Emotional Health•Healing • 6 minutes to read
Rule #1: Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Rule #2: Neglect your own needs so you can love your neighbor.
Okay, okay, you got me. I misquoted Mark 12:31. The actual instruction from Jesus is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Or to put it another way, love your neighbor with the same care and intention that you love yourself.
So, how can you truly love your neighbor if you’re neglecting yourself?
The other day, I woke up after an exceptionally late night of work. I began my normal routine: packing lunches, putting away dishes, making breakfast, making coffee, and taking out the dog. You get the picture.
Except that morning, I spilled the coffee and almost broke a dish. I tripped on the dog and dropped my open Hydro Flask. I was a mess. I was frustrated beyond belief at all of it.
“That was stupid…I don’t have time for this.”
“Why can’t I do the simplest tasks today?”
The six months prior had been some of my most difficult. They were filled with really great moments like the birth of our son. But I was also fighting a mild depression. I was afraid I couldn’t provide for my family. I thought I was going to let down my boss. I felt stuck and purposeless. My discontentment had reached an all time low.
My response to this?
I sacrificed my sleep and worked long hours. I ate each meal like I wasn’t sure when the next meal would come. I wore sweatpants every day.
How noble of me.
It’s no surprise then that I woke up one day struggling to function. I’m honestly surprised it took so long for me to shut down. I was running myself into the ground. I found myself looking out for everyone’s needs but my own.
Everything else was more important. Between taking care of my new son, trying to impress my spouse or friends, crushin’ it at work, keeping up with the house chores, managing the holiday stress, and not going crazy because the pandemic is still a thing, I lost my own sense of self-care.
And I justified it.
On that clumsy, no-good, frustrating day my eyes were opened. I finally had some measure of clarity about how far I had drifted away from myself. Even though I was physically showing up for things in my life, I was completely empty. I wasn’t able to offer real value to anyone because I was exhausted.
This wasn’t a new problem for me. I swapped out my justifications to fit the season I was in—this was familiar territory.
It’s both socially accepted and celebrated when we neglect ourselves for the purpose of taking care of others. It’s labeled heroic, noble, and selfless. I wish I could say this wasn’t true in the Church. The irony is it’s often much worse in the Church because it gets wrapped into the idea of “serving.”
Romans 12:2 famously compels followers of Christ to not be conformed to the patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their mind.
Renewing your mind is not a purely mental exercise completely separated from any physical contribution. Rest, renewal, refreshment, and recharging our bodies physically are a critical piece of the renewal process.
In a culture where “busy” is romanticized, we’re called to not conform.
Let me be clear, there is nothing noble or heroic about ignoring our needs in the name of taking care of others. People may be impressed with that story. It may even feel good when we think about it. But it’s really just an attempt at controlling the way others perceive us.
In contrast, we’re actually called to take care of our body, mind, and soul with meticulous care and intention. Romans 12:2 gets all the air time but the verse immediately preceding it is helpful for this conversation.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Romans 12:1
The apostle Paul is urging followers of Christ to present their bodies as a living sacrifice. Paul is a Jew. He would have been intimately aware of the sacrificial system his Jewish ancestors had practiced for centuries. Lamentations chapters 1 through 7 (these are the chapters we skip every year in our reading plan) go into great detail about the various sacrificial rituals. It’s striking how much care and intention went into choosing and preparing the sacrifice.
Paul is saying that we should present ourselves to God with the same care and intention the Jews took in presenting their sacrifices. This is how we are not to conform. This begins the renewal process.
What’s maybe even more incredible is that Paul calls this a form of worship. Worshiping God is just as much about the things we do to care for ourselves as it is about the things we do for Him.
Worship means to ascribe value and worth to something or someone. I’ve heard it referred to as “worth-ship.”
If worship is worth-ship, then self-care is what happens when you recognize that God has placed worth on you.
You’re worshiping God when you retreat from the crowd to read a book.
You’re worshiping God when you exercise and are mindful of the food you’re eating.
You’re worshiping God when you schedule a date night with your spouse.
You’re worshiping God when you don’t check your email at the end of the work day so you can enjoy time with your family.
You’re worshiping God when you opt out of the social gatherings every now and then to get to bed early.
You’re worshiping God whenever you choose rest over striving.
In every scenario where you say “yes” to your own self-care, you will be faced with saying “no” to something or someone else. These will often be the most difficult “nos” you force through your throat. It may get stuck there and cause some anxiety.
You’ll never truly find the rest that your soul so desperately needs if you are always driven by the thoughts of what people will think of you.
It’s sobering to realize that saying “no” to self-care is actually saying “no” to God. It’s how we inform God of our decision that we can’t accept His assessment of our worth.
God wants each of us to take care of ourselves with great care and intention because we have great worth. We don’t derive our worth from the things we do for people or the sacrifices we make in order to make the world a better place. Our worth is derived purely and completely from being made in the image of God.
That eye-opening day honestly sucked. But it started me on this journey of realizing that my needs matter. I’m worth it. It’s okay for me to take care of me. My loved ones want this for me as well.
You won’t master self-care overnight—believe me, I’ve tried. But you can start today with one “yes.”
How will you worship God by saying “yes” to self-care today?