Self-Care’s Shortcomings

As I peruse social media and my favorite websites, blogs and magazines, it seems that I cannot escape the term “self-care.”  One article describes self-care this way: “One of the best ways to ensure that you’re at your best for everyone else is to make the relationship you have with yourself the most important of all.”

This obsession with self-care runs in tandem with the obsession with busyness. I want to feel important and be perceived as important because of my full life. Yet, my experience tells me that working endlessly leaves me burnt out.

Self-care offers a solution to the feelings of emptiness and weariness that come with work and life’s commitments. “You can’t take care of anyone until you take care of yourself,” the experts say. Do yoga. Go to a spa. Say “no” to extra obligations. Make yourself a priority.

While articles on self-care offer some wisdom and insight, I often find myself walking away with temporary fixes and a bigger to-do list. Deeper still, the message of self-care often sets uneasy with me as I read through my Bible and remember the life of my Savior who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).

As I’ve dabbled in self-care as a solution and come up empty, Jesus has met me through three ordinary means, offering me rest and wholeness in Him and through Him.

He’s met me in the Word and the Lord’s Supper. Every week at church, I hear the gospel proclaimed and I take the Lord’s Supper with my church community. Those two actions of receiving draw me away from self-care’s quest to find wholeness within myself and instead offer me hope and nourishment.

“We must guard against those practices — both in the church and in our daily life — that shape us into mere consumers. Spirituality packaged as a path to personal self-fulfillment and happiness fits neatly into Western consumerism,” writes Tish Harrison Warren in “Liturgy of the Ordinary.” “But the Scriptures and the sacraments reorient us to be people who feed on the bread of life together and are sent out as stewards of redemption. We recall and reenact Christ’s life poured out for us, and we are transformed into people who pour out our lives for others.”

Through hearing God’s Word preached, I’m reminded that God is at work in our world. My work is not about making a name for myself, but it is how God uses me to redeem the broken world.  As I receive the bread and the wine, I’m reminded that my standing before God and His blessing on my life is a gift that is not dependent on my effort or work.  As a Christian, being reminded of these two truths is the greatest gift I can give myself and others.

He’s met me in the Sabbath. Throughout the Bible, we see clear patterns for work and rest. Rest is part of the story of creation from the beginning. It’s not a result of the fall, but it’s how our world is designed to function. Tim Keller describes it this way:

“According to the Bible, [the Sabbath] is about more than just taking time off. After creating the world, God looked around and saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31),” he explains. “God did not just cease from his labor; he stopped and enjoyed what he had made. What does this mean for us? We need to stop to enjoy God, to enjoy his creation, to enjoy the fruits of our labor. The whole point of Sabbath is joy in what God has done.”

And this is where I think our modern obsession with “self-care” hits a note of truth. I’m a creature designed to rest from my work of writing, homemaking, tutoring, volunteering, etc. The solution isn’t indulging myself for the sake of indulging myself, but intentionally breaking from my routine and enjoying God and savoring good gifts to me.

Biblical rest doesn’t simply happen. It looks different for everyone depending on lifestyle, personality and season of life, and rest usually requires thoughtful planning and execution. For some, it might look like a monthly pedicure or training for a marathon.

For me, rest looks like saying “no” to an event on Friday night so that I can enjoy an evening at home instead of having 10 evenings in a row filled with events.It looks like cooking a fun, special dinner with some of my favorite foods. It looks like not checking my email and social media in the morning’s wee hours, but enjoying a cup of tea, stretching, praying and reading the Bible and a book. 

He’s met me in my Christian community. Oftentimes, I’m tempted to isolate myself when I feel stressed and overwhelmed. As rest was part of the creation story, so is community. I’m designed to live in fellowship with others and that is how the Lord restores me. When I’m tempted to withdraw from community because of stress, I’m challenged by these words to early Christians:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).

The world tells me to take care of myself and look after my own needs, then I can engage with others and serve them. Scripture calls me into community even when I’m broken and tired, reminding me that it is there I will find encouragement and refreshment.

As a Christian, I’m not given a 12-step magical plan to cultivate a beautiful relationship with myself when life gets hard. Instead, I’m given God’s Word, the Lord’s Supper, Sabbath rest and Christian community. None of these habits are particularly flashy or social media worthy. But they satisfy and sustain in life’s tiring days, weeks and months because they are rooted in a relationship not with myself, but with the God who cares, serves and loves His children.

About the Author

Abigail Murrish
Abigail Murrish

Abigail Murrish is a professional writer and amateur cook with a love for agriculture and gathering people around the table. Though she dreamed of a busy life in a big city while in college, she’s thankful for her quiet life in the Midwest where she spends most of her days writing and reading, drinking tea, walking her dog, putzing in her kitchen and sharing daily life with her husband, neighbors and church. Also, she likes to watch TV and is an avid fan of Parks and Recreation, the Great British Bake Off and Broadchurch. Find more of Abigail’s writing at abigailmurrish.com.