I hear a lot of talk about "self-care" these days, and for the most part, I think it's a good thing—largely because of where I sit on the spectrum of under- or overdoing things.
Because I generally enjoy the things I do, I'm a serial overdoer.
I know better, but I still find myself saying things like: "Might as well do it now," "I'll be more relaxed when it's done," or "I'll sleep when I'm dead." In fact, as I write this paragraph, I'm technically supposed to be on maternity leave.1 If that sounds like you, welcome to the club. We could use some help.
But Maybe, Both?
As with most areas of life and especially in the Christian walk, there is always another ditch to fall into.
In trying to overcorrect or reward myself for my manic efforts, I can fall into underachievement mode just as quickly. That other category of things I must do but don't enjoy gets quickly shoved to the side. Suddenly, it's time to do something as simple as calling to schedule a doctor's appointment, and I'm dragging my feet for weeks.2 Truth is, I'd much rather avoid or completely check out of those responsibilities.
If that's you, welcome to the other club—or maybe the same club? For most of us, under- and overachieving isn't an either/or option but a both/and that depends on the task, the season of life, or how much coffee we have or haven't had.
Looking for Escape
Whatever your tendency, the solution isn't to dive into the other ditch; it's to find the right balance on the path forward. My issue with most modern calls for "self-care," especially as it is marketed to women, is that it swings too far into escapism.
It's too hard to find rest in taking a long bath, binge-watching Netflix, or any other way of clocking out of my responsibilities. Those things always let me down. I know, because I've tried it.
Inevitably, babies wake up early or my outing comes to an end, thwarting my "me time" with a call to love and serve. And if my hope is in that version of self-care, I end up feeling more depleted than when I began.
Instead, we need to find a kind of self-care that is more restorative. Understanding who we are and how God has called us to care for ourselves will help us know how to apply godly self-care.
If Not Bubble Baths, Then What?
Our culture tends to push us towards both extremes. After all, Americans are the ones who coined the phrase, "work hard, play hard." Our overachieving drive to prove ourselves tells us we must always keep going. Our underachieving apathy and avoidance tell us we don't have to obey any call to action. Both are just as selfish as the other. Both are equally detrimental to our soul.
Instead, the key to good self-care is what’s at its center: God himself, not ourselves. I highly doubt David took many bubble baths in his early life, but he did write lots of psalms about rest in perilous situations. These are sources of deep comfort for us.
My favorite biblical encouragement in this area, though, is found in Hebrews 4. After warning believers of how the Israelites' unbelief caused them to miss God's rest, the author offers both carrot and stick. Here we find these peculiar little verses 9-11:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
So are we resting or are we striving?
We are believing and obeying.
Rest is Obedience
Godly self-care is believing that what God is telling us to do (or not do) is actually best, even when we don't understand it.
We must learn to trust God as we rest without making provisions of, "Yes, Lord, but first I need this."
In God's good plan, there are equal parts wonderful things he calls us to do and genuine rest in what God has already done. He knows us and what we need. He created us with bodies and as more than mere bodies. So, godly self-care looks a lot like obedience—obedience to rest in him and obedience to walk in Him.
Because of Christ, we can gladly rest in the fact that his work extends beyond us. It is finished, and he will complete what he began. We can rest because our God does not.
Because of Christ, we can gladly involve ourselves in the work he is doing. He is moving, making disciples, changing hearts, and we get to be a part of it.
I can't think of anything more restorative than that.
Marie Burrus is UBA's Communications Specialist. She manages, edits, and contributes content for UBA's blog, website, UBA Voices newsletter, and social media outlets.