In a culture that promotes putting yourself first, how should Christians approach self-care?
Our lives are filled with running errands, meeting deadlines at work, maintaining our homes, spending quality time with spouses (at least trying to), or making the most of our singleness. Most days, we are trying our best to care for our children or grandchildren or perhaps aging parents—sometimes a combination— depending on what stage of life we’re in. And let’s not forget our responsibilities at church.
Many people wake up with a to-do list a mile long and feel as if they covered only an inch of ground when bedtime rolls around. Who wouldn’t be stressed, burned out, depressed, anxious, and flat-out exhausted after that?
Our culture tries to alleviate these pounding pressures through what some call self-care. Self-care can be defined as “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” Social media influencers and Pinterest offer endless ideas for self-care: blow bubbles, have a spa day, drink more green tea, look at a sunset, eat your favorite dessert, binge on Netflix, practice mindfulness.
The problem is that the way the world tells us to care for ourselves and the way God expects us to steward our lives are very different. The truth about why and how we are supposed to take care of ourselves tends to get lost as we close our Bibles (or Bible apps) and open Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest to read posts like “The 10 Best Tips for Self-Care.” The truth we read from God’s Word earlier can quickly and easily be replaced with worldly thinking.
All too often, the church will latch onto the latest ideas permeating our culture, then try to reinterpret Scripture through the lens of these new ideas. As Christians, we must evaluate new trends and movements through the lens of truth—God’s Word.
While it seems to have good intentions, the self-care movement is a well-crafted counterfeit solution to our troubles. This is not to say that those who have promoted the self-care movement have done so with the intent to deceive. Regardless, we need to beware of our enemy, Satan, whose native tongue is deception (John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 2:11). He is quite adept at constructing counterfeits—worldly ideologies that sound good, but actually lure our hearts off course and away from the truth (2 Corinthians 11:14).
The truth is that God does want us to be good stewards of our physical and spiritual lives—taking care of our heart, mind, body, and soul—in order to fully live for him. But we don’t need to rely on the world’s self-care methodology to steward our lives well. We need to look to God’s Word which promises that “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). The Bible gives us sufficient counsel and practical application to help us when life wears us down.
The self-care culture emphasizes self, encouraging, “Treat yourself. You’re worth it. You deserve it.” We even see blatantly anti-scriptural ideas being promoted, such as, “Put your needs first. Focus on yourself.” These self-focused ideas stand in direct contrast with Jesus’ command to deny ourselves, esteem others better than ourselves, rely on Christ for strength, and take up our cross and follow him daily (Luke 9:23). The self-care culture promotes sporadic indulgence rather than an intentional, daily stewardship of the inner and outer self by caring for our physical and spiritual needs and the renewing of our minds.
Self-care often distracts people from dealing with the heart of their problems. Rather than give in to selfish, temporary indulgence, we need to follow Scripture and surrender to doing hard things God’s way, through Christ’s strength. Rather than follow secular wisdom that says to forget about “toxic” relationships and move on, we should obey God’s instruction to practice forgiveness and seek restoration with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Human beings are complex creatures, so it shouldn’t surprise us that explaining “the self” is complicated. Second Corinthians 4:16 gives us perhaps the most simplistic understanding of the “self” as being made up of two parts:
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
There are two things to note about the outer self and the inner self. First, the outer self (the body) is in a state of decaying or “wasting away” as a result of the curse of sin upon the human race.
Second, for those who are in Christ, the inner self (heart, soul, mind, and spirit) should be renewed with each passing day until we reach the end of our lives on earth.
Does that mean that because our outer self is perishing, we pay no attention to it? Of course not. We must pay attention to it as good stewards. However, more of our focus and attention should be on renewing our “inner self” in Christ day by day.
Do you know what the Bible says about how to be a good steward of the outer self and inner self?
We can steward our physical bodies (the outer self) well by eating properly, exercising, and getting adequate sleep. The Bible gives us direction in these areas. God set an example for us when he rested on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2:1–3). Daniel’s healthy diet served him and his Hebrew friends well in the service of the king (Daniel 1:12–16). And the Apostle Paul assured us that physical training does have some limited value (1 Timothy 4:8).
From the gospel accounts—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—we observe that Jesus’ life and ministry were extremely busy and often demanding. In fact, Jesus was once so exhausted he slept on a boat in the middle of a raging storm (Mark 4:38–40). Did Jesus experience any temptation to succumb to stress, burnout, depression, or anxiety? According to Hebrews 4:15, John 4:6, and other passages in Scripture, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Knowing when he needed to be refreshed mentally, emotionally, and physically, Jesus retreated to a quiet place to spend time alone with his Father. He also encouraged his followers to rest (Mark 6:31).
Let’s consider the different ways we can steward the inner self. According to Scripture, stewarding our minds means renewing them with the truth of God’s Word (Romans 12:2; John 17:17). Our minds benefit from times of solitude with the Lord in prayer (Luke 5:16). The heart is well cared for when we ask God to examine our emotions and desires to reveal any indwelling sin that remains (Psalm 139:23–24) or to help us better understand our suffering in this life and seek God’s comfort and help (Proverbs 3:5–6). God uses our weariness to bring us to himself.
The stewardship of our souls involves worshipping and serving God and lifting up our souls to him (Psalm 143:8). It also involves loving and serving other people (Mark 12:31; 1 Peter 4:10).
The difference between self-care and stewardship is more than a matter of semantics. It is a change in worldview. Caring for ourselves in the ways that Scripture prescribes and focusing on renewing our inner self as much as taking care of our outer self speaks volumes to a harried world looking for relief in all the wrong places. By relying on Christ to refresh our weary souls, we point others away from the emptiness of self and toward the one who calls, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).
Often our bodies and minds are exhausted because we haven’t stewarded them well. We need more than a bubble bath or round at the golf course to bounce back from the weariness that settles into our souls. Rather than simply thinking of ways to escape the pressures of life, try these restorative, God-honoring practices that will give you true spiritual and physical rest.
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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.