Self-care is an issue that both clients and churches I work with have struggles. Self-care is the capacity to take good care of ourselves, so that we can appropriately care for others. When we care-take others to the exclusion of our own needs, we enable rather than empower them. Seen from this perspective, self-care is not selfishness. It’s stewardship and healthy self-esteem. Self-care doesn’t mean that we’re self-centered, isolating, uncaring or over-indulgent. Rather, in the spirit of Jesus’ words “love your neighbor as yourself,” it’s the recognition that caring for self is the starting point of respectfully caring for others. Acknowledging this principle, Dr. Kristen Neff, author of Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up summarizes: “You have to care about yourself before you can really care about other people. If you are continually judging and criticizing yourself while trying to be kind to others you are drawing artificial boundaries and distinctions.”
Speaking as both a clergy person and counselor, I find that self-care is deeply rooted in theology. In the Old Testament the Hebrew people practiced a kind of self-care called Sabbath-keeping. Sabbath-keeping was more then taking a day off to worship God, it was a way of stewarding the self. Sabbath meant stopping, stepping back, seeing the bigger picture for the sake of renewing the body, mind and spirit. It led to richer insight, greater creativity and wiser choices. In the Hebrew culture rest was not something we did after putting in a day’s work. In fact the rhythm was reversed. Rest (or in our terms self-care) preceded work and was deemed necessary for purposeful performance. For that reason the Hebrew day did not begin with morning, but with evening. Hence, the reversal of rhythm in the Creation Story: “Evening and morning the first day...evening and morning the second day...”(Genesis 1:5,8).
Presbyterian Pastor Eugene Petersen builds on this principle when he warns that refusing to practice self care puts us at risk. For like our ancestors in Egypt who were forced into labor and went for four hundred years without a vacation, we too can become slaves. Addicted to work without rest we become disposable work units rather than persons created in the image of God.
With this warning in mind, here are some helpful habits of self care:
Summarizing, self-care like Sabbath-keeping is a way to refuel, refresh perspective, gain insight and make good decisions. It forces us to accept our limits and stay humble. Therefore, self-care rather than being selfish, is good stewardship. From a place of healthy self-care we gain self-esteem. This cultivates the capacity to respect differences and serve others with genuine compassion.
©Dr. Beverly Weinhold, June 2013