Self-Care, Self-Indulgence, and What Really Fulfills Us

“For Father’s Day, I always go shopping and get myself a pedicure while my husband watches the kids. The best gift I can give him is self-care because it makes me a happier wife and mom!” wrote one mom on a Facebook thread that I once read. I struggled to believe that she was serious, but her follow-up comments proved that she was. This kind of “self-care” is easy to unmask for what it is: selfishness. Rather than sacrificing for her husband on Father’s Day to show her appreciation, she chose to indulge herself and justify it as self-care.

The idea of self-care in current mom culture is as trendy as cargo pants in the nineties. “Self-care is not just important but essential,” we are told. “We’re no good to anyone if we’re depleted.” And if by self-care we mean eating balanced meals, getting adequate sleep (however unrealistic in some phases of motherhood), exercising, taking time for ourselves, etc., then I completely agree with that. Moms are human beings with needs that must be met, and I see no place in Scripture where we are called to be malnourished, exhausted, and stressed-out martyrs for the sake of motherhood.

What concerns me, though, is that sometimes the idea of self-care is used as an excuse for self-indulgence. In this sense, self-care doesn’t mean acting like an adult who can take care of herself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but spending exorbitant amounts of time, money, and energy on pampering herself. Luxury spa treatments, shopping sprees, and expensive weekend getaways are all lauded as self-care, even if your budget or family’s needs have to suffer for it.

While striving to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy is God-honoring, seeking fulfillment in pleasure and self-indulgence are not.

This is not the way Jesus lived His life. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

This is not the message He preached to His disciples. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)

This is not the way of the cross. “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

Rather than preaching self-care, Jesus calls us to a life of self-sacrifice. And amazingly, this is the path to real self-fulfillment. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Perhaps for some of us today, our problem is not that we don’t care for ourselves enough, but that we care about ourselves too much. We are far too concerned with our own comfort, our own desires, our own needs, and not concerned enough with laying down our lives for Jesus in the form of serving others, starting with (although certainly not limited to!) the ones He’s placed under our own roofs. Maybe what we need is not to do more for ourselves, but to give more of ourselves in service to our King.

Am I saying that moms should never enjoy a shopping trip or manicure, or that a mom’s physical and emotional needs don’t matter? Absolutely not! Nor do we see that from Jesus’ example. Jesus ate, drank, celebrated with friends, and slept. He withdrew from crowds to be alone and to pray. He communed with His Father. But in all these things, we know He never sinned. What distinguishes Christ’s example of meeting personal needs from today’s “self-care?” Even in meeting His own needs, Christ never ceased to glorify His Father. The good things He enjoyed never took the place of His love for the Father or the humans He served. We ought to examine our own hearts and ask ourselves if we can say the same.

In God’s beautiful, upside-down Kingdom, we find that giving is receiving, dying is living, and serving is exalting. And only in living according to this Kingdom’s decrees do we find true self-care and fulfillment.

 

 

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