I have long been a fan of the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. This beloved Christmas classic speaks to people in many different ways, emphasizing the power of relationships, redemption, and the importance of meaningful work in the service of others.
I recently joined a Facebook group focused on this film. It has been enjoyable learning about the details of the production, the life stories of the actors and actresses, and the memories of those who have viewed the film. But one post in particular caught my attention. This post linked to an essay from someone extremely critical of the film. The key basis for the criticism was that the film showed what, in the opinion of the essayist, has long been wrong in America, where someone works themselves so vigorously that they travel to the brink of despair. Essentially, the writer charges that the hero of this story should not be celebrated because he did not practice “self care.”
Have you noticed the term “self-care” being shared recently? Personally, I have seen this term used by educators, both parochial and secular, and professional church workers over the past year. No doubt we all have been impacted by societal changes and responses to the COVID pandemic. It has been a wearying time to be in education and ministry. So the idea of “self-care” seems to be a natural reaction to the pressures faced by many.
But what exactly is self-care? It seems to be important to ensure that we are refreshed and prepared for future ministry, but for some reason this particular term has troubled me. How do we truly care for ourselves amidst all the professional and personal challenges we each face? Is it simply a matter of taking a break and resting? How can self-care be something that truly refuels us instead of serving as a mere escape from our responsibilities?
I am sure it comes as no surprise that we can find answers to these questions in Scripture. In fact, I found that my restlessness with the term “self-care” is that it is usually not connected to what God has set before us in His Word. In Genesis 2:15, God establishes the blessing of work as Adam tends to the garden. Work is a godly pursuit. But God also sets apart a Sabbath day in the Old Testament, providing the example of His resting on the seventh day of creation but also establishing a specific day of rest AND worship after Moses leads the Israelites in their escape from Egypt.
When Jesus comes into the world he invites us to a new understanding of the Sabbath. In Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus notes that He is THE rest that we desperately crave. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus exclaims. It is through our relationship with Jesus, through prayer, worship, the partaking of the sacraments, and the study of Scripture that we ultimately receive our rest. Therefore, we cannot truly engage in “self-care” without embracing the invitation of Jesus to rest in Him.
Clearly the pattern for “self-care” has been set in Scripture, and cannot be fully found outside of God’s Word and the person of Jesus Christ. As you being a new calendar year, I invite you to embrace the “self-care” that can only be found through Jesus, so that you might be fully refreshed and renewed for His service.