Self-Care and the Gospel
The closest I’ve ever felt to being famous was one summer in between college semesters. I spent two months as missionary in the bush in Sudan. There were four of us who were there short-term and five adults who served there long-term. We were in a very remote area and we were the only white people around so we stood out like sore thumbs.
I recall one instance where I was trying to purchase something in the market and before the negotiation was over, I was surrounded by a crowd of Sudanese people who all wanted to see what the white guy was doing. Being an introvert, I like alone time, but it was hard to come by that summer unless I was hiding out in my hut. It was definitely the closest thing I’ve experienced to fame and society being “about me”.
We don’t have to have fame to make everything about us or to think the world revolves around us. In fact, this trend seems to be escalating. Words like self-love, self-care, and other “self descriptors” seem to be of utmost importance among those who—if they’re honest—”just can’t even”.
The problem I see is that this trend is even popular among Christians. However, this trend and what it advocates is the complete opposite of what Jesus commanded for His followers. Jesus said things like, “deny yourself” (Matthew 16:24) and “whoever wants to be first must be last” (Mark 10:44). This sounds very different than things like, “I’ve got to take care of me before I can help anyone else” and “Make decisions that make you happy and don’t worry about others”.
It’s surprising to see so many Christians who’ve bought into a “me first” mentality. Jesus is supposed to be our Master, Rabbi, leader, and example and He tells us “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life” (Mark 10:45). Maybe our fundamental problem is that we don’t see Jesus as the One we’re supposed to imitate—we see Him as fire insurance or an all expense paid trip to the kingdom of heaven.
Our Big Problem
Sadly, I think our biggest problem may be that we’re not reading our Bibles. We don’t even know what God commands. Maybe we’ve not even paid attention to how Jesus lived or what we He said. Maybe our churches have dropped the ball in only painting half the picture of the gospel. We all know what Jesus saves us from, but it would appear that we’re missing the fact that Jesus saves us to or for something.
We definitely see this when we hear the world talking about Jesus. They paint Him as a guy who was all about love. He served and never did anything that offended anyone. He’d never tell anyone how to live. I suppose this is why they ended up crucifying Him… But sadly, it seems this kind of thinking hasn’t just remained in the culture, but it’s infiltrated Christians in the church.
If we’ve truly bought into the idea of self-care then fundamentally we’ve bought into idolatry and the idol we’re worshipping is us. Practically, we’re following the Joel Osteenish concept of our “best life now”, but Jesus said, “If they hate me then they’ll hate you” (John 15:18-21). The god of self-care is comfort for ourselves and we’ll sacrifice anything to obtain it.
But what if this life isn’t supposed to be all that comfortable? What if we’re actually supposed to cut off our hands and pluck out our eyes if they cause us to sin (Mark 9:42-49)? What if our goal is actually supposed to be to look like a Jewish Rabbi who had no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58)? What if He was serious when He said that the world will hate us if we’re actually trying to obey Him? Where does that leave self-care?
The truth is that we can’t take care of ourselves well enough. Self-care, like every other god, will leave us wanting for more. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit when He left this Earth to give us self-care. We get self-care through hearing from God in His Word and talking to Him through prayer. Jesus gets away by Himself time and time again because He knew this was the type of self-care He needed.
After being taken care of by his Father, He would go and empty Himself for others. He told us the key to a full life when He said, “Whoever would save His life will lose it, but whoever would lose His life for My sake will find it” )Matthew 16:25). He emptied Himself to the point of death for an undeserving people never having the thought, “I just need to take care of me first” on His mind.
Self-care is contradictory to the way Jesus lived and taught. In reality, it won’t give us our best lives now. If we want to find life abundantly, we need to start reading our Bibles and following Jesus.