our body is an overflow of how much we value godliness. This does not mean that how fit we are determines how godly we are. But, to be disciplined with our physical well-being for the glory of God enables the Christian to serve others.
Discipline your mind.
Of course, our bodies are broken. My heart is broken too, but it has the transforming Holy Spirit. And so, what takes precedent over disciplining our bodies is training our hearts toward godliness (Phil 4). We must learn truth, meditate on truth and rely on truth—not simply how we feel. When I’m exhausted, when I need a break, when I’m in pain or when I’m stressed out, believing God’s truth will always be the best thing for myself no matter what.
Grow in grace.
We don’t give ourselves grace; grace is given by God (Eph 2:8-9). He gives us grace for salvation and then he continues to grow us as believers by his grace (2 Pet 3:18). It’s our job to treasure this gift and offer it to others because Jesus offers it to us. By growing in God’s kindness, we will simultaneously lower expectations of our sinful selves and gain a higher understanding of God. This means we don’t strive for perfection, but we work hard for God’s glory knowing that we’ll mess up (Rom 2:4). Because of grace, a Christian’s self-care always includes genuine repentance which brings happiness.
God graciously allows us to have his wisdom and he gives it to us when we ask (James 1:5). It comes from his Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit. By listening to God’s wisdom, we are doing what is best for ourselves (Prov 4:6-7). Perhaps wisdom looks like more rest in your home rather than another activity, maybe it means leading a community group instead of joining a book club, maybe it’s doing none of those things. Regardless, the best kind of self-care flows from having wisdom from God.
God promises to provide for everything we need as we spend ourselves on others (Phil 4:19). Serving others brings joy from the privilege of watching God redeem, restore and renew. Experiencing God working in the lives of others gives the Christian a new kind of hope, encouragement and energy to serve with faithfulness. Loving others provides joy that won’t be found spending that same time on ourselves.
The best kind of self-care is to remember that it’s actually Jesus who perfectly cares for us. He never sleeps because he is always watching over us (Ps 121:4), he’s always praying for us (Rom 8:34) and he always understands us (Heb 4:15). When we are faithful to abide in him, he provides the rest, wisdom and energy needed to live well (1 Jn 4:16). For those who believe in Jesus, self-care then has nothing to do with caring for yourself most, and everything to do with caring about Jesus first.