Five months after our daughter came home, we climbed onto an airplane.
She was chatty and excited, watching everything with giant eyes of wonder. The moment her seat belt was buckled, her nose was smashed against the window. “Oh, Mommy,” she breathed and her brown eyes danced.
Flying wasn’t new to me. When I was her age, I dreaded it because the change in pressure at take-off and landing always brought my last meal back up, but as I grew, and flew more often, my body adjusted and learned tricks to keep sickness at bay. The quickest and easiest? I made myself fall asleep the moment I settled into my seat. In sleep, I didn’t get sick.
But now I had a bubbling eight-year-old gripping my arm in excitement. I wondered in passing if she would get sick, but I somehow doubted it. She’s the most resilient thing you ever saw. Instead, I braced myself for nausea and listened, for the first time in many years, to the flight attendant giving instructions.
“In the case of an emergency,” the attendant explained, “oxygen masks will automatically release.” She demonstrated how to put on your mask. Then she gave the dire warning: Always secure your own mask first before trying to help others.
It’s the cardinal rule in these types of situations. If your oxygen mask isn’t secure, you could pass out while trying to help others and then in turn need help. Always secure your own mask first.
I actually started noticing it all about 12 years ago. I was putting together a little Bible lesson for the five girls I mentored and had been deep in Matthew 16.
We would often do our lesson, then spend some time doing “creative journaling” where we used stickers, markers, glitter, and cut up magazines to journal about our meeting. To keep things moving I would go through the magazines ahead of time and cut out different word combinations and pictures. And there, as I was flipping through a magazine, I saw it.
“Selfish isn’t a dirty word,” the quote read. “It means we take care of ourselves and are able to give back.”
I’m not sure I would have noticed it, had I not just been immersed in Scripture. And not just any Scripture, but the one that reads, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves…”
But since I had been, it felt like blinders had been pulled off. “This is something the world is going to be saying more and more insistently,” I told the girls that evening, holding up the quote. “It’s a clever deceit and I feel like it’s going to get stronger and stronger in the coming years because it sounds good. It sounds like your concern is for others, but it’s not what Jesus preached.”
It didn’t surprise me when the term “self-care” began floating around. It didn’t surprise me when the term “self-care” became something Christians embraced. It didn’t surprise me when Christian women became the impetus that preached this “new” concept.
You can’t love your family and friends well unless you exercise self-care.
That’s the story, anyway. And there are some elements of truth in it. We can’t be lazy in taking care of our bodies and hearts and minds and still think we’re going to love others well.
But in the propaganda of “self-care” I’m afraid we’re missing a kingdom-element. We’re forgetting the paradox of the Christian faith that sets this belief-system apart from every other belief-system in the world.
We’re forgetting that in the Kingdom of God things are different. It’s an upside-down Kingdom.
- We see unseen things.
- We conquer by yielding.
- We find rest under a yoke.
- We reign by serving.
- We are made great by becoming small.
- We are exalted when we are humble.
- We become wise by being fools for Christ’s sake.
- We are made free by becoming bondservants.
- We gain strength when we are weak.
- We triumph through defeat.
- We find victory by glorying in our infirmities.
- We live by dying.
[Richard B. Hansenis]
The truth is that our calling isn’t to care for ourselves, no matter how rational the allowance appears. Our calling is to serve the King– even at the expense of ourselves.
But what about the part that is true? The part where we can’t help others put on their oxygen mask if we are passed out? It makes perfect sense. It’s so true.
Which leads us to the question:
Is there a way to “self-care” in the Kingdom?
Or, better yet, perhaps the question should be: What is the daily-life equivalent to an oxygen mask?
Despite what the world says, it’s not a spa day. It’s not specific vitamins, or a particular diet. It’s not a night off, a get-together with friends, or a date night with your husband. It’s not getting your hair done or buying new make-up or a cute outfit.
These are all lovely things. They are good, in their context. There may be a time and place for them.
But they aren’t true self-care. Not the lasting kind. Not the renewing-transforming kind.
They are bonuses– extras that we, who live in a first world country, are privileged to experience at times– but not things we are entitled to.
Following Jesus can be done in every country, every situation, every single moment, so obviously any part of Kingdom-Living must translate to any place in time and history.
True self-care in the Kingdom will look just like Jesus.
Jesus, who gave of Himself to the very end of Himself.
How did Jesus, who was human (as we are) find the strength to do this?
I don’t know all the answers, but I do know this: Jesus did slip off for time away from crowds, away from even His closest friends.
But it wasn’t to a comfortable, self-pleasing spot. It wasn’t to buy Himself stuff, or treat Himself. Instead, He spent time with the Father– and in partaking of relationship with the Jehovah-Jirah, He found what He needed to give all for the sake of the Kingdom. [Matt. 14:23, Luke 6:12, Luke 22:41-44]
He spent time on His knees, in surrender.
I’m learning this slowly. It’s hard. I’m introverted, married to an extrovert with an extremely extroverted child. Both whose primary love languages are quality time and touch. Some days I want to just stomp my foot down and demand that I be given SPACE.
But I’ve figured out a startling truth: all the world’s ideas of “self-care” aren’t enough.
When I come back from getting my hair done, I’m still going to go crazy when my daughter won’t stop touching me. When my husband brings the children home after I’ve had two hours to myself, I’m still going to be overwhelmed when they converge on me. I can seclude myself in the bathroom for a long hot bath and I’m still going to feel like I’m hyperventilating when the kids won’t stop asking me questions through the bathroom door.
I can take vitamins, and go on diets, and start exercise programs, and plan nights away from everyone– and I’m still going to feel stifled and emotionally exhausted.
There is only one thing that truly rejuvenates me. Only one thing that gives me strength and vision and hope and the ability to face people pulling at me twenty-some hours a day. Only one thing that will allow me to open my home and my heart to my neighbors and friends, my husband and children.
Time with the Father.
It’s all about relationship with the only One who can actually rejuvenate us from the inside out. True refreshment will only come through submission. In turning to Him with our weakness, our lost-ness, our tiredness, we will be filled.
But we have to give time to Him.
This is our oxygen. This is our hope. This is true self-care.
Like Jesus, let us rise early, or stay up late, to slip away from the crowds. But let it not be to places of personal comfort, of selfish consumerism, of empty worldliness. Let it, instead, be to our knees. To surrender.
Our weakest brokenness, surrendered to Christ, is the avenue for His greatest strength to be revealed.
Let’s practice self-care, friends. But let’s do it the Kingdom-Way.