Theology & The Church

Self-care as a Spiritual Discipline

Jes Kast

“Self-care” is a popular term that can be found everywhere these days, from Christian circles to secular magazines. It can refer to anything from a day at the spa to getting enough sleep to taking a luxurious vacation. I’m interested in looking at that phrase from a Christian perspective. What does the care of self have to do with our discipleship practices?

In Scripture we are called to be doers of good works and justice. The prophet Micah calls us “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” James 2:14 asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about the “urgency of now” when it comes to striving for racial justice. We look around the world and we see how there is so much brokenness. The grace of God that we have experienced compels us to do what we can to stop the hurt. In gratitude, we work to bring about justice, feed the poor, and care for the lonely. Yet sometimes we can get so caught up in doing that we forget to be a human being. Sometimes our works leave us utterly exhausted, with little room to be in relationship with ourselves.

I believe in self-care because Scripture says that we are to love others as ourselves. In order to love ourselves well, we must get good sleep, fill our body with nutrients, and find the activities of playfulness that bring about joy. A Christian ethic of self-care is not one of luxurious indulgences (though if one has the means to enjoy far-off destinations, that can be a source of great joy, too). Self-care is more a spiritual practice that places our anxiety over what is wrong with the world in the palms of Jesus Christ. It is pausing to say, “Here God, take all that is wrong and hurting in the world and you be the savior.”

It is a delicate balance to work for justice and rest in the care of our Heavenly Creator.

It is easy to be consumed with the worries of the world. Yet in Matthew, we are told to consider the birds, who go about their business in their playful bird ways and have their needs taken care of. Do not worry, Christ reminds us, for “each day has enough trouble of its own.” It is a delicate balance to work for justice and rest in the care of our Heavenly Creator.

This balance is one that I am constantly in conversation with. When I ensure that I am loving myself and caring for my mind, body, and spirit, I am able to be a better neighbor and minister. My self-care practices include ensuring enough sleep, drinking enough water, taking time alone to be with my thoughts, and honoring the different conversations that are coming up in my mind, praying, and yoga. I find that I need the companionship of my clergywomen friends to also best care for myself. Self-care, for me, does not neglect body, soul, or mind. It is a balance of all the facets of who I am. That balance is like water in a glass jar, always moving.

Self-care is a spiritual practice that re-centers God and de-centers ourselves. There is a savior and that savior is not us. What a privilege it is that the savior asks us to participate in the reign of God and bring about goodness here and now. When we take time to pray and take time for rest we are saying that God is God and God is bigger than our earnest efforts of goodness. That doesn’t mean we are to stop working for justice and bringing about the common good. It just means that we trust that God is indeed in control, even when the world seems confusing. We rest, and then tomorrow we pick up our work again to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him.

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