“I’m struggling with not enough time for me right now.”
I got this message from one of my readers recently when I asked moms what they were wrestling with. I shook my head in understanding…because it’s a sentiment I’ve heard again and again.
She went on: “I feel like a brat saying that, but in the hustle and bustle of motherhood I sometimes feel like I’ve lost myself.”
It’s an issue I think so many of us relate to. We know we should probably be taking better care of ourselves—“filling up our tanks,” so to speak—so that we have more to give.
But then we feel guilty…because isn’t a life of self-sacrifice the Christian way to live?
There is a lot of secular self-help information out there about stress relief, finding yourself and meeting your full potential.
You may have heard the analogy of the oxygen mask; on a plane that’s losing air pressure you’re supposed to put your own mask on first before helping someone else, and the same applies with your personal energy.
That’s all fine and good in theory, but…are these conceptions of “me-time” and “self-care” actually Biblical?
And what about practical questions like:
- Is it okay for me to be on my phone when I’m with my kids?
- Do I have to get up early to read my Bible?
- Whose needs come first: mine? My husband’s? My kids’?
- Do I really need to suck it up and go to church when I’m feeling so exhausted I can barely move?
- Can I say “no” when someone asks for my help? (Really, not just in theory?)
- Can I spend money on something frivolous or indulgent and not feel guilty?
It’s tricky territory, striving to live a life that imitates Christ but doesn’t leave you so drained that you end up feeling exhausted, spiritually empty and resentful.
I think about this a lot, and I think that while self-care is essential for Christians, it might not be in the way you think.
**By the way, if you’re struggling to make time to take care of yourself amidst a busy schedule, I (Gina) have a free 5-day email course called StressLESS that will really help. Click the link to check it out!
What Christian Self-Care is NOT
There are a few practices that people turn to when they desperately need a break, which are important to recognize because they are, in fact, sinful and selfish:
- Escape: running from or avoiding stressors in your life rather than confronting them. Getting away isn’t bad in itself, but if your only objective is to escape, rather than purposefully recharge yourself, then you’re only going to want more escape.
- Self-medicating: finding healing from sources that will never fill you up. This is taking escape to the next level, trying to find joy in whatever your weakness is—your phone, shopping, food, or other substances.
- Addiction: what happens when you get short highs from escaping and self-medicating. You keep coming back for more…and more…and more…and you keep coming out empty.
We’re all susceptible to these things, as Galatians 5:12–20 describes:
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Personally, when I’m not mindful, I drift into selfish ambition, jealousy and idolatry. I escape the pressures of motherhood with work. I become addicted to my own “busyness” and perfectionism, trying to prove to myself that I can do it all (whatever that means). But that’s me. What’s your weakness?
Our Real Self-Care Need Is Rest
There’s a lot of value in hard work, as is evident throughout Proverbs and other parts of the Bible. But sometimes (often!) we overlook another value that is very important to God: rest.
Think about it in the Creation account (Genesis 1): God worked. And then he rested.
The need for rest is also evident in the cycles and rhythms of nature. Since Creation, there have been evenings and mornings. You can try to fight it, but you spend a good portion of your day asleep. Even plants “rest” in different seasons. In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to give the land and their animals regular rest in addition to a mandatory weekly Sabbath.
In Christ we are “not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14), meaning that we’re not going to face the death penalty if we don’t keep the Sabbath. But…maybe we’re missing out?
Whether you’re a mom or not, I’d wager that you feel exhausted and burnt out, often. You’re not getting something that every human being on earth needs: rest.
I believe that everyone needs three kinds of rest: physical, mental and spiritual.
Jesus understood this thoroughly, and practiced it. I imagine it was hard for him, submitting to the constraints of human form. But even when his life was extremely demanding, he found the time to sleep peacefully (Mark 4:39), to pray by himself (Matthew 14:23), and to enjoy a great meal with those he loved (Matthew 26:17–30). Not to mention, he kept a weekly Sabbath—although, not for its own sake (Matthew 12:1–13).
In fact, in each of those scriptures I referenced, you’ll notice that a miracle happened immediately after Jesus chose to rest.
In other words, resting didn’t slow Jesus down one bit. It strengthened his ministry.
How To Incorporate More Rest into Your Life
Let’s go back to the tricky questions. Consider the ways that you like to unwind. Are you escaping? Or are you resting?
It’s not wrong to do things that are pleasurable. You just have to consider your mindset.
Are you intentionally taking a break, doing something you love and appreciating the blessings in your life? Or are you mindlessly wandering into destructive behavior?
I personally do better when I’m setting aside my rest time. I carve out daily and weekly time, as well as special occasions to celebrate. When I’m intentional about this, I can be fully engaged in my leisure time, and then feel refreshed—without guilt—when it’s time to go back to work.
I’d recommend figuring out what time you need to set aside to rest for yourself: physically, mentally and spiritually.
Here are some practical ways to get started:
1. Record everything you do for seven consecutive days.
It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not hard if you keep a printed timesheet or journal somewhere handy. See where your time goes. Record how you feel. You’ll likely notice some patterns and will be able to identify where you need to slow down.
Related Reading: How a 7-Day Time Log Helped Me Get My Schedule Under Control.
2. Limit your social media and smartphone use.
If you’re like me, you turn to these to escape when you’ll be so much more refreshed during your downtimes doing something else. Technology is not all bad, but I know I personally feel so much better when I’m using much less of it.
Related Reading: Social Media Addiction: 20 Strategies to Break It.
3. Try keeping a weekly Sabbath.
Crazy idea, right? Don’t just do it because it’s a rule to follow; do it because God says it’s an awesome thing to do.
I just recently started being stricter about it with myself. For a 24-hour period every weekend, I limit my housework to only immediate needs (like dishes), don’t check my email or social media, and I definitely don’t doing anything work-related. Our social engagements vary (we also go to church), but we try to limit them to be low-key and fun. Our family is very protective of our need to rest.
Related Reading: Six Ways to Create a More Worshipful Sunday
4. Prioritize sleep.
I know, I know. Babies, work schedules, illnesses and all sorts of crazy things make it difficult. But your body and your brain need it.
I thought I needed seven hours; when I really tested myself, I found that I actually need more than eight. The difference in my energy and mood since I decided to be better rested has been phenomenal. So make sleep happen.
Take turns with your husband getting up for the baby; find a way to sleep in; give yourself permission to take a nap. Otherwise it will catch up to you.
**Need help and encouragement to create purposeful rest in your life? Don’t forget to check out my free 5-day email course, StressLESS.
Are you intentional about restful self-care in your own life? What do you think you could do to carve out more time?
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