Stop right there. Did you just roll your eyes?
I did. Or at least I used to.
“Self care” sounded like a personality assessment, painted toe nails, and coffee with an elaborate drawing in the foamed milk. It seemed less than helpful to me. I mean, as believers in Jesus, aren’t we supposed to spend ourselves on behalf of the poor (Isaiah 58:10)? And shouldn’t we to consider others as better than ourselves (Phillipians 2:3)? And don’t we work heartily as though we’re working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23)?
You know the line from the airline attendant? In an emergency secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others. That’s a pretty convincing reason to care for yourself. It doesn’t require a tropical vacation, or a stranger slopping polish on your toes. It’s just securing emotional and spiritual oxygen so you can safely assist others.
The reality is that life is made of assisting others. It’s a blessing and a privilege and ultimately it is for the Glory of God. But that doesn’t mean it’s not tiring, and there’s no shame in admitting it. In fact admission is the starting point.
“I must begin to see that in order to do all of those things, I can’t “give it my best shot” and resign myself to a dramatic crash-and-burn every few months. I have to value myself as a human person who has real needs, real limitations, and real desires that long to be fulfilled. I must build my life around wholesome and restorative habits that allow me to be a strong and steady presence for my family without ignoring myself in the process.”
Her words reminded me of a scene from the gospel of Luke…
Martha tip-toed into the room where Jesus was speaking to the guests. She padded around the table setting plates at each spot. She did not want to disturb him or her other guests.
She did, however, want to disturb Mary. She let the last plate clatter into place to get Mary’s attention. But no one noticed.
Not even Mary.
Martha hurried back to the kitchen where the kettle was spitting into the fire. She snatched it out, and when she did boiling water splashed out the spout and splattered on her toes. She pressed her lips closed, let out the faintest growl, and dabbed the droplets off her toes.
Martha, huffed in the doorway once again to catch Mary’s eye and rouse her from laziness. Perhaps an uncomfortably long stop in the doorway would shake Mary out of her childlike trance. Martha waited, but Mary was hopelessly caught up in every word Jesus was saying.
It was a sight. And Martha intended to end it. When Jesus paused mid-sentence Martha interrupted, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself! Tell her to help me!”
Mary started to stand, but Jesus held out his hand directing her to stay.
“Dear Martha,” He shook his head. “You are worried and upset about many things.” Yes! Martha had wanted to answer, that’s why I’m mentioning it!
“Only one thing is needed.” Jesus turned back to Mary settling in again on the floor at his feet, but He spoke to Martha. “Mary has chosen what is better, and it cannot be taken away from her.”
This is Martha, in the words of Emily Allen, crashing and burning. And this is Mary, in the words of an airline attendant, securing her oxygen by learning from Jesus. He is gentle and humble, and as Mary listens He gives her rest. Sounds a little like “self-care” to me.
The irony is that caring for ourselves by receiving rest and care from Christ enlivens our efforts to assist those around us. In his book The Radical Pursuit of Rest, John Koessler writes, “The effort of the Christian life is energized by rest. Biblical rest does not make us passive or unproductive. It is the secret to all productivity in the Christian life.”
When we begin from a place of rest—mind, body, and soul—we can more effectively spend ourselves on behalf of the poor. In our own families we’ll be better equipped to consider others before ourselves. And we will experience hearty work for the Lord as a privilege and a delight because the work we do for Christ is the natural outworking of what he has already done for us.
Self-care? Don’t roll your eyes. Caring for yourself by receiving rest and care from Christ is the best place to start in caring for others.
If you find yourself in need of self-care (or more convincing of its necessity!), here are two places to start:
Kindred Mom Self-Care Series: Founder Emily Allen writes specifically to moms, but her words ring true to all. Through a series of beautiful essays and podcasts Emily and her team remind us that “self-care is essential and that engaging it is not as costly, nor as complicated as many of us make it out to be.”
The Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap, by John Koessler, (chair and professor of pastoral studies and Moody Bible Institute.) This mercifully short treatise on biblical rest is insightful and beautifully written. He restores the biblical meaning of the rest Jesus offers. Koessler writes for “ordinary people who hope to experience the easy yoke of Christ in the midst of struggle under normal circumstances…”