I think the self-care movement is, at its foundation, a socially-acceptable excuse for selfishness.
Yet I’m all for self-care! See, it’s just the self-care movement that makes me sad. And today I’m going to try to explain why a way that’s hopefully helpful and productive, not just a bunch of complaining – since that’s not good #selfcare however you look at it. 😉
If you read this post and disagree – which, let’s be real, is gonna happen a lot – please still feel free to leave a comment below! I really want to hear from you. *nods* Either way, I hope this post makes you think, because we need more of that.
Okay. *deep breath* Here’s my take on self care as a Christian teen.
We’re all riding a seesaw. Self-care is on one side, other-care is on the other (heh), and the board is balanced on what we believe is ultimately the most important – a.k.a. our God or god. So, like I said, I think self care is extremely important. In its proper balance. In a nutshell, I disagree with the self-care movement because it is SO unbalanced.
A self-centered culture will inevitably fall apart, and that’s what I see happening. We were made for relationship and community guys. But if we took this self care mentality to it’s logical limits, people would only love others when it was convenient for them to do so: whenever it got hard or messy, they would pull back, run home for a bubble bath, and excuse it under the label of self-care. None of us want to live in that world.
But what’s the alternative? Priorities, my friends. If I could choose one passage from the Bible for a practical application of this topic (for Christians or non-Christians), it would be Matthew 22:37-39.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
And that’s it. In three verses, I think the Bible shows us a very practical way of balancing self-love with love for others. It goes like this. One: love God. Two: love others & yourself.
Everyone is going to live out this natural sequence in different ways. If you’re not first loving the one true God who redeemed you, you’ll inevitably love some lowercase-god. That’s just the way we work. The self care movement is so skewed because in that world, the god (or goddess) is YOU. The world revolves around you. The most important thing in life is yourself. The source of wisdom, power, beauty, etc. is… you. Why look to a dusty old book for guidance when you can trust your heart? (Hint: because the Bible is rather more than a dusty old book for guidance and your heart isn’t very trustworthy, but that’s a post for another time.)
But even for Christians, “love God” sometimes becomes a theoretical commandment. I know it can for me. *sigh* We worship God on Sundays and ourselves the rest of the week. Guys, we must realize that this command is practical! True faith doesn’t stay in church. It spills over into everything, into your whole entire life – work, school, relationships, time management – because your Savior has flipped your whole entire life upside down in the most glorious way, and everything has changed.
So step one: our lives reflect the ultimate reality of God’s love when we seek and serve Him first – before others, ourselves, and our immediate desires. And out of that love, it’s natural to progress to step two:
Love others, love yourself. This is really a two-sides-of-the-same-coin situation, but let’s take “love yourself” first, because, you know, #selfcare.
Guess what? The Bible is advocating self-care! And you know for what reason? Welp, it’s partly so we can love our neighbors better. This is a key point, guys: loving yourself shouldn’t be the end goal. Loving yourself is a way to pour into others.
Why? Let’s look at this statement logically: love your neighbor as yourself. What if you do a crummy job of loving yourself? In fact, you HATE yourself. Do you think that might bleed into your overall attitude toward others? If we love our neighbor as ourselves but we don’t love ourselves, we won’t love our neighbor well either.
So here comes the pep talk part. You are important, you are loved, and you are valuable. I don’t know everyone reading this, yet I can say that sentence with absolute certainty and honesty. And you know why? Not because maybe you’re popular on Instagram or you’ve tried to be a “good person” all your life or you’re insanely beautiful and everyone notices you. But because I know that every human being is made in the likeness of God; and realizing that makes every single human important, loved, and hugely valuable – even when you don’t feel like it. And really, who are you, who am I to hate the person whom the Creator of the universe loves enough to sacrifice e v e r y t h i n g for?
That’s why we have to love ourselves. Yes, because if we’re burntout and in terrible health personally, we won’t be able to serve others, but also because we are made in the likeness of God, and we need to respect that.
And this is how loving God leads to loving yourself and others. Because when your life is centered on the gospel and God’s jaw-dropping, mind-blowing grace, 1) you realize your own value 2) it’s like you’re so soaked in love that it just oozes out of you and onto everyone else. John 13: 34-35 says that the world will know we’re Christians by the way we love. Can you see that in yourself? Can others tell something is different about you because you’re so full of selfless love for others that it’s just weird? *sigh* That’s a hard question for me to ask myself.
See, anyone can love people who are lovable; maybe even count it as self-care because of the way they “pour into you” (a.k.a. compliment you and make you feel good about yourself). But it’s the loving people who aren’t so lovable that is radical, that is strange, that will cause people to have questions.
Why are we always so quick to escape from relationships that don’t make us happy? Because, left to our own devices, we choose the path of least resistance. And self care provides the perfect excuse.
For example: you want to be a strong woman. Okay. Self care defines that as jamming your hands on your hips and saying, “I’m putting myself first and everyone else better get over it.” But that’s weakness, my dear. Selfishness is easy; it requires few to no muscles. Selflessness is hard; it requires incredible strength. A strong woman uses her resources and her strength to build others up, even when they’re tearing her down. Strength is staying when someone needs you even though it would be easier, understandable, and more comfortable to walk away.
