For our winter training with our student leaders, I did a workshop on self-care and boundaries. I started with a theological basis for these practices, as some Christians seem to think that the holiest way of living is to ignore your own needs until you are so unhealthy you can’t ignore them any longer. I actually think Jesus modeled a sustainable way of living that involved both self-care and boundaries, and as we are called to embrace His way, we should be considering these practices for ourselves as well.
Essentially the theology behind it is this: keeping the Sabbath, or setting aside time for rest and communing with the Lord, is one of the Ten Commandments. You know, on the list with “do not murder” and “do not steal,” He also told us to set aside a day of the week to rest. But we think of “keeping the Sabbath” as a suggestion rather than a commandment. We do not take it seriously. Second is that all too familiar Christian catchphrase, “your body is a temple.” What I told my students and what I will tell you is that this is much more than “don’t have sex or get tattoos” like our youth pastors may have told us (I don’t think Jesus would tell us either of those things, when done in the right context). 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” This involves much more than avoiding cigarettes, it shows us that God holistically cares about us, not just our hearts or minds but our health and our bodies as well.
And for those who maybe view self-care or boundaries as self-serving or selfish, here is what you need to know: it is actually not about you. Having these as regular practices in your life actually best serves the other people who know and interact with you. How you choose to live your life influences a lot of people; as Dr. Henry Cloud explains, you leave a wake—either of destruction or of life. Everyone who comes into contact with you will either be blessed by their experience or left wishing they hadn’t. How we practice boundaries and self-care influences this.
We often take a victim mentality when it comes to putting these practices into place. We don’t believe we actually have control over the size or makeup of our lives. We live as if we have no agency and are slaves to the speed and volume of the world. Shauna Niequist in her book Present Over Perfect shares the story of pastors who do not understand how their church keeps growing and are agonizing about how they’ll keep up with it. They are met with the astute observation, “You keep putting up chairs.” If you keep expanding your boundaries, opening all the doors to anyone who is around, you are choosing to expand your life. I recently (on my husband’s recommendation) read the book Fortitude by Rep. Dan Crenshaw. While this book is about mental toughness from a Navy Seal’s perspective, he made a point about our generation and culture today that applies even here. Essentially he asks, “What story are you telling? The one about what happened to you, or the one about what you are responsible for?” This feels applicable here because we often say things like, “My professor gave me so much homework” or “so and so takes advantage of my time” instead of admitting that maybe we are not managing our time well and spending all our time on social media, or that we have not set appropriate boundaries with that person. How we spend our time and attention says a lot about who we want to be, and whether or not we take responsibility for it determines what our lives will end up looking like.
Have you ever considered the fact that we use the phrase “pay attention?” How you are living and what you spend your energy on is actually a form of currency, we are exchanging one thing for another. Saying yes to one thing costs you something. You are most definitely saying no to other things—so we need to make sure we are saying yes to the right things.
In my preparation, I found a quote that said this: “Self care is any action or behavior that helps a person avoid health problems.” Doesn’t sound so selfish now, does it? Put another way, Shauna Niequist says, “You don’t have to damage your body and your soul and the people you love most in order to get done what you think you have to get done.” And self-care is different from self-indulgences, which are typically quick fixes that feel good only temporarily.
I also would encourage you to consider it as self-kindness. Even the way you choose to speak to yourself is indicative of your health and ability to care for yourself. Choose to speak to yourself the way you would speak to the ones you most dearly love. If you are someone constantly saying things like, “I’m such an idiot!” maybe sit with this and make it a goal to speak more kindly to yourself. It is the difference between identity and action. You can do something idiotic, but it doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. Your actions or mistakes are not who you are as a person.
And you may say, “That sounds great, Kallie. But look at life right now. Our world is a mess, it is moving at a mile a minute, there are a million stressors and causes to care about and so much work to be done.” And to that I’d say, yes. This is the invitation, what will you do with it? In the midst of the world we are living in, what does it look like to live as a healthy, functioning, rooted human? I’d argue it looks like deleting social media altogether (best decision I have made in recent years apart from marrying my husband) and learn that saying “no” is a complete sentence. But seriously, mostly we need to look to the way of Jesus and follow how He lived and worked and related in His time on this earth. He dealt with needy people, unruly followers, political leaders, arrogant and hypocritical religious men, and complicated family. He was not unfamiliar with controversy or “cancel culture” or people watching closely for him to take a misstep. We can learn sustainable rhythms by looking at how He lived His life (pick up any book on spiritual disciplines and this is what you will find).
Some practical suggestions when it comes to self-care: putting your phone on do not disturb, whenever and for however long you want to. Choose to “unplug.” Exercise. Cook an amazing meal. Start a new project just for the sake of doing it, not because you have a deadline or owe someone something (for me this has been things like sewing, puzzles, or playing piano). Engage creatively, DANCE. Take time alone, or connect with friends—whatever you specifically need. No matter what it is, do not choose numbing or detaching activities.
Ultimately, the reminder is this: “What you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.” (John Mark Comer, Ruthless Elimination of Hurry) Taking care of ourselves is the kindest, most selfless thing we can do. It is the small choices, the moments, that ultimately add up to determine the course of our lives and the contents of our hearts.