Self care helps us to better serve God

By  Lisa Petsche
  • February 22, 2008

At the beginning of Lent I read an article about the adverse effects on our spirituality of the achievement- and consumer-oriented North American lifestyle and how to counteract them.

It suggested we start our Lenten journey by focusing on our self-care practices (or lack of them).

Having been raised to regard Lent as a time of shifting attention away from oneself and focusing more on serving God, I found this idea strange at first.

But the more I began to think about it, the more it made sense. How can we be capable, let alone joyful, servants of the Lord if we are stressed out? How much of ourselves can we give if we are running on empty?

Many parents of my generation find themselves overscheduled and overcommitted, between caring for kids (and perhaps aging parents) and chauffeuring them to activities, performing paid work, volunteering and keeping the household running smoothly. There never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything on their to-do lists.

When life is out of balance, attention to our health and time with family and friends typically are sacrificed. We may feel impatient, irritable and ineffective. We may also experience physical symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, headaches and muscle tension.

While we may be able to operate under such conditions for a surprising length of time, eventually it catches up with us in the form of physical or mental illness.

Our hectic pace may also leave little or no time for praying and reading the Bible and other spiritual resources, let alone attending a retreat. This lack of spiritual sustenance leads to feelings of emptiness, restlessness, anxiety and doubt.

Various personal traits contribute to self-neglect, including disorganization, perfectionism, workaholism and the inability to say no to requests for help. So, too, does overuse of technology such as television, video game systems and the Internet. All too easily it can become an addiction, keeping us preoccupied, isolated and up late at night.

Certain belief systems can also be harmful to our health — for example, believing we can and should have it all and do it all and believing we must be completely self-sufficient.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make — a common one among caregivers — is equating self-care with selfishness. Selfishness, the root of all sin, involves being “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Self-care, on the other hand, entails looking after ourselves in order to be healthy and consequently function at our best. It’s comparable to keeping our car fuelled and maintained so we can get where we need to go.

Our mandate for self-care can be found in the Bible, where we’re told that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we must therefore honour God with them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Caring for our physical selves begins with the basics: eating nutritious food, getting adequate sleep and keeping physically active. The latter might involve regular visits to the gym or it could be a family affair, taking the form of neighbourhood walks, outings to the skating rink, cycling trips and hikes, for example.

Learning and practising stress management techniques such as deep breathing and mental imagery also helps to maintain our health.

For our mental and emotional well-being, it’s important, too, to make time for relationships and for leisure activity that brings enjoyment, such as engaging in a hobby.

Spiritual self-care is also a must, because “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Many people find that setting aside time for Scripture reading and reflection at the beginning or end of the day works well. Some create a tranquil spot in their home that they can retreat to in order to facilitate this. Even 15 minutes a day is a good start.

All of the above practices are a worthwhile investment of time because, as spouses and parents, taking care of ourselves enables us to give the best possible care to our family.

Moreover, as Christians, ensuring we are functioning at our best allows us to put maximum effort into building God’s kingdom.  

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