the problem with "Self-care"
In the past three weeks we have gone from a household of five to a household of three. Two of our daughters are now in college - one a junior, the other a freshman - and though we've done college drop-offs before (and they were hard), this is taking some getting used to for all of us.
I survived my first week. Those close to me lovingly advised me to practice good self-care. To do things that fill my bucket, and to be kind to myself. Because it was going to be a hard week. I took the advice to heart and had every intention of laying low, taking it easy, and giving myself the space and time to process my feelings about my baby birds leaving the nest. It turned out to be a hard week, indeed, but not for the reasons I expected.
A family we know lost their son/brother to suicide. Someone I love was hurting and needed my time. And I sensed God nudging me to visit a friend who has cancer, a friend I hadn't seen in weeks because, well, I was busy getting my girls ready to fly the coop and doing the things we do during summer. It was a hard week, but you know what? My bucket is not empty. God lovingly provided the energy and strength and friendship and prayer I needed to move through each day, taking one thing at a time, doing the things he was calling me to do. Two mornings in a row, friends called to pray with me just when I needed it. And I felt connected not only to my friends, but I felt so powerfully connected to our life-giving God who provides and protects and gives us everything we need to do what he has called us to do.
Self-care, from a humanistic perspective, is all about assessing our human limitations and needs for sleep, rest, good food, exercise, relational connection, solitude, recreation, etc...and then being intentional to meet those needs. It's about self-awareness. And though all of these things are good and healthy, focusing on these things alone will not fill our buckets or our souls.
Jesus experienced human limitations and needs just like us. He needed sleep and rest and food. He needed friendship and solitude just like we do. And yet because his purpose was always to do the will of his Father, his days and moments were directed by the Spirit. Time and again we see his attempts to take care of his human needs interrupted by people's needs and God's higher purposes. (If you are a mom, you are most likely experiencing these interruptions several times a day!) He retreated to the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. He performed his first miraculous sign while attending a wedding as a guest. After he began his ministry, he pulled away for times of solitude and then was immediately bombarded by crowds of people with needs. He fell asleep from exhaustion on a boat, then was woken up by his panic-stricken disciples because of a violent storm. He stopped to rest at a well, tired, thirsty, and hungry, and while his disciples went to get food, he talked with a woman who was seeking truth. His self-care was always within the context of his higher purpose and calling - to do the will of his Father. The eating and the sleeping and the solitude - they all were subject to his obedience to his Father in each moment. Which meant that while he was preparing to enter into his season of ministry, he faced spiritual opposition. While he was waiting for lunch, he asked a woman for a drink of water and then, recognizing her spiritual thirst, engaged in a Spirit-led conversation that transformed her life and later, her whole village. And, immediately after being woken by his disciples, he silenced a storm, demonstrating that "even the wind and the waves obey him."
Jesus went to great lengths to explain to his followers his dependency on his Father.
John 5:19: "So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does."
John 12:49: "I don’t speak on my own authority. The Father who sent me has commanded me what to say and how to say it."
John 8:28: "So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I Am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me."
In John 15, Jesus uses the imagery of a vine and branches to show our need to remain in him, to be connected to the source of life. How foolish it would be to cut a branch off of a bush, lay it on the table, and then spray it with water, sprinkle plant food over it, and shine a spotlight on it, hoping it will grow. And yet if we go through our days not connected to the true Vine, even our best attempts at self-care will be fruitless. Jesus is the Source of life, and apart from him we can do nothing. But when we live from a place of abiding in him, staying connected to him, he provides everything we need to do his will. He gives strength and energy even when we are tired and weary. When we remain in him and in his love, even interruptions don't have to deplete us.
It is good and wise to take care of ourselves. It is good to have self-awareness. It is important to understand the unique ways in which we are wired and be intentional about our choices. But I am learning that solely focusing on meeting my needs does not fill my bucket or protect me from depletion. On the contrary, when I love and serve others as God leads, when I am connected to him as I expend my energy and give of my time, he fills. He satisfies. He replenishes and restores.
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