Self-Care Mistakes, and how service solves them
by Abby Wahl
The idea of self-care seems to be everywhere in our current culture, proclaiming that unless we are intentional about taking time for ourselves, it won’t happen. We are lead to believe that withholding self-care will have disastrous consequences. These consequences will supposedly affect not only our physical and mental well-being, but also our identity itself, causing strain or damage to our relationships.
I have often heard the oxygen mask metaphor used as an example: first put your oxygen mask, then help others. I believe there is little truth or little profit in such a mindset. In fact, it is harmful to pursue self-care as means to cope with life. I believe there is an alternative, a better way, a truth and life we are called to by God.
Self-care wasn’t always mainstream and popular.
It was a prescribed treatment for patients and their families when members need surgery and physical therapy, endured a trauma, or needed long-term care. It is promoted and necessary in addiction treatment for helping families heal and manage stress. It is a way to get perspective when all of your time, energy, and life is so tightly wound around another human being. When family members or friends are attempting control, it often looks like care and support. However, instead of helping, it morphs into enabling, unhealthy levels of co-dependence, and often obsession. A caregiver’s time, energy, and well-being is consumed to the point that they neglect their own basic needs.
Self-care was also recommended to first-responders: EMTs, fire-fighters, police officers, and social workers. When the stakes are high, these professionals need to make the best possible decisions. Responding to situations full of adrenaline and stress, they often make decisions that affect life and death. Living this way all the time isn’t possible; without conscious effort, their health and relationships will suffer.
Self-care was supposed to be protocol for extreme circumstances, not for normal, everyday life.
The struggle is real. Being a mom and a homemaker is tough. It is exhausting. It is hard. It is difficult raising kids, being married, and keeping a home. It is also true that we value little the things that are easy. However, instead of a buzz word to help us get through life, we need to focus our thoughts on Truth.
The Bible doesn’t talk about self-care, as far as I have read. Over and over, there are stories of a merciful God caring for us. We are not called by God to practice self-care. We are, however, called by God to serve one another. The Proverbs 31 woman doesn’t talk about what she is doing for herself, but always in the service of others. She is laughing, creating, caring, supporting her family, and setting the example of stewardship.
Stewardship isn’t a Christian re-packaging of self-care, somehow made “holy”; it has a different end entirely. Self-care is the world’s attempt at curing our real insufficiency. Self-care is a way and means of coping with difficult situations and taking care of your needs, for yourself.
If somehow we can sleep enough, meditate, be mindful, take a walk, take a weekend yoga retreat, fill in the blank, life would be sunshine and rainbows and we would be able to do everything. Stewardship is about honoring God, taking care of the things our sovereign Lord has placed in our lives, caring about what He cares about, and bringing Him glory.
Self-care is like pain medicine that gives momentary relief. Stewardship is seeing the frustrations, sufferings, and pain as sanctifying work. When we recognize our insufficiencies and weaknesses, the Holy Spirit can help us exert self-control.
As Paul writes:
Stewardship is loving God with our mind, body, and soul and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is following in the Titus 2 pattern:
We don’t need to find ways to get our needs met. God does this everyday. He will give us wisdom if we ask. When we humble ourselves, He lifts us up in due time. He gives us the rest we need. His peace surpasses all understanding. He is faithful even when we are not. His mercies are new every morning. And every morning we must take every thought captive to obey Christ. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity shares this thought:
When we seek rest or refreshment on our own terms and from this world, we will never be satisfied. Only when we come to Jesus, weary and heavy-hearted, will we find rest. When we seek the kingdom of God and stop focusing on our own suffering and frustrations, when we forget about ourselves, we will become more Christlike.
We bring God glory when we steward the life we have been given.
It is to my Father’s glory when I see another sink full of dishes and wash them. When I fold another mountain of laundry. When I step on another lego brick, and have a gentle answer instead of a harsh word as I throw it in the garbage. When I rejoice in the convenience of the microwave and warm a cup of coffee for the 10th time. When I cheerfully repeat instructions with a smile on my face. When I discover new sharpie artwork on the wall and teach my children how to clean and repair ruins without a critical spirit. When I am impervious to whining and crying and I find the need behind the behavior (food, nap, bathroom or sickness). When we are missing the left shoe from three pairs of shoes and I start a project to improve the system. When I discover that they’ve been peeing out the window from the second story and don’t freak out, much. When I ensure I’m not too tired to spend “quality time” with my husband by taking a nap earlier in the day. When I refrain from complaining to my husband about how hard it is being at home with his challenging children.
