Is self-care for Christians?

I cringed involuntarily.

The yellow font proclaimed “Soul care is the new self-care!”

I follow and frequently hashtag posts on IG with #soulcare, and I did not want it equated with self-care. Chagrined, I realized I still have embedded deeply in my body a wariness, even a rejection, of self-care. 

I used to equate self-care with selfishness. It has taken years of listening and trusting God to unyoke the two, and move into the self-care that is birthed from God’s love for me. Growing up I had absorbed the attitude that caring for myself was selfish, that it was more godly to ignore one’s needs and desires in favor of meeting others’, and assumed there was something wrong with me for running up against limits to my giving. Enjoyable things like free time to relax, healthy and pleasing food, warm water enough for a bath prompted perpetual guilt. My “godliness” only stole my joy and led me to self-annihilation in the service of others. 

But God did not give us each a self to annihilate it. As Henri Nouwen wrote,

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us “the beloved.” Being the beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Let that sink in a moment. 

God created you, called you into being, and birthed your entire being—body and spirit—to “be loved,” to pour his love into you. 

And as you receive God’s investment of care and love in you, you are filled to overflowing with abundant life. It is out of this sure belovedness that care for others flows.

“The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they would have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 NASB

I know that my childhood church was steering us to avoid the human default of making ourselves the center—to the exclusion and harm of others. They were reacting to the prevalence of cultural attitudes that promotes selfishness: where everything becomes about serving me and my needs. This is self-care without God, and it is harmful. It is a jealous and greedy hoarding to attempt to make us feel safe and loved. Instead of receiving love from God (and others), we use self-care practices to fill the gap—vacations become status symbols, spas become necessities, nutrition evolves into food snobbery. It is self-care from a wounded, broken soul.

Self-care that arises from a beloved soul is a co-laboring with God to steward the gift of our selves. From a beloved soul we can ascertain when a self-care practice is a life-giving necessity or an indulgence. As we lean in to listen to the sacred voice, we engage in soul care which specifically nurtures the deep parts of our being from which we offer ourselves to the world. Frederick Buechner, 20th century theologian, wrote in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC,

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” 

You can think of a soul as a womb where life grows. What deep loves or passions motivate you? What tugs at your heartstrings? What can you not imagine doing? At your essential self, who are you? These are soul questions and the kinds of questions you tend in soul care. They provide the impetus for your exploration and offering to the world. As you get clearer on your soul, self-care clarifies as well. 

As an example, when I started tending my soul I discovered that I had to prioritize quiet and reflection for self-care. As I did this, my interactions with people grew gentler and held more humor because my soul’s needs were being met. The quality of self I began to offer others was much richer and freer than before. But it was counter-intuitive: by saying no to doing things with people, I gained an abundance of energy and joy so that when I said yes, I had more to give them. 

I am excited to see that God is moving people to pay attention to the care of their souls and thus their selves. He is bringing us into right relationship, working from the inside out, birthing healing and wholeness. This is not a fad, but a movement of God. The lover of our souls and selves is linking arms with us to show us the way. How will you join in?

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