Self Care: The Discovery and The Myth

While reading, listen to Mention Of Your Name by Brian & Jenn Johnson.

I heard the revolutionary words "self-care" for the first time, three years ago.

I was having a conversation with a mentor of mine about the chaotic season of life I was in, and the stress that was overwhelming me. I told her I was reaching my end, and that I couldn't remember the last time I had a moment to myself. She made some suggestions, which I quickly deemed as unrealistic or unmanageable. She went back to listening, and I went back to whining. Finally, she interrupted and said, "Tori, what are you going to to do to take care of yourself this week? You need to do something."

I looked at her confused. She shook her head, 
"You know...self-care?"

I didn't know. Those words were self-explanatory and simple to understand, but I sensed they defined an entirely new concept. 

In the moments following, she proceeded to explain what "self-care" was and why it was important. She shared that everyone's self-care looks different, but that each person should be aware of the ways they need care, in order to operate at their fullest capacity. Simply put: Self-care is doing what you need to be at your best, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

This was different than "treating yo self" or taking a vacation. It was more than just "eating an apple a day to keep the doctor away". And it completely dispelled the idea of "faking it till you make it." Self-care is about taking an honest, personal inventory on where you are really at, and implementing the things that will keep you from hitting a place of empty into your everyday life. Self-care is about admitting your need, and not running yourself into the ground until the imminent break down. It is about knowing yourself and taking care of yourself. Man, did I need this. 

Later that night, I sat in bed, Moleskine journal open on my lap and pen in hand. One by one, I wrote down the things that bring me joy, energy, strength, and rest. I felt so relieved as I looked at all of the ways, big and small, I could implement self-care into my busy life. As I made space for those things, taking care of myself became a habit I did not compromise in. I noticed a complete change in my mood, a new ability to manage stressful situations and difficult people, and the joy that came with being proactive.

Fast-forward a few years, to last Thursday night.

I completed a full week of work, spent time doing ministry on a high school campus, finished a 6-week intense discipleship course, and was preparing to take our youth group to camp that weekend. I was exhausted. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. And despite my best efforts to mask it, I was obviously exhausted. I saw a close friend of mine in the grocery store, and she said bluntly, "Tori, you look like death." I'm not easily offended, and to be honest, we all need a friend who will tell us the unfiltered truth.

I brushed it off and mentioned something about being fine, and how I was taking care of myself. I told her about the bath I took on Tuesday night. The chapters of that fiction book I read on Wednesday morning. The walk I took around my neighborhood. The nap I squeezed in that day. I shared my self-care regimen with pride, aiming to prove that I really was okay. Don't worry, I implored, I knew what to do and I was trying to do it. 

Then she asked me a question that brought all of my best efforts to a screeching halt.

"But have you asked God to give you His rest?"

Cue crying in the frozen section. 

I was trying to hold it together. I hate not being together. But the Holy Spirit was crashing right through my tidy method to my messy soul. I shook my head, admitting where I was, and asked her to pray for me. She did. I felt so thankful.

Can I be honest? I read my Bible every day that week. I prayed every day that week. But I never, not once, showed up to those things looking for rest. I treated time with God as a duty, and treated everything else as the ritual I needed to feel full again. How had I forgotten what was available to me? Why didn't I invite God to inform my self-care, when only He knows what I really need? I turned a well-meaning concept into the means to live my life by my own strength.

This is the myth I believed: Taking care of myself will make me capable of handling life on my own. 

But here is the truth: Self-care matters, but it will never stack up against the rest and care only God can give. 

It didn't matter how many bottles of kombucha I drank, or episodes of Jane the Virgin I watched. No amount of Lush baths or introvert time could ever deliver to my inner being what I needed spiritually. What I needed was to relinquish control, and let God do what only he could do. The next morning, I spent almost two hours in his presence. I prayed, worshipped, repented, and listened. I received God's rest and my spirit was completely restored. His word really is true...

If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light.
— Matthew 11:28-30

Self-care is important, but it is incomplete without God's rest. Making space for things you enjoy is valuable, but only God can truly fulfill you. From now on, I am going to beat exhaustion to the punch, and seek the face of my loving Father. Time with him will be primary, for it is the very fuel I need to pour out into others. Are you feeling tired? Are the burdens of life overwhelming you? Have you tried everything under the sun to turn your week or day around? Learn this lesson now, there is not a moment to waste. Put first things first, and let God fulfill his promises to you. Spend time with him. Let him refresh you. Do not believe the myth I lived in, but grab ahold of the real rest that is yours for the taking.

We were created to need God. Our calling does not make us capable apart from him. Our strength is not the same as his strength. 

Admitting we need God is not weakness, living without him is. 

My hope is that for some of you, this would be the reminder you need, that God's rest is better than yours; and for others, that this would be the answer you have been looking for. Don't be afraid of getting tired. Do not feel ashamed for feeling empty. God is ready. He is waiting for you to lean into him. So take go ahead and take that bath (I will!), but also get in your Word. See that movie, but also make time to hear from him. Sip that kombucha, but don't ever forget who will really satisfy.

For in his presence, your whole self is cared for. 

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
— Psalm 62:1-2