Self-care. If you tried to avoid thinking about it, you wouldn’t be able to. It’s everywhere you turn these days, both inside and outside of the church. Everyone is quick to offer tips on the latest diet trend, the best Netflix shows to binge on, or their favorite DIY bath bombs. We love exploring new ways to rest, recharge, and be refueled, don’t we?
But what does the Bible say about self-care? Is it even something in the Bible? Let's explore what the Bible says about caring for yourself and we are instructed to care for ourselves in a Gospel centered way.
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The True Problem of Self-Care
We love to explore ways of self-care. We must. We are so depleted. I have two small children – 5 years and 20 months – and the days are long. The commitments of a stay-at-home mom with two little ones are overwhelming.
That’s just two children. But every day, I feel it. The dishes pile up. The toys get scattered. The bickering starts. The next meal needs to be prepared. Grocery shopping. Vacuuming. Reading picture books. Playing make-believe. Kissing boo-boos. And it’s not that these are inherently hard things to do, but, when you put them all together, it’s a day full of pouring out.
It’s a day full of people and things drawing from a finite well of capacity that we have, and – at the end of the day – we’re empty. To make matters worse, we are usually trying to be a godly mother in a very ungodly world. We are left drained, empty, and trying to fill ourselves up with all the wrong things.
So, I’m with you. I know we need it. We’re only human.
But here’s the kicker for me: I am not good at self-care. The true problem of self-care is that we are not good at it, and we are not doing it right!
Can any of you relate to this? I pursue it, and I know I need it, but I just don’t do it well. I find myself repeatedly sitting down with every intention of pouring back into what’s been withdrawn, only to feel emptier than when I started.
I will sit down with a bowl of ice cream at the end of a grueling day, and – even when that’s fine to do, and it’s enjoyable – I just don’t feel restored. I will crash on the couch after a rough day with a Netflix show, and I just don’t feel like I have any more capacity at the end of it. The things that I turn to so often to fill me back up just end up leaving me right where I was, or – worse – they deplete me even further.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.1 Corinthains 6:19-20
For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.1 Timothy 4:8 ESV
Learning 'what does the Bible say about self-care' is particularly a tricky thing for a mom with young children. The days can seem long and the rewards far in-between. That is one of the main reasons I wrote "Cultivating a Healing Home." It's for you mama. Amid all the motherhood chaos, come back to the Bible as we seek our Father in heaven.
What is Effective Self-Care?
What I find that I need is to learn what good, quality, and effective self-care really is. I pour out so much, and I simply can’t waste my time and energy on something that won’t actively refill me. I am in a busy season of early motherhood and ministry, and I know that those moments to take time for myself are exceedingly rare. I don’t what to squander them. My time is already so limited.
I need to discover ways to take care of myself that will tend to my actual needs, not leaving me dry and empty.
As we are going to discover, effective self-care is more about my need for God to be reestablished in my life, and less about satisfying personal desires.
What are the Benefits of Self-Care?
So, let’s first ask ourselves a baseline question: Why do we need self-care? What is the real need that we face?
From the get-go of Creation, we see a created order established with the setting a part of a day of rest. He – the Creator – is God, and we – the Creation – are not.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.- Genesis 2:2-3 NIV
Our rest that we need was modeled by Him. He is a powerful, strong, and perfect God, so He never needed to rest on that seventh day, but He established a precedent for us. We need rest. We need to care for ourselves because we are the finite ones.
So, the real need that we face seems to be to reestablish our place in that created order. This is where our need for self-care comes in. We need space to set aside our busy lives, our striving, and our distractions and remember that we are not God. The need is not to zone out in front of a TV or satisfy our sweet tooth or take a vacation. Our need is to remember our humanity, humble ourselves before the only One who is really in control, and look to our Creator God to refill us in our place of need.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.Romans 3:21-25a ESV
What does the Bible Say about Self-Care?
If this is so, then I think this changes what I often think of as self-care. If my need is for God to reestablish His position as Lord in my life and refill me, then I should look to the things that accomplish that purpose. This wouldn’t necessarily be the things that give my brain a break or elicit perfect quiet or satisfy my own personal desires. I ought to look for what God can use to humble, cleanse, and fill me.
