Self Care or Self Comfort?

I recently finished Sarah Bessey’s newest book, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things. If you’re familiar with Sarah, you’ll know a few years back she was involved in a car accident that left her with serious and chronic health issues. I’m a newbie to the world of chronic health issues myself, having recently learned I have hypermobility in many of my joints which has led to painful osteo-arthritis. 

I was hoping Sarah would write about being completely healed and then somehow I could also be completely healed because I read her book. (When you are in pain, sometimes you don’t think rationally.) She actually did receive an amazing miracle of healing during a visit to Rome to meet the Pope IN PERSON, no less. But, she also still suffers from chronic pain and requires a lot of therapy, medication, and is managing life with new limitations. 

Towards the end of the book, she has a chapter on self-care – the theme of our series. She does a brilliant job of delineating between self-care and self-comfort. 

“Self-comfort numbs us, weakens us, hides us: it can be soporific. But self-care awakens us, strengthens us, and emboldens us to rise.”

(Confession – I didn’t know what soporific meant so I googled it. It means “tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.” You’re welcome.)

To be honest, I’m pretty good at self-comforting. Netflix and nice cheese have gotten me through a lot of tough times, and I struggle to make good choices in the midst of emotional or physical pain. 

Sarah goes on to share how helpful it’s been to think of self-care through the lens of mothering; something she knows a lot about as a mother of four. 

“Perhaps self-care is simply joining with God to care for ourselves as a mother would care for us…A peer might indulge my avoidance or self-neglect or selfishness, encourage me to do what feels good instead of what creates good…But the sort of mother I envisioned would make sure we ate well, drank water, went for walks, took our medication, read good books, challenged ourselves intellectually and spiritually, cared about others, managed our money responsibly, all of that good stuff. A mother who truly loved us would establish boundaries and offer wise counsel and tenderness of rest.”

Having that paradigm in mind has been very helpful to me. If my child was in pain, or worried, I wouldn’t hand them the remote and a block of cheese. Well, OK – occasionally I would do that, but on the whole, when my child is hurting or scared, I think about their immediate needs AND their long-term development. I think about how to move them through the moment of pain, toward a place of peace and health. When I’m in pain or worried, I’ve been attempting to do the same, speaking to myself as a mother would. 

Thinking through how our biological fathers are different from “God the Father” is likely more familiar to us than thinking through how God might “mother” us differently than our biological mothers did – but the same sifting is important. God does describe his care and love for us with maternal language, which can feel just as foreign to us as “God the Father.” 

For example, my mom is a no-nonsense kind of lady. My brother and I learned early on not to trouble her unless there was a lot of bleeding or the potential for loss of life. As a result, we are both the “long-suffering” type and I can see how that hinders my capacity to imagine God as interested and compassionate. 

When I feel achy, my default voice says, “Other people have it worse. Don’t whine. Take some ibuprofen and press on.”  But the image of God gathering me under downy wings, as a mother hen might, tells me I can expect more from God. 

As mothers, for a time there is almost nothing we don’t know about our kids. That knowledge helps us be just the right person for them to come to because we really do know exactly how to comfort, help, encourage, and redirect our little ones. I can remember looking into my kiddos eyes when they were younger and thinking, “This kid needs a hug and a reminder about the one time they also accidently used their sibling’s toothbrush and no one died.” A bit of comfort, a dash of perspective, and all is set to rights. 

In the exact same way, we can rely on God’s intimate knowledge of us when we need some self-care. He does actually know exactly what special mixture of comfort, care, strengthening and encouraging we need if we’ll take the time to slow down and ask.

To continue on when life gets hard, we need so much more than fleeting moments of escapism. We need God’s wisdom to steer us toward choices that produce real relief and freedom. For me that’s looked more like taking a moment to stretch when I’m sore, choosing the comfort of God’s promises to those who are weary over an episode of mindless TV, getting serious about my physical therapy regime, and asking for help from others. 

What would it look like for you to care for yourself as you care for your own little ones? Can you imagine God gathering you up and tenderly speaking words of comfort and direction? What might those words be? What is God’s vision of caring for your beautiful self today?

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