Self-care. Me time. Mindfulness.
Principles and practices, certainly in Western culture, that are elevated high above our fast-paced blur right now. And at its core, self-care is obviously good. Clearly the scriptures call us to look after ourselves, to carve out rest, to run our own race. Yet, like many of these principles they can become diluted and then largely hedonistic when the world takes them on. I would argue that self-care is currently wearing worldly (ill-fitting) pants.
So how do we negotiate this space? I think a semantic shift can be aligning for us as disciples.
In recent times I have shifted to thinking of self-care as soul-care. The state of my soul – that is, my being, my essence, the beautiful combination of my emotions and spirit – this is the landscape that requires care, attention and focus.
And yet this process is not cookie-cutter nor scientific. Our soul is at home in art, and art lives in expression, emotion, risk, colour and creativity. Art breathes in paradox and nuance. Art shimmies up beside vulnerability and makes friends with it. Art is messy and beautiful.
So caring for our soul means a willingness to roll up our beige sleeves and get down to a gritty but creative business.
1. Engagement, not escapism.
Shouted from the worldly rooftops is the claim that self-care requires a moving away, an escaping to an island, a café, a bathtub, a cave of Netflix, a vortex of social media. That, to truly regroup, we must escape.
The art of soul-care, however, modelled time and again with our Jesus and superbly encapsulated by David in Psalms 23, is a that our soul is best cared for, nurtured and restored when we are engaged with the Good Shepherd.
2. Slow, sacred Sabbath.
I have been on a glorious journey of redefining the Sabbath in my life. Father God models this to us in Genesis 1-2. After six days of strategic, deliberate, purposeful, masterful creation he takes a day off – surely he wasn’t tired, right? And yet he took a definable time to exhale, to delight in his creation, to not work.
What is especially profound about this is the Sabbath here is described as holy (Genesis 2:3) – the only aspect of creative activity that is. Carving out a weekly designated space is essential for the care of our soul – a day where we are slower; a day where we feast and play and dream and rest and delight. To Sabbath is a truly sacred, and in fact holy, practise.
3. Regular rhythms.
The life of discipleship was never a call to balance, but a call to rhythm. The Message version of Matthew 11:28 remains one of my soul-care favourites – here Jesus says “walk with me, work with me, learn how I do it; learn the unforced rhythms of grace”.
Grace has a rhythm; discipleship has a rhythm; soul-care has a rhythm. That is, it ebbs and flows; it has valleys and peaks; light and shade, fullness and quietness; grace and grit. Jesus lived in rhythms and modelled these to his disciples, and then calls us to the same story.
4. Energy tanks.
Our time is static, but our energy isn’t. We can create and replenish our energy tanks by being deliberate and experimental in terms of understanding what fills and depletes our four internal reservoirs – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. We may even find one activity that replenishes all four tanks simultaneously and this is like a targeted soul downpour from a heavenly rain cloud.
Like most of the human experience, soul care requires a good dose of art and dust and beauty, yet a great measure of strategy and form and structure.
Let’s continue to spend our days watching and learning from the master Jesus at work (and rest) guided by the soul-filling, soul-anchoring, soul-aligning Holy Spirit.