Fathom Mag
Article

Loving Self to Love Others

An exploration of self-care as a tool to serve

Published on:
June 4, 2018
Read time:
4 min.
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The smell of blood jarred me out of my thought that shaving my legs in the bath instead of the shower felt nice. Instead of the typical rush-job done in a nearly acrobatic act, sitting while shaving somehow felt like luxury—the new razor a mirror of my new city.

Blood flowed down the back of my calf—I couldn’t see it, but I could feel and smell the drops.
Nadine Schroeder

I had forgotten to shave for a while, so the task took longer, which gave me an opportunity for more stillness, more knowing God perhaps, and certainly more chances at nicking my skin.

Blood flowed down the back of my calf—I couldn’t see it, but I could feel and smell the drops.

Now a new question surfaced like the blood on my leg: why did I leave what I knew to move back to this town?

Shaving in the bath is refreshing, until I get a cut. In my experience self-care is necessary to keep me afloat but still somehow manages to slice me open.

Service and Exhaustion

I often hear, “Single people have the most time to serve the Lord. Don’t waste your singleness. Don’t waste your life.” I’m trying not to waste anything. I know that I have learned to love the Lord more each day, to delight in his precepts, and to therefore love my neighbor more and more. And to extend my definition of neighbor as often as I can.

As what might be a reaction to the teachings I have grown up hearing, I lead the music at a Sunday morning service for weeks on end. I find myself wondering what it is like to take communion the way everyone else does, since I take mine after the service with the band. Sometimes the chain of serving on Sundays gets so long I exhaust myself to the point of wanting to quit. This does not feel like the love of God for my neighbor. It seems like busyness. 

I know I’m not the only one. I have seen some people who seem to only ever serve others. I see them falling asleep at the literal wheel because they are so tired, snapping at others, offering grace only to those they consider worth serving. They would never dare get a pedicure because that would mean they were not caring for the least of these.

But when I hear yet another sermon listing off all the reasons we need to serve God, and why we need to prioritize him above all else, I end up guilt ridden. Does the call to serve others automatically mean exhaustion for me?

Self-indulgence and Laziness

Sometimes when I have time, before I wash my face at night, I reach for whatever face mask container is closest to me. I have three kinds, which feels like three too many to admit. The whole process feels special and like I am treating myself.

Yet I find myself wondering if the extras lead me away from worshiping God fully. Should I be allowed to take the twenty minutes to make my skin feel nice? If soap and water is enough for some, should I let myself need more?

When does watching a TV show step across the line from unwinding to over-watching, or when does working out go from helping my body to be healthy to caring only about a number on a scale?

I am uncertain about phrases like “be kind to yourself” because I have watched people over-indulge in the name of self-care. How do self-indulgences fit into a self-care rhythm? Can they?

I know “lazy” and I know “exhaustion,” but sabbath and rest feel like concepts for the smarter Christians in the room.

Self-care As Mothering

I know “lazy” and I know “exhaustion,” but sabbath and rest feel like concepts for the smarter Christians in the room. The first time I heard a friend describe self-care as mothering oneself, I did not track with her idea so I left it behind. A few years later, my oldest sister commented about self care like this:

Can you imagine if I told someone that I was feeding all of my kids, except one? That would be ridiculous. But what about if I, the mother, am not being cared for? Am I less valuable than they are?

As a single person, I can respect that it is very important for parents to make sure they care for themselves. Caring for themselves is important to ensure that they can care for their children.

I have no litter of children to ensure get their sleep at night, or a husband to encourage. I have only me, which is both my blessing and my curse. Should I forsake myself in order to serve others, or can I take care of myself—mother myself, perhaps—in order to be able to bless others? And can I let that mothering include more than just the simple necessities?

Perhaps the idea of mothering myself could help me to count the cost of service honestly, finding sacrifice often to be the right choice, but not every time. Maybe I can care for others and myself in such a way that I do not believe I am meant to lose myself over and over again, but to give out of plenty, or at least out of replenishment.

Christlike Care

What if good self-care is its own kind of self-discipline? It could be considered a type of spiritual discipline. One that Jesus seemed to have.

Jesus established a pattern of creating the space he needed to effectively love and serve those he’d come to save.

Jesus made sure he was available to the needs of others, but he also did not fulfill every need. Sometimes he left in the night when a group of people only wanted the magic miracle worker. He lingered with those on the outskirts of society—often women, divorcees, the disabled, and sketchy men—spending time with them and allowing them to get to know him. He ate meals with others.

But he also withdrew. Sometimes his disciples did not know where he was. Sometimes they thought he was crazy. He let kids hang around him. Jesus established a pattern of creating the space he needed to effectively love and serve those he’d come to save. Maybe that’s the call for me too.

Scripture tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. I want to equip this body and mind to be able to do that. I want to drink and eat to the glory of God. I want to run and sit-up to the glory of God. I want to laugh and weep to the glory of God. Why? Because I believe that is what Jesus did (maybe not the sit-ups).

If I help myself to sleep through the night, eat regular meals, and get some regular exercise, my body is better equipped to love my neighbor. If I use the facemask and leave an empty slot in my days for, well, nothing or maybe Netflix, my mind is better equipped to love my neighbor. When I get the call to help a friend, help will come from a place of outflow, not an empty tank.

Nadine Schroeder
Nadine Schroeder lives in Vancouver, Canada, and studied English Literature at Concordia University in Montréal. She is a noticer of the many small beauties in the everyday and enjoys learning how what Jesus said is applicable now. She has written for Off the Page, iBelieve, She Reads Truth, and Focus Famille. She occasionally blogs at nadinewouldsay.com and can be found on social media as @nadinewouldsay.

Cover image by Icons8 team.

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