Self-Care and Our Spiritual Life

Self-care is a hot debate, especially among women.  It seems like there is always an article circulating Facebook on the topic. The latest one calls for us to see self-care as a discipline rather than an indulgence. You can read it here.

The idea of self-care as a discipline is rather intriguing to me.  In the Christian world we use the word disciplines to describe practices that open us up to the presence and grace of God.  Disciplines such as prayer, fasting, worship, reading Scripture, and more are practices that help us pause from our normal routine and place ourselves before God.

For so many of us, modern life feels too busy to regularly engage in these practices.  Worship attendance is declining in America. Whereas people used to consider weekly worship attendance to be the norm, now people consider one to two times per month as being an active member of a worshipping community.  Prayer, fasting, even Scripture reading can encroach on our already over-scheduled lives. One.More.Thing.To.Do.

While I don’t agree with everything in the Forbes article referenced above, I think it does cast an interesting perspective on self-care and for me, more important, on practices that restore our soul such as the spiritual disciplines.  The argument is often made that self-care is necessary so that we can keep caring for others. The Forbes article is no exception. But it seems to me that our spiritual practices, or disciplines, dive deeper than that.  Our time spent with the Divine, whether in worship, prayer, contemplation, play, celebration, of fasting are meant to enfold us in our identity as Beloved. And when we are enfolded in our own belovedness we are quicker to recognize the belovedness in others.

Jesus, in his unapologetic way, leaves behind crowds of people who are clamoring for his to teach  them and heal them. He walks away to quiet places where he prays and spends time with God. He also withdraws to be with his friends, and eats good meals around a table with conversation and celebration.  These acts of spiritual discipline don’t just give Jesus the capacity to care for others. They connect Jesus to the very source of life so that he can bring abundant life to the world. They give him the resources to resist evil, speak truth, love his enemies, and to reach out to the marginalized.

To walk in the way of Jesus is to walk as he walked.  Our practices of self-care, and spiritual disciplines, need to move beyond  indulgence. I love a pedicure as much as the next girl, but pretty toes have never once helped me stand strong in the face of racism or given me courage to reach out to people our society considers untouchable (although once I had some kick-ass Holy Spirit red nails and those might have helped just a bit). But sitting myself down and committing 20 minutes to centering prayer has built compassion for myself and for those I am tempted to label as my enemies.

Maybe it is time for Jesus followers to redefine our ideas of self-care.  Maybe we need to see self-care more in terms of spiritual practice (yes, having coffee with friends is a spiritual practice!) and less in terms of luxury. Maybe it’s time to dream bigger than getting better at taking care of others and imagine that our spiritual disciplines might help us unleash God’s love into this crazy, hurting world.

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