I grew up attending a conservative Christian school. Our skirts needed to be no more than 4 inches above the knee, and we had devotions every day and chapel once a week. I learned many of the foundational truths of my life in that school. But I may have misinterpreted some of the Biblical principals that were presented to me as a child, because my thinking remained too simple.
For example, I distinctly remember a picture that hung in the hallway. It looked something like this:
This represented a concept that somehow crept in and took hold of me – the idea that I ought to always put my own needs last, and that if I could consistently put myself last, or think of myself as less valuable than others, I could earn joy. This is misguided on several levels, and it sets an impossible standard and also an unhealthy one. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. The idea that we are to love ourselves is assumed.
As an adult who works in mental health education, I have frequently spoken about the importance of self-care. But deep down, I didn’t really believe it. I thought it was selfish. Or that it was hippy-dippy psycho-babble.
I must have read my son the Jesus Storybook Bible five times before I noticed the simple phrase “they were lovely because God loved them.” This is in the beginning of the book, referring to when God pronounces his creation “Good.” And as it turns out, we too, are lovely because God loves us. I am immeasurably valuable because I am a beloved child of God. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am a temple.
My worth does not depend on how attractive I am, how much money I make, how well my children behave, how people treat me, how clean my house is, how busy I am, or even how much I give of myself. I am complete in Christ. I do not need recognition or applause to be important. I do not need a conflict-free life to be at peace, or a sorrow-free life to have joy. My identity rests in God and therein lies my fulfillment. And if I am this beloved, complete being in God, shouldn’t I care for myself?
This is not to say we should always put ourselves first. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be humble or acknowledge that we are flawed, and work to improve ourselves. But gaining humility doesn’t mean losing love and respect for oneself, and acknowledging sin doesn’t mean living in constant guilt and self-loathing – in fact it allows us to live in joy knowing that we are valuable enough that God suffered to offer us grace for sin. If we are that valuable to God, shouldn’t we treat ourselves as such?
So I’m here to tell you that I’m going to eat, sleep and exercise. I’m going to rest sometimes. I’m going to maintain healthy boundaries, even when that means saying no, or saying goodbye. I’m going to choose an apple instead of bacon… maybe. On a good day. And I’m going to love you, and love myself too, because we are both flawed, but we are both God’s beloved creation. And even if you think that the idea of self-care is hippy dippy psycho babble, I’m here to tell that it’s also sound Biblical truth.