All of this can be for God’s glory. Ask God for the grace for today, not worrying about what tomorrow may bring, knowing we don’t have to be supermoms or overwhelmed moms who just need time for self-care.
We have the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s sufficient grace.
It is enough.
Grace and peace be with you.
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Abby Wahl is a Christian, a wife to a farmer/rancher and when not herding sheep, she is herding her 5 children (ages 13-8) and faithfully trying to educate them. She enjoys coffee black, mornings early & quiet, and cooking (not baking), and books – lots of books.
Dump all those swirling thoughts out of your head.
Yes, simply writing it all down will help to
- Reduce stress by getting your thoughts onto paper
- Reduce frustration by assigning homes to stuff, tangible & intangible
- Reduce anxiety by knowing what you have on your plate
I was just scrolling through a bunch of blog post in my reader and I was prompted to read this one. I needed this post so bad today.
Ps even though it had me crying and doing a hard gut check I died laughing about the peeing out the window. Lol. You are not alone. I discovered my son was doing the same thing. It was a bitterly cold morning slightly windy. and I noticed a nice smattering if yellowish ice all over my window. The one right below his room. ?
I’m glad you found this today. The upside to our window incident was the grass below was growing beautifully, apparently it’s the perfect fertilizer. May you blessed today.
I believe your post has merit, but having been at this homeschool business for 15 years now, my heart breaks when I go to homeschool conferences/co-op/homeschool events and see moms that are totally worn out and exhausted. They follow what you’re talking about in your article but there doesn’t seem to be any balance. It might be helpful if you mention there is freedom in Christ to “rest” when you are weary. Jesus often got away from the crowds to spend time with the Father. I believe this was his “self-care”. We shouldn’t be shamed or guilted for wanting to take some time to go the nail salon and I think this has happened too much in the homeschool community. As ambassadors of Christ, we should shine even brighter but how can we when we are shamed into believing that “self-care” isn’t important so we don’t have anything to offer the world around us in the way of the Gospel because we’re so tired and exhausted. Why would our kids want to serve Jesus when mom is just always run down, grumpy and looking completely stressed out. My teens have said this to me, “Mom, why is it that homeschool moms don’t look happy?” I think we really need to ask ourselves the bigger question, “Are we resting in Jesus for all things?” Maybe I’ve misunderstood your article, but I just needed to share what I have observed.
I think we are in agreement. I believe as you do, that we find rest in God. Yes Jesus did go away by himself, to pray. I think is a wonderful way to spend your time. I haven’t heard anyone who is promoting self-care (lists and activities) include prayer. This wasn’t an attempt to shame anyone for going to the nail salon or taking a nap, I take naps all the time and I go bed early. I do not think it is glorifying God to run ourselves ragged either. I believe if we are stewarding our time, resources, and bodies we won’t be exhausted or rundown and grumpy. Instead we will be joyful and at peace with what the Father has given us. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Peace and grace to you.
Hi Kim – we do need to rest, but that doesn’t happen at the nail salon. I know I’ve been worn out and weary and gone for a pedicure. Turns out it didn’t solve any of my problems and I didn’t feel better when I got home (although it was nice to do and I still do sometimes). If our hope and rest is in ourselves, we won’t find it. If a mom is weary and needs rest (and we all do), she should look to find it where Christ promises it: in prayer, in corporate worship, in accepting the sanctification He sends through service. Too often we are exhausted and weary because we think our job is to sanctify our children, and we look to them for how we are doing (and so end up discouraged), instead of looking to how the Holy Spirit is growing us through this calling He has given.
“Are we resting in Jesus for all things?” is exactly the message of this article. There is no guilt for having our hair or nails done, but there is also no hope found there. The world tells us to look to “treating ourselves” for refreshment, and they call it self-care; it is a shallow lie.
Unless we are spending alone time in prayer, that time alone will not actually bring us restored to our good work.
I am so glad I read this. I don’t normally read all my emails from the blogs I have subscribed too. The mom life certainly keeps me busy and my reading to a minimum. Thank you for speaking out on a subject that has saturated our Christian culture and honestly I wasn’t completely sure how I felt about it. But you are right in saying that he bible talks primarily about serving others and not so much on self care. This post convicted me in many areas but primarily the part about complaining to my husband which I do VERY often. Thank you for your wisdom and for stepping out and speaking out on an issue that may cause some pushback!
