How to practice biblical self-care

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How to practice biblical self-care

January 25, 2023 -

A silhouetted woman in a hat stands outside at sunset, her face looking to the side, her hat artistically filled with the sunset. © By primipil/

A silhouetted woman in a hat stands outside at sunset, her face looking to the side, her hat artistically filled with the sunset. © By primipil/

A silhouetted woman in a hat stands outside at sunset, her face looking to the side, her hat artistically filled with the sunset. © By primipil/

A popular tagline often shared on social media is: “Self-care isn’t selfish.”

Hashtags such as #selfcare, #selflove, #loveyourself, #selfcaresunday, and #selfcaretips find their way all across social media.

As believers, what does self-care mean for us?

Is the idea of self-care even biblical?

Full-throttle ministry

I recently attended a women’s conference where one of the speakers took some time to speak out against the concept of self-care. In her opinion, self-care is indeed selfish, and she spoke something to the effect of, “I want to run my race so hard so that when I reach the end, I will fall at the feet of Jesus, beaten up and broken . . . but knowing I ran my race well.”

This statement was met with much applause and cheering.

I quietly sat in my seat, wondering if I agreed.

Because I have struggled with mental health issues for over thirty years, I have to keep certain boundaries in place to support my stability. I know many who suffer from chronic illnesses feel the same way.

If I run my race full throttle, doing all the ministry things, serving at full capacity, meeting everyone else’s needs, I will likely crash for a period of time—leading to a limited capacity to do anything well.

What is self-care?

For many people, the concept of self-care brings to mind expensive pedicures and spa days.

However, true biblical self-care is partnering with the Holy Spirit in discernment to know your body’s limits. It is taking time to care for the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the body and being a good steward of what you’ve been given.

Even in the Bible, we see through the example of the Sabbath that rest is necessary.

  • Jesus would “withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16).
  • Jesus instructs the disciples to rest awhile (Mark 6:31).
  • As Martha spent time rushing and doing, distracted by her service, Jesus commended Mary for sitting and listening, saying that “she has chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:40–42).
  • “Be still before the Lᴏʀᴅ, and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7).

When we don’t take time for self-care in the form of rest, it can often lead to self-medication.

What is self-medication?

Self-medication is not the same as giving yourself medication prescribed by your physician (though abusing prescribed substances can be harmful.)

Self-medication can look like this:

  • overeating or overconsuming alcohol in order to bring mental relief.
  • shopping as a distraction
  • binging Netflix until 2 a.m.
  • eating half a bag of chips (before you realize what you’re even doing or how you got to the pantry to begin with)
  • saying yes to every service opportunity and ministry need.
  • spending all your time going and doing so you don’t have to sit in silence or solitude (because that is uncomfortable and brings up anxiety)

Clearly, not all of those things are morally wrong. But when the intent of engaging in those activities is one of internal avoidance or escape, it may prevent you from fully engaging in an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father, as well as those closest to you.

Self-medication is the opposite of self-care.

Self-medication happens when we are burned out, exhausted, and distracted by the pressures we put upon ourselves. Self-medication can happen when we’ve decided not to listen to the still, small voice that reminds us to take time to slow down.

While self-care allows you to partner with your body for rest, self-medication forces you to separate yourself from your body, numbing out so you don’t have to feel or process life’s hardships. Self-care is proactive, and self-medication is reactive.

Checking off my to-do list for the kingdom

Months back, my husband and I were having some hard marriage discussions. I remember telling him, “If I use all my spare time to focus on this issue and trying to resolve this, then all the other things I do will fall by the wayside. I have to be able to focus on those too.”

Then it hit me.

I often pack my schedule to avoid dealing with painful emotions, to prevent dealing with my own mental processing, to avoid letting God in to do the healing work in my life.

Most days, I’d rather God commend me for my work and how well I check the boxes of service for the kingdom than take some time for him to search my heart.

Even my Bible reading can often be just another checkbox on the to-do list. That isn’t good stewardship of my soul. That’s following the patterns of the world in order to keep my mind occupied with anything but spiritual renewal.

Our attempts to make goals and checklists and go through the motions of our fast-paced modern lifestyles can prevent us from engaging in practices and rhythms that not only benefit us spiritually but benefit our health as well. We so easily control our time and manage our calendars so that we leave little room for slowing time to be present with the Lord.

Maybe a shift needs to happen away from the concept of self-care.

Instead of focusing on self-care, focus on soul care.

Instead of spending time searching for ways to focus on yourself for nourishment, ask your Creator to give you the wisdom to see when your soul needs nourishment from him.

7 questions for self-reflection

Here are a few reflection questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you using ministry as a form of self-medication and escape? This could look like packing your schedule with service opportunities, Bible studies, and ministry meetings with very little room for rest in between.
  • Are you running your race to exhaustion and leaving yourself empty, leading to forgetfulness and feeling scattered?
  • Do you feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done?
  • Do you often feel like you are doing everything for everyone, but not doing one thing well?
  • Are you taking daily time for stillness?
  • Do you practice rest in any capacity?
  • Are you letting the Author of your soul care for it?

If you answered yes or maybe to any of those questions, you may benefit from taking time for soul care.

One helpful way is to set the timer on your phone for as short as one minute or up to ten minutes. Use that time to take some deep breaths, asking God to fill you with his presence and nourishment. Spend some time thinking about what you’re grateful for and what fills you with awe. Picture the people, items, or places that fill you with appreciation and wonder.

Focusing on that in silence, for just minutes a day, is a way to engage in self-care that truly takes the form of soul care.

Another way to do that is by using a Christian app like One Minute Pause. This is a guided prayer format that starts at just one minute and gradually unlocks to longer times the more you do it.

6 ideas for daily soul care

Other ideas for daily soul care include:

  • Take a nature walk, with no distractions from your phone. Look around and marvel at God’s creation. What do you notice? What do you see, smell, or hear?
  • Before sitting down for a nourishing meal, take a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Close your eyes and say a prayer of gratitude for the One who provides the true source of nourishment.
  • Before going to bed, spend some time journaling about your day. What were the highs and lows? What are you grateful for or worried about? Give those to the Lord.
  • Take a twenty-four-hour screen break. No phone notifications, no TV. Spend time reading or engaging with people who bring you joy.
  • Sit or lay down with worship music playing. As your eyes are closed, think about the words of the songs and what they say about God and his everlasting love and care for you.
  • Engage in a creative practice that brings you joy. Maybe it’s painting, drawing, or playing music. Maybe it’s singing in the shower!

I know from my own experience, these things won’t happen unless you make time for them.

Setting up healthy boundaries for yourself to rest in the care of your Creator is not selfish. Taking time to quiet your mind away from the hustle and activity of daily life is not disengaging yourself from “running the race set before you.”

Even the most trained athlete knows there is a need for recovery time. It is no different for you.

When you make space to let the Lord care for your soul, you open yourself up to renewal and restoration that only comes from him.

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