Is Self-Care Wrong for Christian Moms?
Have you ever been to a baby shower where you’re asked to give the mom-to-be your best mothering advice? As a pastor’s wife this happens to me a few times a year and each time I wrack my brain for a good answer.
I don’t want it to be so sentimental that it’s not practical. Or so spiritual that it’s alienating. Or so funny that it’s not authentic. How can I come up with something winsome, godly, memorable, and hopeful, but also adequately grave and weighty, and jot that down on a 3x5 card for the mom-to-be?
It’s an impossible task. We’re talking about bringing up the next generation here.
And yet we do this at every shower because we love advice and pro-tips and life hacks. We all want to know how others are doing it. How they survived. How they thrived. How they’re getting by.
This game transpired at my oldest daughter’s baby shower several months ago. As my daughter opened each gift, the giver had to read her card out loud so everyone could benefit.
There was one card that garnered a collective, knowing groan from the entire room. “Um-hmm,” and “Yeah,” and “That’s true,” and “So good,” were whispered throughout.
Her advice? “When you lose your patience with your baby, because you will, put her in her crib, close the door, and walk away. Take a break for a minute, cool off, and come back. There will be times when you want to lose it. But never shake your baby.”
It was unanimous. We had all been there. Daily dying to oneself and caring for a baby who will, at times, be cranky and inconsolable is not easy. Throw in sleeplessness, perhaps a father who works long hours, and maybe colic and you have a recipe for instant anger and frustration. Those of us in the room who had been moms for more than a day locked eyes with one another and nodded knowingly.
There will be times. Put the baby safely in her crib. Cool off for a few minutes. Then come back.
One guest pressed in, “But how do you do it? I mean actually do it? How do you take care of yourself not just in the moment but for the long-term? How do you practice self-care when you’re a mom? I want to know the real, practical, actual steps.”
Another mom continued, “Is self-care even okay? Is it selfish? I feel like I could literally harm my kids at times. Is it wrong to want to get away and calm down in the moment? Or what about for a longer amount of time, like a day hike by myself, or even a weekend away?”
Is Self-Care Wrong for Christian Moms?
Scripture is clear: we are to be “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1). We know that Jesus says, "whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). Paul calls us to be like Jesus in emptying ourselves out, to “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The Christian way of life is unquestionably one of service. Is it wrong, then, for a Christian mom to care for herself? Is a little “me time” allowed? And if so, on what basis?
We Are Finite
You and I and every other human being are finite. We were made that way. Only our Creator God does not slumber or sleep (Psalm 121:4). Only God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient.
We know from daily experience that we grow tired and weary. In the evenings our eyelids grow heavy and our bodies give out. God gave us the rhythms of day and night, that we might rest for a significant portion of every 24-hour cycle. He gave us the Sabbath that we might rest more deeply once a week. He designed us to rest.
The psalmists point this out. One says, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Another says, God “grants sleep to those he loves” (Psalm 127:2). And of course Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The Lord made us to need rest and he himself is the giver of rest. He has what we need. Embedded in our design is an admission of finiteness, an awareness that we cannot do it all on our own. He made us to reach out to him, to seek him, to find him.
The world offers all kinds of solutions for our exhaustion. They range from harmless to potentially life-ending.
Just more coffee. More me time. Aerobics class. A keto diet. Weekly massages. A luxury car to keep the noise out. Or a couple glasses of wine every night. Perhaps some prescription drugs. Or even more prescription drugs, abused daily. My own community bears witness to the destruction of drug and alcohol addictions amongst stay at home moms.
When we come to the end of ourselves, when we are thirsty, we can grab a literal or proverbial drink from just about anywhere. And many of these “drinks” are not wrong, in and of themselves. Exercise and a healthy diet and even a luxury car are not sinful. Neither is a glass of wine. The question is what are we hoping to find at the bottom of the glass? What are we expecting these options to deliver? Where does our hope lie?
In the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah spoke on behalf of God, saying, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
The Israelites forsook the Lord their God and they dug their own cisterns. They turned away from their Maker, their Redeemer, the Lord who led them out of Egypt and made them his very own. Not only did they turn away from him, but they created their own cisterns. They pursued water to quench their thirst that did not come from the Lord. In their finiteness they did not rest in God. Rather, they created their own well, which proved broken, unable to deliver the satisfaction and rest they needed.
They spurned their faithful God and they pursued their own means for refreshment.
Self-care—meaning an awareness of our finiteness and a desire to get needed rest—is not wrong. You and I can’t actually live without it. We are humans who get thirsty. The question is: where will we seek it? Where will we drink? Will we draw from our own wells, the broken cisterns of this world, glasses that don’t actually hold water? Or will we turn to our Creator who is himself Living Water?
Jesus knows we are burdened and tired. That’s why he says, “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28). And he knows we are prone to seek refreshment in places that will not ultimately satisfy.
Of the broken cisterns, of the worldly solutions, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13).
But of himself Jesus says, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
Self-care, getting necessary rest and refreshment, is not wrong. In fact, it’s required. Not only that, but when we are refreshed by Christ, it is eternal. It’s a refreshment that lasts. Our ministry to others, our service to our families, the ways we love our neighbors, all require the fuel of Living Water. We need within ourselves a spring that wells up. With Jesus as not only our Savior, but also our life, our energy, the very power by which we operate, we can serve others in ways that are lasting and powerful.
