By Amy Dunham
I hate laundry. I’d much rather scrub a bathroom than fold shirts and match socks. I avoid it way more than I should. If it were up to me, I’d never wash another load again. I’d march myself to the nearest salon and get my nails done.
But I am called to self-sacrifice, not self-care.
I know what you’re thinking . . . Maybe it’s the colloquial phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup” that comes to mind. It does for me too, so hear me out. I’m not denying the truth the phrase contains or the fact that I, myself, enjoy the occasional massage or solo trip to Target.
However, these things are not my primary calling, and when I prioritize self-care over my calling to “lay down my life,” I sin and get things out of order. You will not find “you can’t pour from an empty cup” in the Bible. You will however find verses like these:
- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
- “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV).
- “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, ESV).
The importance of self-care
As humans, we have limitations. At the core of self-care is remembering this truth. We need sleep; we need food; we need exercise; we need mental health awareness. These are things that both the Bible and our experience support. See Exodus 20:8–10; Mark 6:31; Psalm 127:2.
Recognizing our limits is Biblical. Paul famously said, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV).
In fact, practicing self-care is practicing good stewardship of the gift of our bodies. Our bodies and our minds matter. And they require care and constant attention.
The limits of self-care
The problem is, no amount of self-care can heal a broken soul. No amount of self-care can eradicate sin. No amount of self-care is enough to fill the God-shaped hole in each of our hearts. We will always feel empty, alone, overwhelmed, lost, and desperate apart from the healing and saving power of Jesus Christ.
I can take all the trips to Target I want and get massages every week; I can take a girls’ weekend and go on a shopping spree; but none of that will heal what is broken and fill what is missing on the inside.
Self-care has limits. For the deepest rest—rest for your soul—you must turn to the one who says “take my yoke upon you, . . . and you will find rest for your souls.”
The calling to self-sacrifice
As a mom, self-sacrifice is part of the job description. From the moment I became pregnant for the first time until today—three kids and six years later—my body, my choices, my space, my home, my schedule, my desires, my dreams, my plans are not my own but have been replaced with those fitting motherhood.
Stewardship of our bodies and minds means recognizing their limits as well as their strengths and the calling that God has upon them. Stewardship also means recognizing the person who truly owns our bodies. Hint, it isn’t us. When we live in obedience to the calling God has on our lives, we are able to steward our strengths for His glory and for our good.
I’m a mom. If I put self-care in a position it doesn’t belong, I risk neglecting my children, my husband, my home, and more. Being a mom requires self-sacrifice. It takes daily dying to myself. It takes putting other people’s needs above my own. It takes putting others’ HAPPINESS above my own. It often requires pouring from an empty cup. And this is possible because, while I am not enough, Christ is. His cup is never empty.
However, if I neglect self-care entirely, I risk personal injury or burnout. I risk mental health breakdowns, and none of this will ultimately be good for my family. The motivation behind self-care is not what it does for me but what it is able to do for those I am called to love more than myself.
Even Jesus practiced self-care. Jesus rested beside the well; Jesus slept in the bottom of the boat; Jesus went to secluded places alone. If Jesus needed to do those things, how much more should I? But Jesus’ version of self-care was not self-indulgent but self-sustaining. It was to power Him forward, not to take Him away. It was to connect Him with the Father, not connect Him with His own self.
Balancing it all
Self-care in its proper place is good for the body and glorifying to God. But that road can be slippery, so awareness of my primary calling to lay down my life, take up my cross, and die to self must take precedent. I am not my own, but I am Christ’s. He made me a mother, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a worker. These roles are not distractions or necessary evils; but they are the point, and they are good.
Amy Dunham is a blogger, wife, mommy, runner, Bible study teacher, worship leader, and author of Soul Rest: A Journey with Jesus. This article was first posted on Amy’s blog and is reposted here by permission.