Thank you Kaisha, for your time and your encouraging comments. Be blessed today.
Thank you for this balanced perspective! You both point out the pitfalls of our culture’s tend toward indulgence and acknowledge that there are times and circumstances when self-care really is called for. For those navigating exhaustive vocations, care giving, or mental and physical illness, it is so important to hear that, yes, it’s okay and even proper to need self care – but look to God to grant you the rest you need, not someone else’s Instagram feed.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”- Teddy Roosevelt (I think?)
Some great thoughts here. Thanks for sharing.
I think I take issue with the lack of definitions in this post. What exactly is “self-care?” What is “stewardship?”
When I hear “self-care” I don’t think of nail salon visits and yoga vacations. I think of exercise, eating well, sufficient sleep, prayer, and meditation.
Is stewardship grocery shopping for a friend when she’s sick or signing up for another committee at church? The former I do willingly and so happily. The latter I leave to those who want to look holy.
I don’t normally comment, but I hope there are not mothers out there who are made to feel guilty for taking care of themselves. I am absolutely a better mother when I practice these “self-care” (by my definition) day after day. I have a friend who does not practice “self-care” and I spend a lot less time whining about my life than she does.
Hi Katie, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I tried not to define the term self-care on purpose. I think when we try and define an idea that is all around us, we tend toward legalism or outright defiance. Stewardship is, taking care of yourself to the glory of God by depending on His grace. I think making a list of what constitutes stewardship is a slippery slope. I think it is great God has bestowed a heart that gladly serves a sick friend. I don’t however believe He hasn’t equally bestowed a heart of service to those interested in serving on a church committee. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 says that we are one body with many members, and each of us have different jobs to do but there is not to be any division. God also says in Samuel that man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. I do not believe I am laying guilt upon moms. Instead of relying on “self-care” practices we need to turn toward Christ and have faith that He will help us in our insufficiencies and will give us rest.
LOVED this article. Thank you for the encouragement to be rooted in the right place–in Christ, not self. It’s easy to get sucked into the worldly way of thinking about things.
Thank you, Lauren. Yes, being rooted, love that! Loved chatting with you yesterday in the Break Week chat!
Really enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for the encouragement!
Thank you for posting this; it’s very helpful. I do use the oxygen mask example when I talk to young Moms, but my idea of self care is different. It’s carving out short bursts of time to spend in God’s Word, prayer, and memorizing Scripture, which is all sometimes hard to do as a mom of young ones. It’s finding a way to get a shower at least once or twice a week, which can be challenging. it’s arranging your priorities so that you get a good night’s sleep when possible, which is vital for our health and attitude, and with young children and babies, another challenge. Self care doesn’t have to be selfish, but I think of it as those things which are so necessary. That’s why I love helping young moms – sometimes they just need someone to hold the baby and play with the toddler so they can shower, or steal away with their Bible. :)
Yes! If that’s what is meant by self-care, then we need to know it’s good to carve out the time for it. The image of self-care on Pinterest or magazines, though, is that we’re justified to self-indulge sometimes. When we’re at the end of our rope, a shower and time in God’s Word is what will fix it, not spending the day at the spa.
I appreciate this discussion and tend to agree with those that push back on this notion of self care as selfish and not God centered. The one aspect I see that is missing here is intention: discernment of vanity or true self care of your person. I prefer a balanced approach as detailed in A Mother’s Rule of Life” balanced with knowing your personality type so that you can properly refresh to serve others. My life is not the life of the Proverbs 31 woman. What we take on is far greater and stretches beyond what most humans take on. What “self care” looks like for each woman will differ. One woman might need to be alone and with her thoughts where another might need dinner with girlfriends. Neither is bad, it’s just what refreshes that person. It’s not for me to say that the woman who does feel refreshed by girls night or nail salon days is vain, maybe there’s an interaction there that really does make her feel refreshed. I’m an INTJ so being at a nail salon can be too much people time for me. When I sit in that chair I pray the people around me don’t want to talk. I just want to be in my head AND have my sore feet tended to and make to look more lady like!
Thank you, Abby. I appreciate the reminder.