For a very long time, whenever someone mentioned self-care, my mind immediately went to the image of sitting in a quaint coffee shop with a latte. Or perhaps just having a few moments of total quiet at my kitchen table—with coffee. Or maybe, again, total quiet, with a movie or pedicure or some other form of pampering. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized my notion of self-care was a very partial picture of the whole realm of what it means to take care of ourselves. The truth is, sometimes I would get a bit of time by myself and feel great while I was away, but then come home feeling every bit as irritable and ungrateful as before. It was certainly not a very nice reward for my husband who had sacrificed time to give me some quiet and space.
Maybe the naysayers are right, I would wonder, and self-care is just a thinly guised excuse for self-indulgence.
Recently a friend was stuck in an anxious, irritable mood. She mentioned that she got some alone time and was writing out all of her crap, and it was helping. I understood immediately how therapeutic this could be, but only because I have been spending time nearly every day for the last 2 months writing. But before those weeks, and shift in my habits, I would have never once thought to sit and write a free-flowing monologue of what was on my mind as a way of taking care of my self.
I had a face-palm moment and realized that my understanding of self-care was indeed stunted and in need of some re-evaluation. My notion of self-care was for the most part limited to things I might indulge in or consume. There was one exception. For the past few years, the only thing I knew of that really truly changed my mood and my mind for the better was exercise. If I had had the time, I would have spent 2 hours a day exercising, it just made me feel so different and alive and happy. So that was one thing I knew I was getting right. But still, I longed for a creative outlet, and only recently found it in writing. There may be other creative outlets that are important for me that I haven’t discovered yet, but my mind and heart are so much more balanced having figured out this one.
How and why had I thrown myself under the wagon, and assumed that self-care equals self-indulgence? Whenever I left the boys with Cody so I could have some alone time, or indulged in a movie night instead of writing a grocery list or cleaning our home, I would have a nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, that I wasn’t enough. If only I were stronger, more capable, smarter, prettier, a better friend, etc. then I wouldn’t need these indulgences to get me through the week.
A great thing has happened in the shifting of my thoughts away from self-care as an indulgence of activity (or inactivity) that might immediately gratify my desires and produce an instant happiness-effect. Somehow, almost imperceptibly, I started seeing self-care as a discipline of activity. I don’t read because it makes me happy to read. Quite frankly, sometimes I don’t want to read. I’d rather watch a movie or go to sleep or eat a piece of chocolate cake. I read because the act of reading feeds my mind and soul and has the after-effect of making me happier and more engaged with the world. After engaging in this discipline for a little while, I find that I look forward to reading for it’s own sake. Exercise is another great example. It is difficult to exercise, and often doesn’t sound like anything fun at all, and yet no one can argue with the amazing feeling of having done a workout. Again, once the habit is formed, exercise is something to which one looks forward.
And so, I think the power of self-care is found more in the having done than the doing. It’s the cumulative effect of having chosen rightly and spent time in activities that feed our whole selves and honor the gifts and abilities and unique spirit God has given each of us. Self-care should really be called self-equipping. It’s about strengthening and training the self to be able to go out and bless wildly, and get stuff done. Whether it be within your four walls with needy toddlers, or tutoring at a local school, or carpooling your teens and their friends from one activity to the next. Maybe it’s on the mission field in Africa, or trudging through a difficult teaching job. We can not forget to get our selves ready, to put our own oxygen masks on first.
I am grateful and humbled to the extreme to be able to bring to you The Self-Care Series in the coming weeks. Several amazing women have graciously shared with me their stories and journeys with self-care, and they all take this idea and practice to beautiful heights. You will likely note something funny as you hear from each one: we all contradict each other at points! Does this invalidate our thoughts and our ideas of self-care? I don’t think so. Self-care in it’s very nature has to be something very personal and unique to our priorities, interests, abilities, limitations and joys. I am certain you will be encouraged, as I have been, and come away with new insights into how you can better live each day with mindfulness, and care for your body and soul.
Photo of my vibrant little sister, c/o the insanely talented Charlotte, N.C. photographer Kelsie Johanna