The current push to pursue physical health and wellness, in both the Christian and secular world, is an intriguing trend to me. As a holistic nutrition student, I see the need for it. We have lived off of processed foods and refined sugar for far too long and have suffered many consequences as a result. We have strayed away from the nutritious, whole foods that God gave us for our good. Teaching people how to cook with whole foods, exercise in adequate amounts, and prioritize rest, are some types of self-care that can positively change the direction of our health. On the other hand, I see this trend as dangerous to our call as Christians to be selfless. I don’t know about you, but I follow several health and wellness advocates on social media and I often find myself thinking I don’t do enough to care for myself compared to them. All of the essential oils, facials, candle-lit baths, perfectly balanced meals, intense workouts, and ultimately the resounding message, “you deserve more,” can cause me to selfishly pursue health. So how do we navigate through this often self-centered, yet necessary part of human life called self-care? As Christians, caring for our bodies is necessary for living a life glorifying to God, but we need to carefully discern when our self-care has gone too far and is distracting us from our pursuit of Him.
The other day, I came home from work planning to take a short nap. I walked in the door, and Jacob asked me to run an errand for him. I had plans later that evening, so I had to do it right then. I glared at him a little, and begrudgingly said, “Yeah, I guess so. You really can’t do it?” As I walked back out the door, a wave of disgust rolled over me. I thought about how sad it was that I wanted a nap so desperately that I complained about helping my husband with something he really needed, and how I probably react similarly more often than I realize. This, and similar scenarios, have led me to wrestle with how to view self-care rightly as a follower of Christ.
Any type of self-care, like taking nap, can obviously lead to selfishness. And does that mean all forms of self-care should be avoided? I would argue, “No.” As Christians, our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit,” and therefore we need to “honor God with (our) bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Our bodies are vessels that God can use for his glory! How amazing is that? So, we do need to take care of them in order for us to live long, healthy lives that can be used by him. Side note: I’m not saying God can’t use you if you have a physical challenge or illness. Whatever state of physical health we are in, we are called to pursue wellness because our bodies house the Holy Spirit himself!
Healing, through self-care, is also necessary to help point our attention towards Christ instead of ourselves. This may sound ironic, but to better glorify Jesus and reflect him in this life, we need to care for our bodies enough to ultimately not focus on them. A specific example from my own life is how much I am affected by contact dermatitis. I can act like a completely different person when my skin is itchy and uncomfortable. If you have eczema, dermatitis, or any other serious skin condition, you know what I’m talking about! The painful itch often leads me to focus completely on how I can make myself more comfortable. This has led me to rudely refuse to help my husband with things (like running errands), avoid hanging out with sweet Christian community, and other things that stem from selfish self-care. You might argue that it’s all mental, and you would be partly correct. Sometimes, I can distract myself from it. But to distract myself 24/7 is not always possible. In order for me to become more selfless in my everyday life and think less about how comfortable I am, I need to pray and take necessary steps toward healing. This goes for any health condition, even if it’s chronic.
Even though self-care is necessary, I can personally testify that it can easily become an idol. Very easily. It seems we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us to elevate self-care over all else. The whole concept of “me-time” has saturated the wellness world. It’s reputed that your problems will dissipate if you take care of yourself over everything else. But is this true? Is it really beneficial to focus on yourself more than anything else, even more than God? Psalm 107:9 says, “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” God satisfies the soul. Nothing else. Not a flawless body, not a nutritious meal, not a de-stressing yoga class, not anything. Those things may temporarily satisfy, but God is the only one who can give us the full contentment we need. This includes our desire to be physically fit and healthy. He can guide us to feel satisfied and comfortable in the bodies he has given us and lead us to rightly care for them. He created the body – he knows what is necessary to care for it!
Something I have found helpful as I’ve wrestled through this topic, is viewing self-care in light of eternity. 1 Timothy 4:8 says, “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.” This makes it clear that pursuing godliness is more important than pursuing physical health. It is lasting. It is eternal. Our bodies will age. All of the self-care in the world will not carry into heaven, but godliness will. Yet at the same time, caring for our bodies is a way to pursue godliness because by doing so, we honor God. The bottom line is this: As soon as we make self-care an idol, we have lost focus of eternity and are missing our call to live selfless, Christ-honoring lives. So let’s care for our bodies to the best of our ability, but with the goal of pursuing our Heavenly Father with our entire being.
When you see or hear a message about self-care, ask yourself these questions:
Does this lead me to glorify God?
Does this help me view my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit?
Does this lead me to feel satisfied in myself?
Is the goal of this to make me more comfortable and content with my life on earth?
Since we live in a fallen world, even something good like taking care of our bodies can turn into a sin. We need to cautiously and humbly care for our bodies as the temples of the Holy Spirit that they are. We cannot let self-care become more of a priority than selflessly serving our savior. Our goal in caring for our physical health should be to reflect Jesus to the best of our ability.
1 Corinthians 10:31
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”