Giving feels hard right now. We’re all maxed out. Stressed out. Worried out. Zoomed out. News-ed out. Social media-d out. Tired out. Worn out.
So the idea of giving anything else “out” seems unreasonable.
Yet in a twist of irony, the most gracious gift we can give out to the people we love is our own self care.
When was the last time you asked yourself, “what do I need today?”
A way to fail at self care
We tend to put ourselves last on the list. Here’s how it usually looks in my own life:
24/7: caring/doing for other people
0/7: being mindful of my own personal needs
One random day for no reason: completely melting down because I feel overextended and taken for granted as a wife, mom, and friend
I stuff my own feelings and am a sucker subscriber to the “suck it up buttercup” channel, which serves me crappy messages all day long like:
- You’re strong, and a strong person wouldn’t feel tired/overwhelmed/emotional about this
- There’s nobody else who can do this thing right
- You have to do this thing right now or the world will fall apart
- You can sleep when you’re dead (I LOATHE THIS STATEMENT)
- Self-care is for wimps and losers who have nothing else better to do with their time (what will all the people think if I sit down, rest, and read a book for pleasure?! Who has time to eat these bon bons all day?!)
These are all really distorted messages that feed my insecurities and boost my ego (I am irreplaceable and “so busy and important” that I don’t have time to stop).
When I don’t care for myself, when I run out of gas, my system starts fueling itself with whatever bottom-of-the-barrel reserves it can find, which is, 100% of the time, fear and insecurity.
I can travel a good distance on fear-based motivation. News flash: we all can, and we all do, much of the time. But when that lousy fuel runs out, we combust.
A better recipe for self care
Here’s a better structure for self care that works:
23/7: caring/doing for my people, with self-respect and good boundaries in place
1/7: paying attention to what I need, whether it’s a good walk, vitamin D, a sincere talk with a good friend, or a hot bath and a good book
Never and I mean not ever: exploding on the people I love most because I ran myself into the ground in the name of “selfless service to others”
The greater the demands on your energy, the higher priority self-care should take
This is a season where everyone needs so much. My children need so much. As spouses, we need each other so much. We need a safe and truthful sounding board. We need hope in all good things to come. We need assurances of health and safety for our communities. We need strong, confident, humble, resourceful leaders who can say, “I don’t have all the answers but we’re in this together.”
Our emotional reserves are just about tapped out by the news and politics surrounding every decision we make.
If we’re not careful, we set ourselves running on that last-resort reserve of fear-based fuel. But with a bit of intentional self care, we could be fueling our minds and hearts with something much more reliable and healthy instead: faith, hope, love, and the grounding truth of our own clearly articulated beliefs.
Real benefits of self care
When I pause to care for myself, the swirling cesspool of anxiety stops sucking me in. When I talk with a trustworthy friend about things that matter, my perspective comes back.
When I believe truths about myself like I am fearfully and wonderfully made… I have been given unique gifts to fulfill a unique purpose… I am the perfect, divinely-selected wife for my husband and mother for my children… I don’t have all the answers and that’s okay… I don’t have to be all things for all people… when I believe those truths about myself, I can make decisions with confidence and without fear. When I sort through my thoughts and emotions during an hour of yoga or a walk with the dog, I can answer other people’s questions without biting their faces off. When I leave my people to their own capable devices to singe my skin off in a hot bath and wander away in a book I’m enjoying, I can then respond to the needs of my family without feeling neglected or overwhelmed.
When I can dig out from under the weight of my own messy thoughts, I am better for everyone else, because I first took the time to get better for me.
Self care isn’t selfish
It’s the furthest thing from selfish, actually.
Taking even the simplest, smallest time for personal self care is the greatest gift you can give to your people because it allows you to bring your very best self to the table.
Your patient self.
Your kind self.
Your healthy self.
Your no-strings-attached self.
Your nurturing self.
Your generous self.
I wrote a little something on my social channels yesterday about weapons and swords. I woke up today still thinking about it, and ultimately, I don’t think we can get to this place until we intentionally engage in intentional self-care.
Put away your shields of anger… resentment… irritation… skepticism.
Lay down your swords of blame… bitterness… assumption… the score card.
Be brave enough to peek over the wall at the person you want to love. Or, with a little more courage, maybe you’ll choose to dismantle that wall brick by brick.
Love cannot be fully given or received when it’s weighted down by fear. The more fear we feel, the more weapons and shields we gather up. And so becomes a vicious cycle which is hard to break: the harder a person is to love, the more weapons and shields we hide behind, which makes it harder to love them...
This is the state of our nation. So many weapons. So many shields. Hearts so far apart we can't even see the faces of who they belong to anymore.
I can’t think of anything I want more than to love well and be loved well in return. Freely, just as I am, without ever feeling the need to brandish a weapon or hide for protection.
If you’re willing to lay down whatever sword and shield you’re carrying, I promise you’ll experience more of the kind of love we were all created for. The kind of love lavished on us by the One who created us, and the kind of love we’re called to lavish upon one another too.
Love well today, and always. Let it set you free.
Make time for self care (or it'll never happen)
Set aside the time for the self care you really need. Maybe it’s an hour to yourself. Maybe it’s finally making the phone call to apologize, or ask the hard question, or book the appointment, or say the hard thing.
Contrary to world view or popular belief, self-care isn’t selfish or frivolous. Arguably, investing in the most present, nourished, healthy version of yourself is the best gift you can give to the world. Because when we love ourselves well, we can love our people in the ways they crave to be loved too.
And other than the return of Jesus, there’s nothing the world needs more now than real, true, through-the-tough-stuff love.