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Reflections

Self-Care Isn't Selfishness. It's Stewardship.

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: 

  • Know your limits and learn to say no.
None of us are alike. So its important not to compare yourself to others. Each of us has unique genetics, personality, health, history and energy levels. Respect that. Rather than worrying about what someone will think if you say no, say it anyway. It will enable you to serve others without resentment and begin to take care of yourself without regret. 
 
  • Ask for help when you need it. 
Because some of us have cared so much for others for so long we’ve lost sight of what we think, feel and need. It’s important to identify that and put it in words. Then, when we know what we need we can choose to ask for specific help from family, friends, community and church. Asking for help shows others that we are human and prompts us to pay it forward.

  •  Set aside at least one full day (or two) a week from work.
It’s a boundary issue to be able to step out of the addictive swirl of work. It gives us power over our compulsions rather than the other way around. When we can’t choose to step back, we’re in trouble. Doing something wholly ‘other’ creates the spaciousness to think outside the box.
 
  • Turn off your gadgets at a specific time and stick to it. 
Turn them off completely on your day off. Thinking that you’re indispensable is narcissistic. Responding 24/7 to peoples need nurtures entitlement. It’s a mature thing to have to wait. It prompts proactivity rather than reactivity. And it teaches impulse control which is a prerequisite for adulthood.  

  • Self-regulate your emotions and manage your anxiety. 
This is crucial if you’re a leader. Keep calm and always view circumstances from the balcony. It prompts creativity for the best decision making. Centering prayer or practicing mindfulness everyday creates inner calm. Journaling worries before bedtime takes them out of our mind and puts them on paper for a good nights sleep.
  
  • Prioritize relationships
Healthy relationships aren’t optional. They’re essential to a healthy, balanced life. Spend time with the people you like & love and practice reciprocity. A one-way relationship is a short-term relationship. Give advice only when asked. See the good and give others the benefit of the doubt. 

  • Eat, sleep and exercise on a regular and routine basis. 

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
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