Part 1: To the women in the ditches of self-care, or those feeling lost in the pursuit of it

I believe an idol has crept into the church today that possibly started with
well-meaning purpose. Most idols usually do, after all. Self-care has become a popular topic in society lately. I thought about listing a few of the quotes that appeared when I googled self-care, but I’ll just let you try it yourself. Many of them sound good, but when held up against scripture, could not be further from the truth.

Being in the health and fitness industry for over seven years now has definitely lent me to this discussion often enough, and I’ve even advocated it to a certain degree. But I’ve recently felt a conviction from scripture regarding how we handle this topic, and I think it’s affecting Christian women enough for us to heed a warning regarding the issue.

Self-care has become pushed so hard lately that even Christ-following women
can feel like their life is missing something if they don’t have frequent
moments of mountain top experiences where they get candle-lit bubble baths and
hours of solitude where husbands take away children so women can “find
themselves” again.

There are two pretty deep ditches that we can fall into regarding self-care,
so let’s address those before we begin.

One ditch holds a woman who never stops or slows down – she
genuinely feels like the world will stop if she does, so she keeps going and
going and going. Now this in and of itself is not necessarily sinful, so how can we know when she is operating out of pride rather than servitude? Well, speaking from experience, she often exhibits exhaustion, lives a life void of joy, and frequently makes sure everyone knows exactly how much she’s doing to serve those around her. She’s wears a martyrdom on her shoulder that seeks recognition and sympathy, and thus displays a lack of dependency on the Lord. 

The ditch on the other side of the road holds a woman who likely had good intentions, but has elevated the gift of rest above the duty to work. She sacrifices far too much by demanding that she get the ideal regiment of self-care in her daily life. This idolatry of self usually produces either a neglect of responsibilities in order to maintain self-preservation at all costs, or leads to a steady bitterness towards those who inhibit her goals and
demands for filling her cup so she can pour out to others. Unfortunately, the ladder job often becomes forfeited due to the excuse that she isn’t getting what she needs or wants.

I’ve been in both of these ditches. I have. I began in the first, and swung
over to the second before understanding that the Lord’s desire for us is
neither extreme.

There may be another category of women here, though, and I pray that this is
especially encouraging to those of you who may be in it. Maybe you are a woman
trying to faithfully serve her home. Maybe you intend to wake up early and read
your Bible, but 5 minutes before your alarm goes off, your little one awakens
and needs to nurse, or just wants to play. So your well-intentioned quiet time
alone in scripture now includes a baby in your lap or a toddler at your feet, but you still keep your Bible open, wondering in the back of your mind when you’ll get that magical quiet time again. Maybe it’s one of those days that is full with daily responsibilities, and by the
time you get the kids in bed and spend time chatting with your husband, you’re
exhausted.

Maybe you are a full-time care giver for an elderly parent, or maybe
you have a child with special needs that will likely depend on you for the rest
of their lives. Maybe you have chosen to foster parent and so the needs of
children coming in and out of your home are ever-changing but ever-present.
Regardless of your situation, maybe you strive for this self-care routine that
never seems to be found. There isn’t time or energy for anything the world
labels “mom-time” or “me-time” and so you end another day feeling insufficient because you lacked time to do the thing that everyone on social media is telling you that you must do in order to really be the best woman you can be.

Before we go on, let me address a few good things that I feel are worth pursuing, but that can become idols in the process of pursuing them if we focus on the task itself rather than what it is supposed to yield in our hearts and lives. 

I am a huge fan of early mornings with a quiet house, hot drink and reading scripture. I strive for that daily. But some days the solitude doesn’t happen. Is time in the Word limited to ideal circumstances? Of course not! God wants us to find solace in him during the toddler’s tantrums, the busy tasks, the sick children and in serving and submitting to our spouses. And we can and should open our Bibles in any of these moments! 

I am a huge fan of exercise and healthy eating. I strive for that. But some days rest is more important. Some days include simpler meals with fewer vegetables. Is obtaining sustenance from cheese and crackers or small shared sandwiches with little fingers, or enjoying a walk around the neighborhood instead of a 30 minute HIIT session any less God-glorifying? Not unless I’m just being lazy. God wants us to be good stewards of what he has given us in any given season, moving through life with a thankful heart and enjoying it with those around us.

I love time with friends and I love alone time. These moments really do my soul well. But in the seasons when I’m adjusting my schedule and my preferences to support my husband in his jobs and roles, and he travels for weeks at a time during the summer, do I simply throw up my hands and declare that I’m unfit to take care of my family until someone gives me a night off to myself? This should not be! If we understand God’s sovereignty of what he’s given us, and if we understand our limits and how he desires us to depend on him in everything, we will find sufficiency in him despite our self-care routine.

These are the ditches we often fall into regarding self-care, or else we feel lost between the two and are unaware that we may actually be on the right road because feelings of confusion distract us from our purpose, and we wonder if we are missing out on some secret that is more sustaining.

We’ll talk more about that true sustaining secret in Part 2 of this post.

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