We hear a lot these days about the importance of self-care — taking time to get enough sleep, eat well, tend to our own individual needs, and take a moment to breathe and reset. But as Christians, we’re taught that we should model Jesus, and we know Jesus lived a life defined by sacrifice.
Given this, what does it mean for a Christian to care for self? Would Jesus prioritize self-care?
Self-care is being mindful and thoughtful about taking care of yourself. Many of us have a great deal of responsibility — demanding careers, as well as tending to children, elderly parents, pets, and more. Self-care is taking the time to pay attention to yourself and your needs, not in a selfish way but in a basic, loving manner that respects the body, mind, and soul.
Some self-care involves basic physical needs, such as getting enough sleep, nutritious food to eat, healthcare, hygiene, or adequate exercise. Other times self-care involves assessing toxic relationships or learning to set healthy work-home boundaries. Self-care also involves spiritual care — making time for prayer, meditation, reflection, worship, and other practices that help us draw closer to the Lord.
We cannot care for others unless we ourselves are in a position to care. When we care for ourselves, we are showing ourselves love, we are honoring the gift of life that our Creator God offered us, and we are equipping our bodies and minds to serve others in a multitude of ways.
Self-care is often missing in people who are very busy or experiencing a great deal of stress because their energies are devoted to their tasks or other stressors. This makes them more susceptible to a variety of things, from illness and immunity issues to burnout and exhaustion.
Jesus did indeed practice self-care throughout His ministry. He had a consistent pattern: work, then retreat for rest, renewal, prayer, or just time alone.
For example, after He was baptized, Jesus didn’t just get to work — He headed out to the wilderness (Mark 1:9-13), then began His earthly ministry of healing, teaching, and showing the way. And Jesus wasn’t quick about this time away, either. Forget today’s one- or two-week vacation. Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days.
Later, when a crowd gathered around Jesus and the apostles, preventing them from enjoying a meal and a brief respite, Jesus didn’t just work through until the point of exhaustion. Rather, “He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:31-32).
After He fed the 5,000, Jesus immediately “went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” and was there many hours in solitude (Matthew 14:23).
When His friend Lazarus died, before Jesus resurrected him, Jesus took a moment to grieve and weep for His friend (John 11:35). And when He learned John the Baptist had been beheaded, Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13).
He made time to give thanks to the Father before meals by offering gratitude through prayer (John 6:11), and He didn’t shoulder all the work Himself. After He called His 12 apostles, Jesus then sent them out “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1).
And in His final hours, knowing full well of His coming arrest and crucifixion, Jesus didn’t just rush out and offer Himself up for the taking. First Jesus retreated to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray (Luke 22).
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The Bible talks about the importance of self-care both in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
In the desert, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, saw Moses was getting overburdened quickly by all the rulings and cases and, perhaps, sensed his coming exhaustion. So Jethro urged Moses to delegate responsibility, appointing a number of trusted helpers to assist him in settling simple cases fairly.
“You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out,” Jethro said in Exodus 18:18-19. “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.”
In another example, the prophet Daniel was a man of great faith in God serving under a king in Babylon. When the king passed a law sentencing anyone praying to a deity other than him to be thrown into a lion’s den, Daniel didn’t stop his practice of adoration and worship. He was true both to himself and to God, and he continued praying, even though it got him arrested (Daniel 6:10-12).
And in 1 Kings 19:4-8, the prophet Elijah ran for his life into the wilderness to escape queen Jezebel, but though he had God’s blessing, he still made time to stop and renew his body and soul through proper sleep and food.
Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus tells people to seek refuge in Him. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” He tells them, in Matthew 11:29-30.
And the apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of feeding and caring for the body in Ephesians 5:29.
Many other Scriptures highlight self-care, not only the above, but these also, which remind us we are God’s special people, created in His image and much beloved:
How about you — do you have other examples of the Bible emphasizing self-care? How can you put those into practice today?
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.