It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy… finally.
For many, if not most, the warmer weather of these festival months cues vacation season. School lets out, and the kids are set free. No more pencils, no more books, etc. Now is the time for canoe trips, camping, golf, and family time at the cabin. We may carve out time for a road trip, or just while away some hours swinging in a hammock, or lounging on the deck in an Adirondack chair with a cold mug of something in hand. When summer arrives we look for leisure and rest—some “me time.” After all, self-care is important, isn’t it?
Self-care. It has become a watchword of contemporary culture; the term refers to those things one does in an effort to nurture the self physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Getting enough sleep, finding rest and leisure, eating well, regular exercise, and sustaining spiritual practices are all considered a part of consistent and proper self-care. There are myriad specific examples
and expressions of self-care that are suggested and recommended by various sources, but let’s just leave juice cleanses and lavender infused bubble baths out of this for now.
It’s not a secret that we often live our lives at a hectic pace, giving in to the pressures to achieve more and acquire more. The recent movement toward embracing self-care has come as a corrective to this driven, monomaniacal, and sometimes dehumanizing rhythm that has become the norm in our society.
God created human beings with finite interior resources. We require rest. We need to eat. We don’t have an everlasting battery that is able to power us for the whole course of our existence. We need to take care of ourselves by the means the Lord has knowingly and graciously provided. God himself gifted His people with holy Sabbath—one whole day of deep, true rest following six days of work and toil. Why? Because humans required it (incidentally, that cycle was the origin of what we now have as the seven day week)! This reality has not changed in the 21st century; we still need to break from our toil regularly. “The Sabbath was made for man,” Jesus said (Mark 2:27).
When Jesus presented his disciples with the summary of the law—the great commandments—He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
If you are attentive in reading the Master’s words, perhaps you noticed that the second half of that teaching carries with it the implication that one would and should show some love and care for himself—“as yourself.” When you are tired, you rest. When you are hungry, you eat. When your body is in disrepair, you should tend to it. When you are discouraged, you should seek out encouragement. Some churches (and even whole Christian traditions) have not been very good about embracing this inference, rather levying upon wouldbe followers of Christ a way of life that is burdensome, joyless, and ultimately unsustainable.
If you are given to workaholism to a frenzied and frantic pace, or to generally neglecting your basic physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs, you need to hear Jesus’ words as an invitation to slow down, and to be refreshed and rejuvenated.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Self-care is not innately selfish; it is profoundly necessary. To disregard your very real limitations and needs is short-sighted and unwise. So rest, enjoy the warm weather and beauty of creation this summer, spend time with your family and friends, read a few good books, dedicate time to prayer and cultivating some closeness with God, eat well, stretch it out.
But… (Yes, there’s always a “but.”)
While it is true that many tend toward an overcrowded and unsustainable way of living, neglecting to take proper care of themselves and find holy rest, it can and does often happen that others compulsively and consistently indulge their love of comfort and pleasure under the guise of “self-care.” In fact, it seems that the pendulum has started to swing that direction—from a propensity in our culture (and in the Church) for working hard to the neglect of selfcare, to chronically obsessing about self-care.
Self-care, as stated previously, is not innately selfish, but it can quickly become selfish if we’re not on our guard.
Here’s an exercise. Do an honest time audit of your week. Take stock of how much time is dedicated to work and other outside-of-self obligations, and how much is dedicated to yourself, your leisure, your comfort, and all things that could be considered self-care. Each week is made up of one hundred and sixty-eight hours—that’s the same for everyone. When you add up the tallies of the hours spent, is it the “me time” that has been neglected over those seven days?
Recent statistics estimate the average Canadian is watching somewhere around 30 hours of TV each week.
Other stats point to weekly averages of over thirty-six hours a week spent browsing internet sites.
Binge watching Netflix? (That’s a term now.)
In these summer months, days and weeks at a time are marked for R&R. Is it possible that we’re being dishonest about how much time we’re actually taking for ourselves? Moreover, is it possible that much of our time is wasted on things that are neither productive and fruitful work, nor are they truly rejuvenating?
Are we unwittingly mistaking selfishness for self-care?
The theologian and church reformer Martin Luther described the essence and nature of sin as the self turned inward (homo incurvatus in se). Luther was picking up on an older tradition descended from church fathers like Augustine (Luther himself was an Augustinian monk). When humans curve inward, they use God and His resources for their own purposes, rather than for God’s glory and the good of their neighbours. But God has created and designed humans to look outward—to look and act in love toward Him and toward those around them.
Sounds like the greatest commandment…
We are not intended to be the end users of the resource and health and wellness that God supplies us; we are made to give it away. God fills us so that we can be emptied, not hoarding His provision and care that we take hold of (at least in part) through selfcare practices, but generously sharing it with others in need.
The analogy of the oxygen mask dropping from the bulkhead of the airplane during an emergency is one commonly referenced in regard to self-care. “Be sure to secure your own mask before assisting others.” Unfortunately, we often make a habit of metaphorically securing our own oxygen mask, and then, after taking a few deep breaths, we go back to casually flipping through the pages of SkyMall, unconcerned with the person in the seat next to us, fumbling with their mask and struggling for air. We need to embrace the “assisting others” part of the metaphor as well.
Our calling as disciples of Jesus Christ and members of His Body is not just to be healthy and well; it is to function as an operational part of the Body! As God resources us—as he fills us, and refreshes us, and makes us well—we are set to be put to use doing God’s work. My encouragement to you would be that you find a holy and sane rhythm that includes the kind of selfcare which makes you ready and able to care for others in all the ways God has gifted and resourced you… even during these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
GAVIN JENSEN is a husband, father, church-planter/pastor and local amateur wrestling enthusiast who lives in Winnipeg.
THE ARTICLE ABOVE WAS FEATURED IN THE JULY 2017 ISSUE OF SEVEN MAGAZINE.