Self-care is a concept currently gaining increasing attention and awareness in the secular world. 'Self-care' refers to anything one does as an act of caring for and nurturing the self, be it spiritual, social, physical, mental or emotional.
Examples of self-care include getting early nights and adequate sleep, eating a diet rich in nutrition, exercising frequently, journaling, spending time with understanding friends and doing things that inspire you.
As Christians it's easy to associate such a concept with selfishness and therefore sin. We endeavour to be selfless and to serve others, so why would we put our needs first?
Would that not lead us down the path of self-righteousness and tempt us in to a state of ever inward gazing?
Self-care as discipline and personal responsibility
The truth is that if we are taking care of ourselves, then we are better able to care for others.
If we are disciplined with our sleep and exercise regime, maintaining personal boundaries and nurturing of self, then we are going to have a greater capacity to care for others.
When we're exhausted and overwhelmed we simply don't have the resources to respond as calmly, patiently and compassionately with others. We are not going to outstretch our arm quite as willingly, to help carry the load of our brother, because we are barely managing to carry our own load.
We also are not going to meet up with our friends, ready to pour our hearts out with the hope of them fixing all of our problems. If we are taking adequate care of ourselves, we are taking responsibility for our feelings and actions and meeting our own needs where we can.
Christ, the self-carer
If we look to the Bible for signs of Jesus taking care of His personal needs, we can see that He was able to recognise His own needs and tend to them accordingly. He was able to comprehend that He had limits and that God had allowed for Him to care for Himself. When He saw the need, Jesus would escape to nurse his heavy heart in prayer, indulging in time to Himself because He needed it.
Even Jesus had limits. This is humbling for us to remember. It's so easy to hold ourselves to a level of perfection and feel shame when we struggle to meet our own expectations of what a Christian 'should be like'.
In reality, Christ was sinless and perfect, fully God and fully man and He still needed to eat, sleep and have quality time with friends. We forget that God gives us these things to nourish us and help temporarily restore the mind and body. We forget that we are weak and weary and dependent upon Him even for each breath.
Of course we need to take care of ourselves, we are a needy race, us humans.
So how do I do this 'self-care' thing?
I had to research and experiment with this myself, as it was new to me too. I wanted a 'one size fits all' manual on how to take care of oneself. But then I realised that a vegan weekend retreat would not be a nourishing experience for me, and a bubble bath doesn't do for everyone what it does for me. The point of self-care is that it is catered to you specifically.
For me, bringing my bedtime back by a few hours and getting up earlier has been a help. I have cut down my sugar intake substantially because I feel so much better for it. I go to the gym now and push myself when I don't feel motivated because I know that my body is designed for movement and my mind to feel better for releasing endorphins.
I am slowly learning how to say no to people if I don't feel up to something, or if I know that it will lead to negative consequences as a result, which often means feeling overtired, overwhelmed and crying.
And on the topic of crying, that is something I do often. And self-care means not criticising myself with scathing judgement, but accepting that I am a girl who feels things deeply. David cried throughout the Psalms and we don't hate him because he had emotions. Self-care means allowing ourselves to feel uncomfortable feelings, like sadness, loneliness or disappointment—and taking care of ourselves while we feel this way.
Picking up our Bibles, preaching the Gospel to ourselves, cooking a nourishing meal, going for a run, calling a close friend, doing something creative if we're that way inclined (craft is very calming, guys), treating ourselves to flavoured probiotic yoghurt or the latest Frankie magazine, borrowing a friend's bathtub for an hour or watching a series on Netflix after a long day. Our versions of self-care will look different, but it is so important and should be a part of our daily lives.
I used to wait until the tears came to "be kind to myself" as my mother would say, but now when I self-care I don't reach the point of Alice In Wonderland flooding-the-land-with-tears quite as much.
There is so much more to be said for the subject of self-care. For me, is has been a life saver this year. Learning about our needs and how we can meet them and seeing how this benefits our relationship with ourselves and others is a wonderful thing.
Got to go stretch now, bye!
Scarlett Jones resides by the seaside and loves reading, films, craft and quality time with friends and family.
Scarlett Jones' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/scarlett-jones.html