When asked by the Pharisees which is the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).
I have heard this verse many times in my life, but it wasn’t until recently that I noticed those last two words… “as yourself.” I checked the Greek and consulted several commentaries and apparently this means I should love my neighbor and care for them as I care for myself. It was only a few years ago that it was brought to my attention that I should care for myself at all. So maybe Jesus wants me to care for myself so that I have what I need to care for others?
As a follower of Jesus, a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, and counselor, I am called to love and care for others daily. But when I don’t care for myself, I will burn out. In his book Embracing Soul Care, my friend Steve Smith introduced me to the concept of “soul care”, an idea that maybe sounds better than “self-care” to some. Whatever term you want to use, it seems to be an important idea to think through! Is it possible for us to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength if we are emotionally burned out, spiritually dried up, mentally overwhelmed, and physically exhausted? Probably not. So, let’s talk about how we can care for each of those aspects of our soul or “self”.
Heart: Caring for my heart or emotions might look like giving myself freedom to experience all the emotions that are God-given that help me to navigate the difficulties of this fallen world.
Ideas: journal thoughts and feelings, recognize the need for limits on media intake (do I need to turn off the news?), practice gratitude, connect with other people, be playful (smile, laugh, dance, have fun), seek help from a trusted friend or counselor when things get too hard.
Soul: Caring for myself spiritually looks like nourishing my soul with God’s word. It means being in community with people who care for me and are trying their best to look like Jesus.
Ideas: go to church or a small group, do personal Bible study, start or meet with a group of like-minded people to discuss life, and prayer (which should include a practice silence and solitude so that it isn’t only speaking, but allowing the Holy Spirit to bring peace and comfort).
Mind: When I care for my mind, I am reading and learning new things. I want to do things to stretch myself intellectually and I want to engage my mind in things that build me up and make me smarter.
Ideas: read a book, play a puzzle game, solve a jigsaw puzzle, learn a new skill like crochet or woodworking.
Strength: Caring for myself physically includes resting, eating well, moving regularly, and just getting outside.
We were not made to be “on” all day every day, so resting each day is good, and real rest one day a week is prescribed (in the Ten Commandments)! God created our bodies to move and when we don’t, we can feel stiff and sore. He created our bodily systems to require a healthy amount of sunshine. He also meant for us to eat healthy food to give us the nutrients we need. Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy the occasional brownie (God gave us tastebuds, too), but when we are eating over-processed junk food, we are not giving our bodies the fuel they need.
Ideas: take an exercise class, go for a walk, sit outside and breathe fresh air, try a new recipe made from whole, unprocessed foods.
When we care for ourselves, we have the strength we need to care for others. Self-care is not selfish; it is necessary to live the lives we are called to live. In the life of Jesus, we certainly saw him care for others, but we also saw him rest, spend time with his friends, make connections with people, connect with God and care for his body. Let us all care for ourselves as though this body God gave us is a gift, because it is!