Society today is obsessed with the idea of ‘self-care.’ Mental health awareness is on the rise and everyone wants to learn how to better take care of themselves. To me, this has been a relief. I am not the best at recognizing when I need to take a break, which generally leads to me meeting deadlines at two in the morning and ignoring my anxiety until it envelops me in a panic attack. Part of that is sheer obliviousness, but part of it is also that when I do take time just for myself, I feel a little bit guilty. Perhaps this is because I have always attended a church where the message is, essentially, that we should always put others before ourselves. After all, that’s what the Bible says.
Even upon arriving at Eastern I was met with this message in classes. In one class, I read a chapter in the textbook in which the author argues that a Christian who is truly a servant can never be manipulated or abused as they have surrendered all their rights away, just as Christ did on the cross. This all sounds incredibly humble and righteous but in practicality, it does not make sense. It is true that Christ calls us to be servants, but he also calls us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). Which means to me, that we should look to serve those around us, but also be careful of how we are serving. If our ‘serving’ is doing more harm than good, is it really serving? For me, this generally means analyzing how my service is affecting me and those around me. If my ‘serving’ is causing me anxiety or making me bitter, then it is not service. I am doing the act but not following it through with the love of Jesus. Personally, checking my motives for serving is a form of self-care.
Even Jesus practiced self-care occasionally. He would pull away from the crowds and stop teaching so that he could commune with his Father. Therefore, if Jesus is supposed to be our example in all things, shouldn’t we follow this as well? Working until we collapse in the name of ‘service’ is not conducive to effectual service. Compassion for others must start with compassion for yourself. The way that I put this into practice is to–like Jesus–pull away from society for a little while and do something I enjoy. Often I will read a book or listen to music, nothing too over the top or difficult, but something that will rejuvenate me. That way, when I do go back into society, I have the energy and the heart I need to show Jesus to the people around me.
I believe that Jesus has called us to serve others and that yes, we should put others above ourselves. However, I also believe that Jesus would fully support self-care if our motive for self-care is to keep ourselves healthy enough to continue His service.