In my previous article, You Do You (which can be found HERE), I talked about the tensions between self-care and relationship building. It’s too big of a topic to address in one article, so I wanted to clarify and explore some thoughts in a little more detail. Specifically, about self-care as both an opportunity to grow and a temptation towards isolation.
My previous article played with the idea that self-care can be an excuse to avoid the difficult work of relationship building. And on one level it conflated self-care with selfishness. So, I would like to start there. I do not think that self-care and community-care are mutually exclusive; they are intricately connected and necessary for healthy relationships. Healthy people help build healthy communities and personal health – while aided by supportive people – must ultimately stem from an internal commitment to care.
A temptation towards isolation
I think it’s absolutely necessary to do the hard work of knowing and loving yourself. But I’ve found that self-care can be a temptation to avoid the challenging work of loving the people around me, and even to avoid the challenging work of loving myself. Using relationships as an excuse to avoid learning how to love yourself is just as bad as using self-care as an excuse to avoid learning how to love other people.
Sometimes when I am staying home in the name of self-care, I am avoiding what I really need or avoiding searching for it. It’s a convenient excuse to care for myself at a surface level without reaching a bit deeper and truly uncovering what is best for me. Maybe what is best for me is actually staying in and taking a bubble bath, maybe it is going out and being with friends, or maybe it is sifting through some prickly parts of my soul that I’m afraid to bring to light. But I mostly stop at the bubble bath and don’t look any deeper because it is painful. I want self-care to be fun and relaxing; at some point we must admit that self-care is often a disciplinary kind of love.
Both pressing into community and pressing into yourself can – and should – be done from a place of freedom and not be born from a place of fear, obligation, or guilt. We are called to do challenging things both on our own and with others. But sometimes being alone is the only way that we can learn who we are and how we fit into a society filled with others who are broken, jagged, and still learning how to love. Self-care is essential to loving from a place of freedom and not from a place of dependency, brokenness, or obligation. Loving self-care requires picking our way through the prickly parts of ourselves and giving them to Jesus to help us examine, navigate, and heal those barbed wire souls we are incapable of healing alone.
An opportunity to grow
Sometimes God answers our prayers through other people. Loving myself often feels out of my reach – being loved comes more naturally to me. I know that is not how all people experience love. But relationships help point us to the love of the Father by demonstrating that we can be loved through the people around us with a love that is not just a feeling, but a constant, continual choice. They are Jesus in body, pointing us towards the reality of an identity as someone beloved with no expectations or strings attached.
There are some people that may not always need these reminders of love from those around them. Perhaps for some people the self-care is in learning how to set loving boundaries – maybe the real work of love is to say no to over extending themselves and taking time to detach from others and their identities of us. It can be easy to attach our identity to how others perceive and treat us, instead of searching deep within for the heart of Jesus that shows us otherwise.
There’s – unfortunately – not an easily prescribed way of living. There is no one definition of self-care that will dictate action for a variety of circumstances. Who is to say whether it is better to spend your time pressing into relationships even though you’re exhausted or if you need to cancel plans for a night of being with yourself? I think the only way to answer this is to turn to Jesus for his ever simple yet revealing truth.
Jesus says this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second [commandment] is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark chapter 12, verses 30-31) He doesn’t say to love your neighbor at the expense of knowing yourself, and He doesn’t say to love yourself more than your neighbor. Jesus is calling us into intentional and freely given love for ourselves and others centered around a relationship with Him. He is calling us into self-care.
Rebecca constantly strives to practically love people around her. She also loves fuzzy socks, her five sisters, pink and orange alstroemerias, calligraphy, and sour gummy worms.