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Self-Care Isn't Selfish

During a coaching session I recently had with a client, she mentioned how she struggles with self-care because she feels like it might be selfish to put herself first before others. Before we could dive more into why she felt that way, we had to define what self-care was.

The dictionary defines self-care as, “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health.” What if I told you that self-care definition isn’t just for your physical needs, but also your spiritual ones as well? For the purpose of this article, I’ll be splitting self-care into two categories: physical and spiritual. Because your physical and spiritual health go hand in hand, both your body and spirit need constant nourishment.

If you’ve ever traveled on an airplane, then you’re familiar with the boarding message about what to do in case of an emergency. You’re told to always put your own oxygen mask on first before putting one on your child or anyone else you need to help. On the surface, that may sound selfish and not heroically sacrificial, but there is a reason for this madness. If you don’t put on the mask on yourself first you’ll most likely pass out before putting it on someone else, and therefore you and your child are both helpless. Self-care is the same concept, you cannot take care of anyone else if you don’t first take care of yourself.

St. Paul tells us that our body is a temple of God and that the Holy Spirit Himself dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16 & 6:19). These verses are often used to teach us not to commit sins with our bodies because they are holy, which is 100% accurate. But let’s take it a step further. If our body is a temple then shouldn’t we treat it that way? The same way we are respectful, meticulous, and revere the holy altar in the sanctuary, we should treat our bodies with the same reverence. Consider that when the priest takes the body and blood of our Lord (communion), he is transferring it from one altar to another.

We ought to do everything in our power to take care of our physical bodies, the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. That means eating well, exercising (even if it's just walking), sleeping enough, and not pushing our bodies beyond their limit to a breaking point. (I’m not saying ditch fasting or any other spiritual disciplines, that’s different.)

We live in a culture that glamorizes over-working. As if it's a badge of honor to walk around with bags under your eyes or need 4 cups of coffee to get through the day. Students brag about how they pull all-nighters to study. Employees brag about how many hours of overtime they put in every week. Can we agree that this is ridiculous? This has to stop being the norm!

Pushing our bodies past their physical limit will only lead to decaying and breaking down, and not treating them like the temples they truly are.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more intentional about self-care. Too many times I get lost in one project, one task, or mere laziness that I neglect to put my physical health first. And my bad physical health becomes a by-product of my lack of self-care. I’m not proud to admit that when I get trapped in this rut, I become an easily-agitated wife and mother. I have less energy to show up for my kids the way they need me to. I become slothful and unmotivated. Even though I’m accomplishing X, Y, and Z, it’s not worth it when my main tool to perform accomplishments suffers.

In the same way we should treat our physical bodies with care, we should be doing the same with our spirit. After all, it is the spiritual body that accompanies us to the next life. Spending time with God daily to cleanse our spirit is a must. All throughout the Gospels, we see Christ retreating and leaving the crowd to pray. Just open up your Bible to any of these references and you’ll see exactly that: Matthew 14:23, Mark 6:46, Luke 6:12, Mark 1:35. Luke 5:16 says, “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”

If Christ, the Almighty Himself, needed to slip away and go to a quiet place to pray, how much more do we need to do that? Even St. Paul before starting his service spent 3 years in Arabia in preparation for his missionary journey. We see many prophets in the old testament going up mountains and journeying far to meet God.

There is a beautiful passage in The Way of a Pilgrim (a Mid-19th century book that teaches the power of the Jesus prayer) that says, “Interior prayer costs nothing but the effort to sink down in silence within the depths of one’s heart, while calling more and more upon the radiant name of Jesus. Everyone who does that feels at once the inward light... he even catches sight in this light of some of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.”

Many of you reading this are probably serving others in one shape or form. Whether you’re serving a Sunday school class, your own kids, siblings, parents, friends, or strangers. You cannot fill anyone else’s cup unless yours is overflowing, and your cup cannot be overflowing unless it’s filled up by Christ.

In a nutshell, self-care is not selfish. It is essential to your physical and spiritual well-being, and your well-being is essential for being there of all those who need you. So whether that means prioritizing your health, booking a spa day, or putting everything on hold to go on a personal retreat, you should not feel guilty for putting yourself first. The strength you need to take on this world rides on the strength of your physical and spiritual self-care.

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