Of the messages being trumpeted the loudest in our culture (and not just in the arena of motherhood), there are few more insistent than that of the alluring siren of self-care.
She’s a marketing genius. And she has saturated practically every form of media from advertising to radio. I can’t walk into a coffee shop, turn on the TV, open a magazine, stand in line at the grocery store, or scroll through more than three social media posts without being inundated with suggestions like these:
“You deserve a break.”
“Girl, you need… ”
“Treat yo’ self.”
“Whatever makes you happy.”
“Prioritize me time.”
“It’s never wrong if it makes you feel good.”
“Self-care is soul care.”
There are various problems (from a biblical perspective) with each of these statements. But that last one really trips me up. And not because I completely disagree with it either.
Self-care can be soul care. But it matters very much how we define self-care. And I can tell you right now that almost none of the ways that the above sources categorize self-care will line up with Scripture, which makes it a no-go for me and for any other Christian mama seeking to prioritize the voice of Jesus above even the loudest, most compelling mantras of our current culture.
Nobody Asked You to Be a Martyr
Before I dive into what Scripture teaches about self-care, I want to say something that I hope is obvious but can easily get lost in the shuffle: The opposite of self-care is self-neglect. And self-neglect is never a good thing. We’ve already talked about Jesus’s call to take up your cross daily and follow him. Clearly, Christlike self-denial is a thing. However, devotion to Christ is not the same thing as neglecting your basic needs or choosing to be a “martyr” to the detriment of yourself and your family. Not getting enough sleep when you have the option of getting it, not taking a shower when you need one, not reading a book that would be beneficial and enjoyable to you, not exercising when it would improve your mood and health, and you could fit it in—none of these is an example of holiness or godliness.
George Müller, one of the most self-sacrificial men that I have ever read about, understood this. Although he devoted most of his life to caring for the orphans of Bristol, England, ill health sometimes forced him to travel to better climates, far away from his beloved orphans, for extended periods of time. He understood that even though these trips “distracted” him from his primary calling, he would not be able to fulfill this calling at all if he didn’t care for his health enough to stay alive.
Self-denial for its own sake is never an antidote to the worldly view of self-care. In fact, intentional self-flagellation (physical or metaphorical) affects us negatively in body and soul. It’s just another version of asceticism. This heretical philosophy teaches that the harsher we are on our physical bodies and the more we deny ourselves even some of the simplest pleasures that God has created for us to enjoy, the closer we are to him.
If God intended for us to draw near to him by consistently denying ourselves the goodness with which he has endowed this world, then we certainly wouldn’t have verses like “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Jesus would never have transformed water into the tastiest wine at the wedding. Sex would be a clinical act of reproduction instead of a pleasurable and unifying act of intimacy inside marriage. A God who intended us to ignore our most basic needs and desires would never have dreamt up over 2,000 species of jelly-
fish to dazzle us or painted the sunset with the most delicate hues of peach against backdrops of vivid tangerine.
We serve a God who created giraffes with their spindly necks, puzzle-piece-patterned bodies, and ludicrously long tongues and called it good. We serve a God who granted newborn babies the most delicious-smelling heads and dreamed up the idea of juicy, sun-warmed strawberries. We serve a God who rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17) and thought that the world was incomplete without the contributions of musical geniuses like Handel, Mozart, and Beethoven.
We do not serve a curmudgeonly or stingy God but a lavish and loving God, one who delights to give us good gifts, starting with his very presence.
The above excerpt is from the new book M is for Mama by Abbie Halberstadt. Abbie, a mother of ten, encourages women to reject the cultural lies of mediocre motherhood and strive for biblical truth and excellence as a mom. You can read more about Abbie below or visit misformama.net for more details.
Abbie Halberstadt is a writer, fitness instructor, and mama of ten children, including two sets of identical twins. Abbie lives by the motto that “hard is not the same as bad” and encourages woman to dig deep to meet the challenges of everyday life through her blog and Instagram posts. She, her husband, Shaun, and their children live in the Piney Woods of East Texas.