Identifying the Gap
"I feel like I'm going to overextend myself here, but I need to get these things done. I need to be serving in this way." This weekend I sat down with my husband and started talking to him about these conflicting feeling that I was dealing with surrounding serving the way I feel called to serve and practicing self-care, and it is something I have been struggling with frequently.
It has been frustrating to see so many polarizing views regarding self-care in the Christian space. In some cases, the world of self-care becomes weaponized to promote toxic word of faith theology. Words that are seemingly encouraging are used to have people believe God cannot use them if they are not the "healthiest" and "happiest" versions of themselves. In other cases, the world of self-care becomes demonized - those with more fundamentalist or hyper-calvinist leaning views often lean into teachings that are self deprecating and critical of anyone choosing to place themselves or their needs first regardless of the person's health physically, mentally, and emotionally. To be a Christian existing between these two extreme lines of thinking...to be a mother existing between these two lines of thinking is often exhausting. There has to be some kind of middle ground here, right?
I am a firm believer in "AND" statements, and as I have done more sessions with my therapist, I have become more skilled in implementing them. An "AND" statement is one that we use in replacement of a phrase in which we would typically use "BUT" in order to acknowledge two coexisting truths. For example, rather than saying, "Motherhood is a difficult journey, BUT I am so grateful for my children," we change the phrase to "Motherhood is a difficult journey, AND I am so grateful for my children." While it might seem insignificant at first, changing that phrasing gives us the space to acknowledge the struggles we are experiencing while also acknowledging our blessings. When we use "BUT" it has a tendency to undermine our valid feelings and experiences in order to emphasize what we perceive to be a more socially acceptable opinion. Using "AND" statements view both perspectives as acceptable and valid. So in the case of self-care and Christianity, let's practice some "AND" statements...
[Truth 1] It is important to live a life of discipleship and service that is representative of Jesus, AND [Truth 2] it is important that I spend time nourishing my mind, body, and spirit.
[Truth 1] Jesus is my ultimate source of strength and fulfillment, especially when I need to serve in a fatigued state, AND [Truth 2] I can still pursue self-care through exercise, therapy, medication, sleep, or other methods.
TRUTH ONE: His Grace is Sufficient When We Are Running on Empty
There have been many times in this journey through medically complex motherhood in which I had no other choice but to care for my kids in a state of extreme mental, emotional, and physical fatigue. In those moments, I can say with absolute certainty that the Lord's strength is the only reason I felt sustained or remotely capable of moving forward. In those moments I can also say that even in those states of "running on empty," my work and ministry as a mother were glorifying to Him because of His work within me. In these moments I frequently think about Paul's "thorn" in his flesh, as well as two moments in Jesus's ministry in which He demonstrated the power of relying solely on God's strength and goodness in moments of fatigue and emotional turmoil.
In 2 Corinthians we see Paul discussing the "thorn in his flesh." We see that despite the fact that he pleaded with God repeatedly in a most vulnerable state, this thorn in his flesh, this significantly oppressing experience or ailment was not removed from Him. Instead, God's response was "My grace is sufficient," and "my power is perfected in weakness." Instead of the thorn being removed, Paul was encouraged to continue on in his ministry of serving brothers and sisters in Christ while resting in the truth that God's strength would sustain him through it all.
"...and He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me." 2 Corinthians 12:9, NASB
In Mark 4 we Jesus wakened from a deep (and likely much needed) sleep by his frightened disciples to calm a storm. Mark 5 we see Jesus heal a woman plagued by bleeding after a day in which His time and service had been demanded frequently and desperately by all sorts of people. And perhaps the most compelling demonstration of all, we see Jesus in Luke 22 praying so fervently and with such agony for God to "remove this cup" if it is His will that Jesus begins sweating blood. This condition is called hematidrosis, and is a medically condition in which blood vessels surrounding sweat glands rupture due to extreme physical or emotional stress. And still, by the strength of His Heavenly Father, Jesus rises after His prayer and goes to the disciples to prepare for His arrest and to serve humanity through the sacrifice of His life that we might be forgiven of our sins.
"And being in agony, He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground." Luke 22:44, NASB
"And yet Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” Mark 4:38-40, NASB
"And immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that power from Him had gone out, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. But the woman, fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be cured of your disease.”" Mark 5:30-34, NASB
TRUTH TWO: Taking the Time to Care for Our Minds and Bodies is Not a Malicious Act of Selfishness
As I have journeyed through a high risk pregnancy and being the mother of a medically complex child, I have learned to slowly implement periods of time for rest and tending to my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs...not because God can't use me in my states of fatigue, not because I'm interested in self glorification or avoiding care for those around me, but because I am a follower of Jesus, and y'all...
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus setting an example for acknowledging our own needs and tending to them. We see Jesus take time alone to grieve, we see Him make private prayer time a priority, we see Him setting boundaries for Himself when needed, and we see Him do all of these things consistently. We also learn through scripture that God CARES for our needs and pursuing ways to meet our needs is not selfish or sinful. In 1 Kings 19 as Elijah is in a severe state of depression, God doesn't tell him he should pray more or have more faith. He gives him a meal and tells him to take a nap. In 1 Timothy, Paul writes and encourages Timothy to take wine for his stomach issues. So while spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading of scripture, scriptural meditation, fellowship, fasting, etc. are essential components to our spiritual health and walk with Christ, God does not shy away from encouraging us to take care of our physical, mental, and emotional needs as well.
"He [King Herod] sent word and had John beheaded in the prison...Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard about this, they followed Him on foot from the cities." Matthew 14:10; 13, NASB
"And in the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and prayed there for a time." Mark 1:35, NASB
"After dismissing the crowd, they *took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him." Mark 4:36, NASB
"And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a little while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)" Mark 6:31, NASB
"Do not go on drinking only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." 1 Timothy 5:23, NASB
"But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked for himself to die, and said, “Enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Then he lay down and fell asleep under a broom tree; but behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat!” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a round loaf of bread baked on hot coals, and a pitcher of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. But the angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him, and said, “Arise, eat; because the journey is too long for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and he journeyed in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God." 1 Kings 19:4-8, NASB
Meeting in the Middle
Jesus wasn't shy about the fact that we would have many trials and likely experience much suffering on this side of Heaven. It is true that many times in life we experience the realities of "My grace is sufficient." It is also true that establishing routine, manageable ways for us to care for our bodies, hearts, and minds is an essential part of our walk with Christ and our roles in the various ministries we serve. There IS a middle ground to be found here. When we find it and begin resting in it, we become followers of Christ that are more gracious, more compassionate, and more understanding of other people and of ourselves.
Recommendations for Further Discussion/Reading
For more discussion on self-care in motherhood, check out Amber Wardell at https://amberwardell.com/. I also highly recommend the book The Voice of Jesus by Michael Leborn, specifically the chapter titled " To the Desperate."