Posted by: Philip Rushton | June 9, 2015

Why Self-Care Isn’t (Necessarily) Selfish

“Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.”
– St. Seraphim of Sarov

I was talking with someone last week that has an intense job working with the homeless. I asked him how he was holding up with all the pressure and whether he had any space for his own self-care. In response to this question he said that in recent weeks he has had to be more selfish. He said that he felt guilty about it, but he has taken extra time off of work so he can enjoy his hobbies and his family.

I found it interesting that he used the word “selfish.” I get it. In light of all the needs of our world it can feel very selfish to take time for “me.” It is hard to justify spending a night watching T.V. or going to the gym when you could be using the time to help homeless people access the services they need. As Christians, we often carry around a lot of guilt about not doing enough.

To be sure, sometimes our contemporary conversations about well-being do lean towards narcissism and selfishness. Our discussion about “boundaries” and “loving ourselves,” can be used as excuses for avoiding the needs in our midst. An incessant focus the self can be unhealthy and unfaithful to the things God has called us to do. We can’t justify a philosophy that says, “its all about me,” in light of Jesus’ call to “deny yourself and take up your cross.”

However, I want to suggest that the social worker I referenced above was not being selfish. In fact, I would suggest that his self-care is vital for his ability to be effective in his work. We can’t care for people well if we have nothing to give. We can’t be compassionate if we are burned out.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. What we often overlook in this command is that it ties our love of neighbor to how we treat ourselves. Karen Armstrong puts it this way: “The Golden Rule requires self-knowledge; it asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others. If we treat ourselves harshly, this is the way we are likely to treat other people.”

If this is true, then it is important for us to attend to our spiritual and mental well-being. Our well-being is intricately tied to our ability to impact those around us. Dallas Willard once said to a group of pastors that the most important thing they need to attend to in the midst of ministry is the type of person they are becoming.

As we attend to the needs in our midst it is vital for us to recover a healthy balance of self-care and self-giving. Every once and a while I will take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. On the left side I will record the “outputs” in my life – the things I am doing to invest in other people. On the right hand side I will record the “inputs” – things that I am doing to care for myself. If the list is severely imbalanced one way or the other I reflect on how I might even things out.

How is the balance in your life?

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Responses

  1. Balance is a perpetual dance between there and not there

  2. Thank you, Phil.


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