Godly Self-Care: Changing our theology

I had a chance to speak with our church’s moms group this morning. I have HUGE compassion for anybody in the thick of the toddler stage, and I’m only half-joking when I say this mom’s group saved my life and sanity!

I promised to share some notes & resources with these ladies so here’s part one: addressing bad theology that makes us avoid healthy self care.

Remember reading issues of Seventeen (or Brio if you came from a conservative home)? Remember those quizzes? Answer 5 questions and get your skin care profile/find your perfect boyfriend/discover your learning style and so on.

If I could, I’d give you that test right now to discover your self-care profile. Are you the victim? I need self-care so badly, but there’s never enough time! Even if there was time, there’s no money.  I’m always exhausted but this is never going to change!

Maybe you’re the entitled one. I deserve this.  I’ve earned this.  I give so much all the time, now it’s my turn.  

Or maybe, like me, you’re the skeptic. Give me a break.  Everyone’s such a pansy these days.  Put on your big girl panties and get with it.

My suspicion is that many of us, maybe particularly women in the church here in Canada, lean far more towards the skeptic or victim than the entitled. The message I’ve heard over and over is that I need to be in last place. Everyone else must come first.

How many of these messages have we heard from the pulpit, from women’s conferences, from devotionals and our culture:

I want to be careful here, because each and every one of those statements comes from the Bible. I believe the Bible is sacred, and I can’t just tear out pages and toss them when they’re inconvenient. But when we learn the Bible through sound bytes instead of sound theology, we can get off track. In this case, I elevated suffering and pain as godly. I lost permission to love and care for myself, and I know I’m not alone in that.

We elevate suffering and pain as godly and lose permission to love and care for ourselves.

I’ve written about denying yourself, selfishness and theology of suffering in the past, so I’ll just touch on some of these sound bytes that need some sound theology to back them up:

Deny yourself… yes, but the point is to deny your sinful nature. It is not sinful to get enough sleep at night, or leave your kids with someone else to hit the gym regularly, or shower daily.

Take up your cross is Biblical, but not for the sake of suffering, for the sake of following Jesus. Half of what we give up in the name of “taking up our cross” isn’t leading us to become more Christ-like, it’s just leading us to more misery. Suffering isn’t what makes you holy, it’s the following Jesus that does that.

Yes, we are called to be servants, but remember Peter’s protests when Jesus wanted to wash his feet? We are also to be able and willing to receive the service of others: that’s the body of Christ in action, and if you are the only one doing the serving, there’s some unhealth that needs addressing.

Submission is also godly, but it’s mutual submission, never a one-way street. It’s never entitlement.

Are you catching on? We’re taking Jesus’ effort to address the power-hungry and making a whole theology around self-neglect, turning servanthood into slavery, embracing suffering needlessly and even elevating self-hatred as godly. This has to stop!

The rest of the story

Did you know God wants you strong (Galatians 6:10)? That his disciples were accused of having too much fun and not suffering enough (Matthew 9:14-16)?

God is not telling us to fight for last place – that was said to two disciples who were fighting for first place! In fact, Jesus often encountered people who were “last” in their society. Guess what: he never congratulated them for their poverty or suffering. He always elevated them out of last place. He would heal, restore, return dignity, let them be seen, loved, touched.

Some of us, maybe especially moms in the thick of those demanding younger years, need God (sometimes through other people) to heal us. Restore us. Return to us some dignity. Be seen. Receive love. Be held.

To know that God wants you strong. He’ll hold you up in your weakness, but he’s fighting for your full health. He wants you to live loved, and He says He came that you might have abundant life. God’s working for restored relationships, financial peace, emotional stability, healthy bodies, intimacy with Him, renewed minds and vibrant faith communities.

When we pursue those things, we purse holiness – literally whole-ness. Chasing God’s best for us means leaning into full health and we can be unashamed when we seek Him in all those areas of our lives. That’s godly self-care.

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