In my last article in September, we talked about self-care and Taylor Elyse Morrison’s definition, “listening within and responding in the most loving way possible”.
Picture a very busy, giving woman who lives with her husband and children. She is the kind of wife and mother who puts her family before herself. She makes sure her husband and children are well looked after, yet she forgets to take care of herself. She neglects the things she once held important, for example, her health, appearance, hobbies and friends. More often than not, this kind of mother is hailed as selfless and self-sacrificial.
So, what does this mean for a mother who prioritises herself just as much as her family? Does this mean she is not good enough for not fitting the typical “selfless mother” narrative?
Imagine this: the first mother’s children are all grown up, have left home and have busy careers and their own families to care for. Suddenly she has all this free time and space, yet she finds herself not in the best of health or shape, with no hobbies and very few friends. A surge of emptiness rushes right through her. Who is she outside the roles of wife and mother? She might even think to herself, “I’ve done so much for my children, yet they couldn’t wait to leave. How ungrateful! What is the point of trying so hard to be a good mother all these years? No one sees the effort I have put in or the huge sacrifices I have made just to make sure everyone is okay.”
Ignoring your needs and desires in the long term can have devastating effects! It can lead to chronic people pleasing, disappointment and even toxic unsaid expectations of others. It may ultimately cause you to shut others out and even develop deeply rooted mental health problems that require years of work to process and disentangle.
You may ask, “What are you saying then? Should we all just be selfish and only look after our own needs to avoid such a fate?”
Dr. Alison Cook’s book “The Best of You”, explains clearly the difference between selfishness, selflessness and selfhood.
“It’s all about me.”
“It’s all about you.”
“It’s all about you and me.”
As Christians, we know Jesus to be the epitome of love and kindness. So, let’s look at the example of our Lord Jesus. Was Jesus selfless? Did everything He did stem from a “it’s all about you” mentality?
Everything Jesus did was rooted in His unwavering understanding of who he was! He was fully aware of His purpose and mission as the Son of God. Jesus showed kindness, teaching, healing and feeding many. Yet the same Jesus overturned tables in anger and bravely stated His convictions: “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers” without worrying about whom He might offend (Matthew 21:12-13). The same Jesus refused to perform a miraculous sign from heaven to prove His authority (Matthew 16:1-4). He was not afraid to say “no”. The same Jesus sent the multitudes away so He could be alone to pray (Matthew 14:22-23). He knew He needed time with His father and the boundaries He needed to draw in order to meet His own needs at that time.
Jesus demonstrates perfect selfhood. Selfhood is having a strong sense of self. It is about being aware and confident in your identity and purpose. Without selfhood, people-pleasing, false guilt and fear of consequences become the driving forces behind our actions. In other words, you need to have a healthy relationship with yourself to have healthy, sustainable relationships with others.
Self-care is what you do to help develop and maintain selfhood. The practice of self-care looks different for everyone. It depends on your personality, interests, long- and short-term goals and priorities. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. Examples of what works for me are waking up a little earlier every day to have breakfast before work, sticking to a fixed time for lunch at work, honouring my goal to finish at least 12 books a year, and recently trying to fit exercise into my routine for my health.
In which parts of your life do you feel you could incorporate self-care? In what ways could you spend time listening within and responding in the most loving way possible?
Author Eleanor Brown wrote, “When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.“