The concept behind putting your own oxygen mask on first makes sense. If you can’t breathe, how can you guide your children to breath?
But, as a Christian, it doesn’t answer this question, “Isn’t putting my own oxygen mask on first looking out for my own interests? What about the verses that say Jesus emptied himself and didn’t look out for His own interests and that we should be just like Him? How does that jive with self-care?
Or, “Isn’t self-care selfish?”
And here’s why.
Look at Philippians 2. This is the passage that makes most of us feel self-care is selfish. It’s the passage that left me conflicted, indecisive, and riddled with guilt when I would take a much needed respite. But, after careful study with this commentary I was able to pinpoint why that isn’t the way we should look at it at all.
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7)
Having nothing left.
That is how I understood that passage. That Jesus, ran around “running on empty”. Can you just see it? This picture of our savior living so selflessly that He had only fumes and the supernatural strength of His father to get Him through? That’s what I thought the standard was. That is what I thought the good life looked like.
But, Biblically, I had it all wrong! This emptying Himself had nothing to do with surviving on as little as possible. Instead, it had to do with His title, His Lordship, His privilege. Let’s face it, He deserved to come as the conquering King! The ruler of the galaxies! The great and mighty. But, instead, he showed up in a stinky stable.
We know this is what the passage is talking about because, emptying Himself is contrasted with His later return to the status of supreme ruler. Verse 11 says that one day, “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. His Lordship is what will be made clear to all.
This is where the commentary was extremely helpful.
“Christ entered our history not as kyrios (“Lord”), a name he acquires at his vindication (vv. 9-11), but as doulos (“slave”; see on 1:1), a person without advantages, rights or privileges, but in servanthood to all.”
So, what does this “servanthood to all” mean? Does it mean He never made a decision that would benefit himself? Does it mean He denied His own needs at the expense of others’ needs? Does it mean he let the ministry take over every aspect of His life?
His servanthood is directly contrasted with His Lordship. He is LORD. He could have forced us all to worship Him. He could have demanded we love and obey Him. He could have altered the laws of nature for his own personal advantage while being human. Making the grass under his feet continually green, his body always hydrated and his stomach never hungry. But, no.
“God didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what…He didn’t claim special privileges” (MSG section from Philippians 2:5-8)
He submitted Himself to the very laws of nature He created. He became obedient to His humanness, to the normal regular life of a normal regular person living dependently on God-His-father’s Lordship even though He knew it would include His death. (Philippians 2:8) An innocent death He did not deserve to die.
But you know what, He made that decision to benefit us and to benefit Himself. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that He did it because He knew there would be joy on the other end. “For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross.”
And while He was human He continued to make decisions that benefited Himself, that took care of His own human needs.
He ate. (Luke 2:15 NIV)
He spent time with friends. (John 11 NIV)
This is something I’ve marveled at for years. Jesus was only in human nature for approximately 33 years. 33 years! That’s it! And what was the majority of that time spent doing?
We don’t know.
That’s it. We don’t know.
He spent the majority of His time just being human. Having a human family. Living in a human community. Being known by his neighbors as Mary’s kid. Look at the way His family reacted when He began demonstrating He was God. Crowds started following Him around and His family went to bring Him home because He was getting out of hand. (Mark 3:20-21, 31) Getting out of hand? Really? GOD performing miracles was out of hand? But, see, until then He’d been living a typical human life full of typical human needs and daily norms.
He was God. Since childhood He knew He was God and what He would eventually do here on earth (Luke 2:41-52). Even so, He didn’t set about fixing every single problem around Him. He could have. I would have. But, He didn’t. He did what He was called to do, and at that time, it was just to grow up. To love His family. To be part of His community and to let God the father continue doing what He was doing in the lives of everyone else. He put on his own responsibilities and let other’s carry theirs.
Once He did start teaching and healing we see these vary poignant passages where His human needs shine though. Passages in which He stops to take care of Himself.
“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he [Jesus] said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31 NIV) Here we see Jesus intending to get away from the crowds to eat and rest and encouraging the disciples to do so with Him. However, they didn’t actually make it. The crowds followed them. Jesus had compassion on them, taught them, fed them, and then finally ensured that both He and his disciples were able to rest. He sent his disciples off in a boat while
He dispersed the crowds personally. When they were gone, he climbed a mountain to get some alone time to pray. “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (Mark 6:45-46 NIV) You can read it in its entirety here. (Mark 6:30-46)
Now, go back and look at what Philippians 2:4 says. It doesn’t tell us to deny our own needs, but to look out for others needs as well as our own. “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (NASB)
Jesus’ life isn’t the only example of self-care in the Bible. In fact, it is assumed that we will look at ourselves with the same cherished delight with which God looks at us. Did you know that God not only loves us but delights in us? Just look at how intimately He treats us. He formed us. Meaning, He carefully sculpted us like a potter sculpting his artwork from clay. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13 NASB) And then, just two verses later, He says that He thinks tender, precious thoughts toward us. “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:17 NASB) He wants to be near to us. In fact, He bends down low to listen to us. “Because he bends down and listens, I will pray as long as I breathe!” (Psalm 116:2 TLB) He is like a father who loves to give good gifts to his children! (Matthew 7:11 NIV, Ecclesiastes 9:7-9) And then, He expects that we will treat ourselves in this way as well.
“After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church– for we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:29-30 NIV).
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39 NIV)
And then, there’s this incredible passage from Ecclesiastes (my favorite book of the Bible).
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one! (9:7-9 MSG)
If that passage doesn’t convince you that self-care isn’t selfish, look at the Proverbs 31 woman. She’s amazing!
- A business woman
- Efficient with her time
- Loves her family and her community
- Benefits the lives of those in need
- And dresses in purple.
Purple was expensive! It was something very few wore. The very rich and royalty. Not only does she decide to dress herself that way, she puts her kids in it too! (Proverbs 31:21-22) Can you imagine! I can’t. But, she’s enjoying the good gifts God has given her and she’s encouraging her family to do so as well. That’s part of self-care.
So maybe fancy clothes aren’t your thing. What about taking care of your body? What about not getting burnt out because you’re over-extending yourself to meet the real needs of everyone but yourself? First Timothy tells us that there is benefit in taking care of our body. It’s not the same benefits you get from working on your relationship with God, but its still profitable.
I Tim 4:8 (MSG) “Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”
And Moses’ father-in-law tells him not to wear himself out meeting the needs of the people because – simply put – he can’t do it all.
“The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17 NASB)
The result? Moses learned how to delegate and prevented himself from burning out. I haven’t even touched on the fact that God commanded the Israelites to rest in Exodus 31:15 and that in I Kings 19:5-8 God makes Elijah take care of his physical needs before meeting his spiritual ones.
So, what about YOU?
If self-care isn’t selfish – if, God expects you to cherish the person He made you to be, to care for you body (Eph 5:29-30), to rest (Exodus 31:15), and not to burn yourself out (Exodus 18:17) then what does that look like in your day-to-day? How are you taking care of you? This can be a tough question to answer on your own if
you’re just beginning to test the waters of self-care. But, having someone you trust come along side you and break it down into tiny daily bites can turn the fog into something solid. For me, that person is Crystal Paine. She’s put her experience into the simple and powerful course “15 Days to a Healthier You”. I’ve been absorbing it in little doses and seeing the impact it’s made in my life. I know it can do that for you as well. Check it out here, it’s only $15 (yep! Just fifteen!). You are always pouring into others, today, it’s your turn to be supported.