After a season of overindulgence, I will sometimes do a juice cleanse. This taking in of so many supercharged nutrients from fruits and vegetables does two things: it rids my body of the yucky stuff that I’ve been putting inside it, and then it refills my body with the things it really needs. It wouldn’t be hugely beneficial to isolate only one of those things. Sure, the toxins leaving my body needs to happen. But what if I don’t change what I put back in? And yes, the fruits and veggies are great to put into my body. But don’t I also need to flush out the things that keep it from working optimally?
The same is true with self-care. We need to truly feed ourselves well – stepping back from the things emptying us and allowing God to fill us back up. Flushing out the toxins, refilling ourselves with the things of God.
So, what does this look like? How is this practically accomplished?
The good news for us is that our perfect Creator God took on human flesh and lived a life that we can look to as a model. So, what did He do?
Did Jesus Practice Self Care?
Jesus often went away to pray. He woke up early (Mark 1:35), He went off alone (Mark 6:45-46), and He would spend time with God if He needed to (Luke 6:12). He didn’t just close Himself off in a room to get a little quiet, to seek a little space, and to get a break. He had work to do – important and pressing work.
In His humanity, He sought the place to go to not to get a break but to be refilled to keep doing His work. Like a cleanse, he needed to step away from something for a time and be filled up with what’s needed – not for personal gain but to keep going.
And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.Mark 1:35 ESV
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray.Mark 6:45-46 ESV
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.Luke 6:12 ESV
For those of you, like me, who are moms of young children, here is some tough news for you: there is no real break. 24/7, we are on call to do this important ministry called motherhood. What we need is not to take a vacation from motherhood but to go to the ultimate Source to give us everything we need to keep going.
And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.Mark 6:31 ESV
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
One of my favorite places to send moms that are trying to seek out more self-care is Undoubted Grace. Ashely is the vision behind Undoubted Grace, and she has what seems like a never-ending amount of resources for biblical self-care for busy moms. Here is one of my favorite journals she has in her shop. You can use code 'home10' to get a special discount just for our Healing Home friends!
Practicing Gospel Centered Self-Care
So, ask yourself: what really pours into you? What fills your heart back up and gives you the capacity to keep going?
For me, I like to take 10 minutes to pray while taking a bath. I like to take my kids outside for walks and recite Scripture that I’ve memorized to them (and to myself!). I will often call a friend from the Bluetooth in the van while running errands so that we can encourage one another to keep seeking God in busy seasons.
I have also learned that I need to be flexible. What I want is a weekend-long retreat to just sit with my Bible and be with the Lord, but I can’t do that right now. I need to be content with the little moments in the middle of the day. I can’t avoid letting God pour into me just because it won’t be “ideal.” I have learned to be content with the way that it looks in this season. God can use it all.
And I must remind myself constantly: good and fun things aren’t always the same as restorative and refueling things. Don’t get me wrong – I like chocolate, Netflix, and pampering products just as much as the next person. I enjoy them immensely. But I can’t mistake them for the things that will truly bring me the rest and the care that I need. They ought to supplement, and never replace, going to the Father. He is the only adequate refueling station to meet our real need.
God knows our hearts. He formed us from the start. The benefit of this is that the Creator God knows His Creation better than anyone else, and we have direct access to His wisdom whenever we need it. So, ask your Creator to do what only He can: fill you up to capacity to keep doing what He has for you to do.
What does the Bible say about self-care? Plenty, but as is always the case, it's more about glorifying God then about self-fulfilling us.
A Little More About Allie
My name is Allie, and I have been filled with wonder about Jesus since my freshman year in high school. Although I was raised in the church, it wasn’t until I was 14, after having chased many other things to satisfy that desire to be filled with true wonder, that I really met Jesus.
A lot of the joy in my life right now comes from my family – my husband of 9 years (Brian), my sweet children (Joshua – 5, Abbie – 20 months), and our doggie (Shadow). Life is rich with them, and I learn a lot about who God is in my role as a wife and mother. I am the author of the I Wonder blog, where I create space to wonder and reflect on God and the Gospel.
I am a stay-at-home mom, a writer, a Bible study leader, a private tutor to elementary students, and an introvert to the core. I am happiest when I'm in the mountains, among dear friends, and losing myself in a delightful book. I am glad you’re here, and I'd love to connect more with you as we sit together in wonder and awe of our wonderful God.