Self-Care and the Gospel
The anti-God, secular, humanist culture—the world— “gets it” when it comes to self-care. How’s that for an opening sentence? As a Christian, I do not enjoy typing that any more than you enjoy reading it. The problem, however, is that there is more than a grain of truth to that statement when it comes to self-care.
We live in a world that is steeped in moral and cultural relativism. There is an emphasis on personal rights, personal ideology, personal truths, and a resistance to any truth that is absolute (meaning a standard beyond one’s personal feelings and beliefs, i.e. God’s standards). Functionally, what that means is that I am entitled to my truth(s), and you are entitled to your truth(s). No one’s truth is truly true, it is only what is true to the individual. When you look at the issues of the day, that is much of the ideology that many of our current cultural wrestlings are coming down to. People want things their way. They want their truth. And they want to live by only their truth—not yours, not by some other authority’s, and certainly not by God’s.
What does this have to do with self-care? Everything. If someone lives in a world where they only believe their subjective truth matters, then they only care for themselves in ways that they see fit. What this does is reinforce the narrative that people tell themselves—they are the masters of their story, their own destiny, and their own domain. They do what they want, when they want to, and how they want. And they take care of themselves, however they want.
Yet, the world recognizes that this, in its fullest extent, is unwise. People know that it is unwise to live in a world where they do not take care of themselves in some way. Some people drink, others do yoga, while some lift weights or exercise. Others use secular therapy which have outcomes that have nothing to do with sanctification or holiness; still others prefer self-help. And for each and every one of those things, there is a book, fad, or way to accomplish it in an effort for someone to make themselves feel better.
Just the other day, I was walking through the Target in Valparaiso. While my family and I were at the checkout, I saw a special, thick periodical put out by Breathe magazine. The name of the special issue was “Self-Care.”[i] I was struck by it, so I started to thumb through it, given we were two-deep before we got to check out. And contained within this nearly 100-page special were 27 different articles about how it is that someone can take care of themselves in a self-gratifying way. And honestly, a lot of it, despite its very secular, anti-God, self-serving point of origin, is surprisingly good. From the opening section, it said:
“What you eat affects your sleep, how you sleep affects your appetite, how much you drink affects both. Your body is a beautiful, complex machine whose interactive parts work both independently and in harmony with each other. Neglect one element and the rest begin to groan under the weight of bearing the load.”[ii]
This is true. There is nothing inherently unbiblical here. Secular culture gets the interconnected nature of the human body and some good ways of caring for it.
In that same section, it emphasized the need to recognize and care for our emotions in the most appropriate ways. The article notes the need to: (1) notice and acknowledge what we are feeling without pushing our emotions away; (2) accept that we are feeling something and strive not to judge ourselves for experiencing emotion; (3) examine our emotions in an effort to determine where they come from; and (4) observe what we need to do in an effort to release them in a productive way.[iii] Yet again, there are significant elements of good thinking here, if not wise counsel. On their own, these things have great potential to be helpful.
Mere pages later, in a separate section, there is a series of further helpful tips for people that are highly sensitive, known as HSPs. The writer in the section offers thoughtful tips for escaping the noise of life, shaking off heavy vibes, and finding a respite to allow someone to have emotional first aid.[iv]
Elsewhere, self-care tips include mindfulness of one’s language, not speaking disparagingly or critically of oneself; seeking out a third-party, external perspective; focusing on the positive; remembering to breathe; and asking yourself open-ended questions that give one the opportunity to hear themselves.[v]
All of the above counsel, as well as a significant number of the other pieces of advice Self-Care offers, on its nose, could genuinely help someone maintain an emotional center, have healthy relationships, and ensure, insomuch as it depends on them, that they are a healthy person. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Again, because culture is so focused on self, the number of resources that exist to help people have a healthy sense of self, self-actualize, and live their best life now is overwhelming. The next time you find yourself in a local bookstore or have the urge to type in “self-care” or “self-help” to the Amazon search bar, you will be confronted with a mountain of options. This is a value to secular culture. It understands the need to ensure emotional balance and health in the midst of a chaotic life.
This brings me to my point. How should a Christian take care of themselves? As the Pastor of Counseling for our church, this is a subject that I speak on, email on, and now, write on, on a near-daily basis. I will submit to you that it is because many do not practice biblical forms of care for the temple of the Holy Spirit—our bodies and minds. We neglect eating well on the altar of convenience. We choose entertainment over quality time in communion with God. We prioritize fellowship over study, and as a result, have good friends but no deep, meaningful connections with Christian brothers and sisters. We get up early to exercise, but are unwilling to do so to pray.
As a result, we find ourselves in dire straits: exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, and desirous of the quickest of feel-good fixes—often. We, like the world, live as though we are our own authority, and entitled to live as if we can concoct our own truth(s) and standard(s). We labor in our own power, white-knuckling and scraping by. We draw from a finite well of the soul, as we do not invest in refilling the well. And we tire ourselves in quick-fixes and patchwork because at the end of the day, at least it’s our way and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Friends: this is not the way.
Gospel-centered care for ourselves does not start with our emotions or our bodies. It’s not yoga, breathing, or therapy. Gospel-centered care for ourselves starts with our souls—it’s soul care. Our soul is the part of us that is regenerated, renewed, and transformed. Our soul is made alive when we come to know Jesus as Savior, who saves us from our sin(s). Friends, we need a Savior. We can’t save ourselves. We really can’t even care for ourselves (Isaiah 40, 43:11, 53:6). But what we can do is be a good steward. We can take the gift of life, the gift of a saved soul, the gift of a body and mind, and use it for the glory of God and the good of others (Matthew 22:37-40).
To be a good steward of our whole personhood and perform gospel-centered self-care, the soul needs said care before the rest of us. In God’s economy, proper soul care will result in proper self (body/mind) care.
I have written a number of pieces on care for our bodies and minds in other blogs, available here. For this submission, I am exclusively concerned with our soul. My application for your consideration is going to be very pointed.
For the Christian, soul care starts with this: knowing Jesus. So Christian…
These are not novel concepts. They are the very basics of soul care and the simplest of spiritual disciplines, and, not just self-care, but self-discipleship, to incorporate into your life. In practicing these with consistency and diligence, I firmly, biblically, believe you will find your need for worldly, self-focused self-care, and other coping mechanisms of self-actualization will fall short. On the other hand, your relationship with Christ, spiritual stamina, gospel-centered care for yourself, and love for God and others, will all grow to heights not experienced before in your life.
I pray you desire God to care for you, in this way, to that end.
[i] The Editors of Breathe Magazine, “The Self-Care Special,” Breathe Magazine (New York, NY: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, September 25, 2020).
[ii] Ibid, 6.
[iii] Ibid, 7.
[iv] Ibid, 10.
[v] Ibid, 37.