Do you know how to care for yourself in the hard places? I used to think “self-care” was a dirty word, evil, self-focused; until I realized that I couldn’t adequately care for anyone else if I didn’t care for myself. I didn’t even know what self-care was until I suffered compassion fatigue. At the time, I had poured out myself caring for my then 15 year old daughter. She had been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease requiring infusion therapy. This particular disease presented in a form of rheumatoid arthritis. Her wrists were so badly affected that I had to help her dress, wash her hair and eat.
Thankfully I was homeschooling at the time, which allowed her to stay current with her studies. She also had high fevers which came every night along with burning rashes. We were frequently up during the night, resulting in sleep deprivation. Stress of keeping up with normal household demands, along with her elevated needs and lack of sleep did not contribute to good mental, emotional or physical health for me!
” Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”Eleanor Brownn (with two “Ns”)
My view of self-care had been the popularized ideas of spa days, facials, massages, shopping, or fancy indulgences; all summing up the idea of needing extra “me time”. The idea of pampering myself while the needs of others were put on hold did not resonate with me.
Gradually I learned a new perspective on self-care. A basic working definition is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, particularly during periods of stress.” I would add that taking an active role in your own well-being and happiness is not “selfish” or “self-focused”. It shows wisdom, respect and gratitude for the gift of your own life and existence lovingly granted by your Creator God.
He has breathed the sacred breath of life into each one of us; choosing the exact “birth” day to write our name upon, gifting us to family, friends and others. To foster self neglect is to show not only a lack of respect for ourselves and others, but extreme ungratefulness to God. Once I grasped the full understanding of self-care, especially from God’s point of view, it helped me move toward wholeness, well being and healing in my own life.
Be Kind to Yourself
One thing to keep in mind is, just as life’s “stressors” look different for everyone, so does self-care. Some of us may be dealing with situations like I mentioned above with my daughter. Some may be young moms, or even first time moms trying to navigate each day with small children or a new baby at home. Others may have stress from working outside the home. Others may be dealing with the death of a loved one, caring for aging parents, job loss, or chronic illness. There are many and varied hard places that we pass through. Similarly, there are many and varied ways we can practice good self-care.
There are no “right” or ‘wrong” ways; the only wrong way is to neglect to care for yourself especially during time spent in the hard places. That said, first and foremost I would counsel you to always be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace, acknowledge that you are in a hard season of life right now. No matter how long it’s been or how long it may continue. Accept the limitations you are experiencing. Low energy levels, lack of joy, or overwhelm. Sometimes we experience impatience, sadness, even anger and frustration. Realize that these things don’t define you. They are simply signs that you are passing through a hard place and need some TLC. Bless yourself with a time of refreshing and restoration. Allow yourself to be nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually. This will recharge your resources, giving you all you need to then care for others.
Cast Your Burden on the Lord
Let me encourage you that you are never alone; I know the hard places can feel very lonely at times. While many of us have a good support system of friends and family, some do not. I can speak to the fact that sometimes even with a good support system, we do not desire to engage with anyone. Not engaging during hard times is OK. But know this, as a child of God, there is someone who is always with you as you walk this journey, who promised never to leave you. (Hebrews 13:5)
Just as God promises to be with you always, He also promises that if we will “cast our burden” on Him, He will bear it for us. (Psalm 55:22, I Peter 5:7). This doesn’t mean we come to Him with the expectation that if we give Him our illness, he will heal it. It means that He will strengthen us in the midst of the trial. He will give peace and provide within the trial. Most precious of all, He will reveal more of Himself within the trial. Casting our burdens on Him allows us to grow in our faith. Learning to trust Him, knowing he is good in all things.
Find What Works for You
While this may sound simplistic and general, I can’t emphasize enough to listen to your body; it will tell you what you need most. Sometimes what we need most is more sleep. Other times it could be better nutrition, even an overdue hair appointment. Sometimes a medical or dental visit that we have been neglecting. Often quiet time reading a book can feel like a major indulgence! I know I benefit greatly from getting outside, and my mindfulness practice. Gardening or walking can be wonderful ways to decompress and “breathe”. Just a 15 minute walk can boost serotonin levels, lifting our mood and outlook. Taking a long hot bath, listening to your favorite music, or having lunch with a dear friend; the possibilities are endless. Let your body tell you what it needs most.
“Come to me all ho labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
The best thing I can do to care for myself in the hard places, is to take the time to commune with God. Nothing refreshes me, fills me or restores me like that time does. This builds intimacy with Christ, strengthens my faith, and restores my joy. This also helps me to see things from the proper perspective. In the hard places I learned that my self-care was transformed into God’s perfect and good care for me. In those hard places His joy and peace transformed them to reveal His glory in me.