Flourish: How the Love of Christ Frees Us from Self-focus by Lydia Brownback was on my list of summer reads. Now that it’s the end of summer (HOW did that happen?), I thought I’d share some thoughts from one chapter in particular.
Self-care is a hot topic right now in mainstream media and in Christian circles. You can find a plethora of articles, posts and ideas about why taking care of yourself is important and how to make it happen. I’m actually a proponent of self-care. But, like anything taken out of its proper priority, self-care can be destructive.
My Self-Care Story
I was only 5 years into full-time ministry when my body began to feel the effects of constant busyness and stress. There was always more to do. Souls were hanging in the balance. Rest seemed unspiritual. I learned the hard way that rest, enjoyment and rhythms of life are sources of life and refreshment ordained by God.
Fast forward another 5 years and I found myself as a newly married woman struggling to bring together rhythms of life I enjoyed when single with another person’s interests, needs, and plans. It took time and much grace to figure out how best to include self-care in this new season of life.
A few years later after adding a baby to the mix, routines and available time changed yet again. In recent years it’s become apparent to me that self-care changes in the ebb and flow of life in both the way we approach it and the priority it is given.
While God admonishes rest and care for ourselves, it can never be our true source of life, abundance, joy, or refreshment. Our perspective and application of this idea determines whether self-care benefits our soul or ensnares it (even at times unknowingly).
Flourish: Set Free from Self-Indulgence
I so appreciated Lydia’s unpacking of this idea in chapter 4 of her book. Her main encouragement throughout the book is to turn our eyes from self to God. She dives deeply into Gospel truth and the freedom that comes from Christ living his life through us. In this chapter, she applies this specifically to self-care. Here are two main ideas that stood out to me:
#1 – Self-care is not soul-care. I remember coming to this realization a few years ago and was thrilled to see Lydia unpack this truth so practically. Time alone to shop, meet friends, have a coffee, hike in nature, or whatever, might fill an emotional, physical, or mental need, but it will never meet my deep spiritual longing. Only Jesus can do that. When I turn to self-care thinking it’s going to fill me, it can leave me dissatisfied and with an even deeper longing.
#2 – Self-care can lead to idolatry and self-indulgence. When doing a specific thing for myself becomes more important than serving my family and friends, there’s a problem. When I seek out hobbies, friends, or food instead of Jesus for comfort, hope, and rejuvenation, those things are taking a place they are never meant to have. When I follow or fight for my own will instead of asking God where he wants my time and attention, then self-care has become all about me – ie self-indulgence.
Oftentimes the motivation for self-care can get twisted along the way. What begins as obedience to God to rest and enjoy the life he has given can become demands or methods of escape. What begins as a means of fellowshipping with God becomes just another thing to do.
In this book, Lydia helps you discern true motivations and gives solid teaching on reorienting your heart away from self and towards God.
As usual, people have warped God’s design for self-care. God ordained rest, and even participated in it himself! Jesus enjoyed feasting and celebrating. God offers community and accountability through other believers. God abundantly blesses and richly gives us all things to enjoy. These things remain in their proper place when our eyes are fixed on him and are ears are listening to him.
When our eyes drift to self, and our ears are attuned to our own needs, the tendency is for the scale to tip one way or another. We can downplay the need for self-care and in effect work to do and accomplish what God never intended for us. Or we can become so absorbed in finding ways to meet our own needs that we overlook the needs in our own home, neighborhood, or church.
God designed us for relationship with him. He wants our attention, our love, our time, our hearts. When my focus is on drawing near to God, listening to him, loving him, then my soul is filled first and foremost because he is my priority. From there he shows me day by day or week by week how to spend my time.
He alerts me when I’m too busy and my soul needs time to catch up. He offers time to spend with friends in conversation and laughter. He leads me to enjoy blessings and hobbies and time with family.
He also leads me to give up something I want to serve another. He enables me to wake in the middle of the night and give up my sleep for the child who can’t sleep. He asks me to go out of my way to help someone else. He asks me to lay aside my own priorities to bless someone else.
I’m grateful to Lydia for helping me to sift through the many ideas I hear on self-care and have a biblical framework and foundation to understand it in its proper context.
The last few weeks have been abnormal for me. I haven’t had regular rhythms, sleep or activity. Yet through it all, his grace has given me all I have needed for life and godliness. I’m looking forward to settling back into my regular rhythms. But the rhythms themselves are not what sustain me. He does.
One night in particular last week was very short and I remember lying in bed reminding myself, “Sleep isn’t what will sustain me tomorrow. God is.” And he did – in beautiful and unexpected ways.
As it relates to self-care, I would highly encourage you to find ways to stop and breathe that will fill you and bring rest and refreshment to your body and your soul.
As you do this, hold your plans loosely knowing that God is that one who will sustain you either through these opportunities or though other avenues.
Keep your eyes and ears attuned to him. Ask him to show you what is best to do at any given time. Lay aside your plans, your agenda, your timetable, your self-focus and be open to what he leads you to do.
Follow him. Serve others as he leads. Say yes. Say no.
Allow Christ to live his life through you and find a life that flourishes because Jesus is the source.
I would also highly recommend this book. The other chapters offer similar help in identifying self-focus in the areas of self-consciousness, self-improvement, self-analysis, self-condemnation, and self-victimization. A 30-Day Study Guide is also included at the end of the book to help you further dig into these Biblical truths.
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