Self-care: A Christian outlook

The term “self-care” has been a buzzword since 2016 when it hit the mainstream. Previously, the medical community coined self-care for institutionalized patients in the 1950s to help cultivate self-worth. In her article on Slate “A History of Self Care,” Aisha Harris said, “Self-care originally caught on as a medical concept. Doctors have long discussed it as a way for patients to treat themselves and exercise healthy habits, most often under the guidance of a health professional.” The definition of self-care, Harris continued, shifts from medical patients to those in extremely stressful occupations, including therapists, emergency medical technicians and social workers. “The belief driving this work was that one cannot adequately take on the problems of others without taking care of oneself,” Harris explained.

Self-care connected to politics in the ‘60s and ‘70s with women’s rights, the rights of African Americans and health care — also embraced by the civil rights and hippie movements. A shift from the medical community to a holistic wellness approach, self-care was redefined as care rather than treatment for an illness. An article on self-care by Girlboss stated, “As the concept of self-care as a political act enters the [vocabulary] of more and more activist groups, including the more lifestyle-based hippie and new age movements, ‘wellness’ and ‘self-care’ are portrayed as quirky, cult-like trends among San Francisco locals in an episode of 60 Minutes.”

Self-care has always been much more than an Instagram post of bath teabags and a glass of pink Moscato. It has cultural and historical significance as well, joining social and political movements and changing the way people recognize their need for self-serving R&R.

The origin of self-care traces back to the creation of mankind. Genesis 2:1-3 states that God rested from all creation:

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and wall the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation,” (Genesis 2:1-3, ESV).

God did not rest because He needed to rest but because He knew mankind needed to rest. Even the Israelites, led by Moses out of Egypt and slavery, needed the message of rest. Humanity has never outgrown this need, despite the forgotten biblical nature of resting. People still need to rest — it is a holy thing.

Rob Rostoni, the coordinator for Student Success & Commuter Life and one of the Gateway teachers at John Brown University, dives deeper into the idea of self-care. “Self-care could be considered a form of stewardship,” Rostoni said. He agreed that self-care is characterized as holistic in nature, dealing with physical health along with mental and spiritual. In fact, Rostoni said that Christ Himself practiced self-care. “Christ Himself rested,” Rostoni said. “He ate, provided sustenance for others.  He healed. He worked.  He walked — a lot.  Perhaps the implication here is that we, too, could consider taking care of our physical bodies as stewardship — something modeled by our Creator.” Our bodies, being created by God and in the image of God, are our responsibility to care for and respect (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV); therefore, practicing self-care is important to the Christian life.

Rostoni also commented on the spiritual and emotional aspects of self-care. “Spiritual self-care starts with our being in communion with the Lord, an acknowledgement that we are His creation.  We are to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to cast our cares on Him.   We who commune with the Lord [and] love the Lord are then sanctified by the Lord.  We become what He has eternally called us to be.  Stewardship of this is a form of self-care, spiritual care of our souls.” Rostoni recommended reading the Bible, praying and being in fellowship with fellow Christ-followers to maintain this spiritual self-care.

Fellowship and one’s social life can also be related to self-care. Rostoni pointed out, “Christ Himself invested in others.  He devoted Himself to His Father.  He commands us to love our neighbor.  He taught.  He fellowshipped.  These all have implications for our own self-care, devotion to Him, being in community with others.  He modeled the idea that there are times to retreat, times to invest into others.” 

The Christian perspective on self-care requires respect for the God who made you. You must also respect yourself as He loves you. Self-love and acceptance are parts of self-care as you understand what you need in your life.

There are many different ways people engage in self-care. Exercise, comfort food, solitude and time with others are all acceptable and worthy self-care regimens. The importance of self-care is that it is practiced holistically: physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

We may need physical recuperation, such as Sabbath-like rest (separation from labor), exercise, good food or a nice bath — something to make us feel whole and fresh.

We may need mental recuperation, such as exploring ourselves, reading books, watching movies, playing video (and board) games — something to relieve us of our anxiety and pressure.

We may need emotional recuperation, such as time spent with loved ones (fellowship), time spent alone (with Christ) and time spent in nature — something to bring us closer to God’s presence and peace.

We may need spiritual recuperation, such as what Rostoni recommends: investing in Scripture and Christian fellowship — something to bring us closer to God, the greatest Healer and best way to achieve ultimate self-care.

As a holistic four-sided concept, self-care must let God work in us, rejuvenating our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls. There is no set-in stone way to practice self-care, so long as you’re taking the holistic approach, respecting yourself, and keeping God in mind.

However, self-care also includes caring for others, which requires a strong, healthy and confident-in-Christ self. Rostoni said, “Mark 12:30-31 commands us to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Self-care helps us to prioritize our love of Christ, our care of ourselves so that we care for others. Practicing self-care helps us to be faithful in our lives and relationships.” When we are rested and rejuvenated, we will be ready to foster healthier relationships and grow alongside others.

The post-industrial world was not the first to unearth concept of self-care. Rather, God introduced it. Since the world was constructed, God gave mankind the blessing of rest. Humanity still needs this blessing in all facets of life. The goal of self-care is not the development of apathy for godly labor, insensitivity to the cries of a broken Creation or selfish agendas. Self-care’s goal is to help us recharge and renew ourselves, so we are ready for whatever God has planned.

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