It is in Christ alone that we find real self-care. When you and I draw on Living Water, a spring wells up within us, allowing us to pour ourselves out.
How Do We Drink Living Water?
Jesus says to you and to me and to every exhausted mom who needs a moment to catch her breath, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37-38).
We are like rivers who are prone to drying up. We need Living Water constantly flowing into us, welling up, and flowing out of us. Real rest and refreshment can only be found in the God who made us. But how do we actually become conduits of the power and satisfaction of Jesus?
First, we must confess that we are thirsty and we need him. Jesus says, “Abide in me and I in you…apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4,5). We must confess our hunger and thirst and need for the Lord and he will meet us and fill us. Not only does he save us, but he inhabits us and helps us all our days.
Then, we must keep turning to him, drinking Living Water, every day, even every hour. We do that by pursuing activities and thoughts that draw us back to him over and over. These activities remind us of his goodness and grace and power. They refresh us and refuel us as we are reminded of his excellencies.
Self-care, or ingesting Living Water, is best done by reading the Word of God, meeting with the people of God, and fellowshipping with the Spirit of God.
The Word of God
The psalmist calls on the Lord, “give me life according to your word” (Psalm 119:25). John 1:1 calls Jesus the Word. The author of Hebrews calls scripture “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Truly, there is life-giving power in simply reading or hearing or reciting or memorizing the Word of God.
Some practical ideas to get the Word of God in you:
Read the Bible each morning, or each nap-time, or at bedtime—daily intake is important and will deepen your joy. Depending on your season of life you can tackle a Bible-in-a-year reading plan, or just meditate on a paragraph or verse or two each day. Don’t get bogged down by how much, just get something in you. Listen to the Word with an audio Bible, or with scripture set to songs such as from the Seeds Family Worship or Scripture Lullabies. Put Bible verses on the mirror, the fridge, your coffee pot, the kids’ bedroom walls—surround yourself with reminders of the living truth.
The People of God
Self-care is also provided sweetly by gathering with the saints, meaning other Christians. The author of Hebrews says we must commit to getting together so that we can encourage one another to be loving and to do good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). We need each other to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Don’t pursue life as a lone-ranger Christian. I promise, that is a recipe for despair and a weak faith.
Some practical ideas for meeting with the people of God:
Make Sunday morning worship services and church membership a high priority. You can check your kids in to the nursery (it’s okay if they take some time to cry and adjust) or you can load up with snacks and treats and tricks to keep them happy in service with you. Do whatever it takes to get there. Join a women’s Bible study with childcare, hire a babysitter and go to a Bible study that doesn’t have childcare, join a small group, get a prayer partner, meet a Christian friend for coffee once a week and talk about how you sense God moving in your life. If you’re having trouble making fellowship happen, ask another woman in your church how she’s doing it and brainstorm with her.
The Spirit of God
John 14 reminds us the Holy Spirit is our helper, our comforter, our teacher. And, he lives in us (Romans 8:9). What a joy and source of confidence and strength—God lives inside of us, we who have surrounded to the Lord Jesus. But we are prone to ignoring him, living life in our own strength and power. Perhaps we feel bad about calling on him for such little nuisances. Or maybe we don’t really believe he can help. Or is it that we are afraid of his sanctifying power? I’m not sure what keeps you from abiding in the Holy Spirit, talking to him constantly, praising him, asking him for help—but his indwelling in us is an immeasurable gift! It is “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Some practical ideas for fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit:
Like the two areas above, how you go about this will be largely dependent on your stage of life and flexibility, but don’t neglect it! A primary way to spend time with the Spirit is in prayer. You can journal your prayers every morning or every night, or simply say them aloud before or after you read your Bible. You can pray in the shower, in the car, with your kids, with a prayer partner. Sometimes fellowshipping with the Spirit looks like just sitting still and being quiet. Maybe you need to plan a time and a place to simply be still: a monthly coffee date alone with your journal and your Bible and the Spirit, a hike, morning walks, evening walks after the kids are in bed, driving alone to the grocery store and leaving the radio off, stepping into the bathroom when your baby is in her highchair and begging the Spirit to walk with you in those moments. He is there—when you can, spend long stretches of intimate time with him, when you can’t, call on him and he will meet you in the moment by moment of each day.
Self-Care is Holy Work When We Are Refreshed by Living Water
Back to the baby shower advice. The guest who encouraged my daughter to take a break when she’s feeling overwhelmed by her baby, to put her in her crib and walk away for a moment of refreshment, was wise and right. We are not omnipotent. We need rest and renewal, especially when we’re exhausted and at the end of ourselves.
To the guest who asked if self-care is okay for the Christian mom, I say a resounding yes, as long as our self-care is rooted in abiding in the Lord. We were made to need him. We will languish without his refreshment.
And to the guest who said, but how do you do it, I say by drinking Living Water every time we’re thirsty, through the Word of God, the people of God, and the Spirit of God. And ho you manage to practice those three activities will evolve over time and ebb and flow with your changing family.
The world offers many broken cisterns. Let’s reject each one. Instead, may we never forsake our God and may we drink deeply of the water that only Jesus gives.