I’m not saying you just let people walk all over you ’cause you’re being “selfless.” That’s not strength either. I’m not saying you should give and give to every single person who needs you. You’d die trying. I’m saying, the second step is a balancing act, with “love yourself” on one side of the seesaw and “love others” on the other. And the self-care movement has tipped the board firmly to the former.
Let’s look at an example of how this balance might work. Have you ever noticed how, in the gospels, Jesus sometimes slips away and withdraws from the suffocating, clamoring crowds of people? Every introvert can relate, heh heh. Although Jesus was God, of course, he was also man, and that shows clearly in the Bible. He got tired. He felt sad. And he was perfect! It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to take breaks, guys.
Side note, though: when he slips away, it’s not for a little yoga session; it’s usually to be with or pray to his Heavenly Father. Alone with God. This form of self-care builds ourselves up not by meditating on how great we are but on how great GOD is, so that we are energized again to love ourselves and others.
So that’s one side of the self-care seesaw. Yes, we need to love ourselves. We need to respect our bodies and our minds and not burn ourselves out needlessly. ON THE OTHER HAND. Sometimes it’s okay to burn ourselves out for others. O.o Jesus lived his life serving people and pouring himself out for them. In return he was rejected, despised, insulted, beaten, and killed in the most brutal way possible.
What if Jesus had followed the “self care rules”? What if he said, “I’ve poured myself into others my whole life, and all I got for it was pain and hatred and death-threats and insults. I deserve to do whatever makes me happy now. I’m going to do what’s best for me and everyone else can just deal with it!” While that would make sense from our perspective, his perspective as Savior of the world was different. Instead of running away from all those “toxic relationships,” he actually DIED on behalf of his enemies so that, by faith, the very ones that hated him could have a chance to be adopted into the King’s family. The ultimate definition of selfless.
Do you think it was always easy for him to be selfless? Not if you’ve read Luke 22:41-44 or the other accounts of him praying in the garden of Gethsemane. Although Jesus was God, he also became man. He was human. And he was in agony. But he did it anyway. Sometimes we start to feel burned out and depressed and we do need to step back and recharge. (Especially because, duh, we’re not the Savior of the world.) Other times we need to selflessly love people even when it feels bad. A good question to ask might be, “will being selfless here physically hurt me or just make me uncomfortable?” I don’t think “uncomfortable” always deserves to be fixed with the self care band-aid. Some things do.
Balancing that seesaw requires wisdom, and I’m here to tell you, you won’t find that wisdom inside yourself (“following your heart” will just tip the seesaw completely to the “love yourself” side). These two great commandments are connected. You find wisdom for loving others/yourself when you are properly rooted in loving God – and loving God involves knowing him, which principally happens by reading his Word. When you start loving yourself and serving others to the point that your very service blinds you to the reason you’re serving, I think that’s a good indicator to go back to step one again.
Alright. *deep breath* Almost done here. Why do I like about the self care movement? I appreciate that we finally seem to be pulling out of the era where self-harm and depression is cool. It’s not cool, guys. Self-harm and depression and mental illness are real, awful, sad realities in this broken world. Whyyyy are we celebrating them? I don’t understand.
Nowadays, it seems like often people hide behind anxiety or bad mental health as an excuse or a way to get attention and sympathy. Please understand me: anxiety and depression and mental illness are REAL, guys. Terribly real. But you know what I think? Perhaps there would be a little less fake mental illness, a little less anxiety, if we were more self-less.
Sometimes people feel depressed or anxious because they’re lonely. Because they feel like they’re not worth anything. Because they are so, so scared of other people’s opinion of them, of what they might say or how they might react against the real them, the one deep inside, past the perfect Instagram image. When people only ever know the fake image you project of yourselves, you can be lonely enough to want to die even in a crowd of people. Do you think our culture of putting ourselves before others contributes to that?
I love the quote by Lydia Brownback that goes, “The cure for our people fears is to love people more and to need them less.” We are mistakenly “selfless” when we pour into people because we need their approval to be happy. (Hmm, sounds suspiciously like selfishness to me…) That’s what burns you out, my friends, when you place your security in people. Because they will disappoint you and yes, you’re going to want to retreat into yourself instead and shut the world out. But guess what? You’re going to disappoint yourself too!
Instead, we should need people less – depend on others less for our ultimate happiness and security – and love them more – give our compassion to them freely, not because we demand something in return.
Oh, my friends, my friends. This is a cry from my heart. Most of the time don’t need more self-love because we already idolize ourselves and our desires. We need to pour out ourselves for others. Can you imagine what the world would look like if we truly loved each other? If, with our love founded in the only true love of God, we sacrificed a bubble bath for listening to someone’s tears and giving them a hug? Instead of a day of face masks and novel-reading, if we went out and loved the hurting people all around us? Writing this post (and that sentence) made my heart ache with something that feels a lot like guilt. I have so far to go in this area, it’s like I’ve barely started.
But oh, let’s be strong enough to start, shall we?
Open your eyes, darling. Look up from yourself. Do you see this broken, crying world? Can you see how much it needs you? Please take care of yourself; you must. But oh, don’t forget to take care of others too.