Written by Woon Huey Nin, Malaysia
It’s been a long week. You’ve had never-ending deadlines, you’ve slept an average of five hours, and you still have Bible study tonight and church meetings over the weekend. You promised your partner an afternoon learning their latest hobby, and your family needs help with a grocery run. On top of that, your best friend is going through a tough time and could use a check-in.
You’re feeling tired, spent, and irritable. All you want is to curl up in a blanket with a cup of tea, read a book or watch some TV, then go to sleep.
But then, you recall Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3-5, calling us to emulate Jesus’s self-sacrificial love by looking to the interests of others and valuing them above ourselves. Feelings of guilt begin creeping in.
As someone who grew up believing that a good Christian should be channeling every ounce of energy into serving God and loving others, it took me years to embrace the idea of self-care. But if we look at the greatest commandment—to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul, it also says to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). We are to care for others in the same vein that we care for ourselves, which suggests that there is a natural and good way to love ourselves.
From the beginning, God has given us fruit-bearing trees that are pleasing to the eye and good for food (Genesis 2:9). He deemed rest as holy (Genesis 2:3) and gave us the gift of sleep (Psalm 127:2). Through these passages, we see that biblical self-care is not a license to let loose and self-indulge, or about looking inward to seek our own happiness, but about looking upward in faith—cherishing God’s loving care and learning to see ourselves the way God sees us (1 John 3:1).
How then can we practice biblical self-care? Here are some ideas.
Wrapping Ourselves in God’s Love
While scrolling through stuff online, I’ve come across promotions for things like a weighted (or calming) blanket, with assurances of “struggle-free snuggles”, “stress-less nights” and promises to ward off insomnia.
As wonderful as that sounds, we have someone way better and more dependable than the most popular, therapeutically-proven weighted blanket. We have an eternal God who has promised to never let go of us, no matter how terrified or helpless we may feel (Deuteronomy 31:6).
We may not tangibly feel His arms wrapping around us, but all of us would be able to remember how we’ve experienced God’s embrace through the first friend we’ve ever made, or the community we can’t live without. It could be from that prayer you desperately needed to hear, a kind gesture, a new song, or words of encouragement that kept you going during a trying time.
Whichever form it takes, God uses the people and gifts He’s placed around us to graciously channel His love, warmth, and peace to us, reminding us that we are precious in His sight and safe in His tender, all-knowing care (Matthew 10:29-31).
Sipping from Christ’s Cup of Grace
“Why do you like tea so much?” my friend asked.
The question took me by surprise, and as I thought about it, I realised that one reason I drink tea is to cope with the mounting pressure—from work, relationships, and other expectations. I am looking for a break from everything, a way to assure myself that “it’s okay to not feel okay”, and that “tomorrow will be better”.
Jesus offers a simple yet profound promise that captures these consolations and more: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30).Instead of doing more (or less) things to distract myself from stress, I can accept Jesus’s invitation to sit with Him and lay every burden at His feet—all my fears, disappointments, shortcomings, Jesus takes them all.
When I was struggling to come to terms with the illness of someone I love, the greatest comfort came from telling Jesus how helpless I felt. With each confession and cry for help, I was brought back to God’s throne of grace, to the Saviour who empathises with my weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16).
So, while I brew myself a cup of tea and enjoy the good gifts that God has given (James 1:17), I know that it is Jesus who gives me living water, that I may never thirst again (John 4:13-14).
Poring Over God’s Pages
When something bothers me, my reflex is to seek out “instant” solutions or a quick fix. Whether it’s online resources or books that expand my horizon, I am all about gleaning pockets of wisdom. Underlying this is the hope that with sufficient reading and reflection, I can outmanoeuvre any curveball life throws at me.
But given our fallen nature and finite minds, turning to human wisdom for the blueprint to our complex lives is far from foolproof.
A friend once asked me, “How can the Bible possibly guide us through our ongoing problems? It was written ages ago.” But God’s Word is living and active, discerning our thoughts and convicting our hearts until now (Hebrews 4:12). Even as our context and setting have changed, the stories and characters in the Bible illustrate our continuing struggle with sin and desperate need for a Saviour.
Without God’s instructions, I’ve learnt that I am bound to exercise poor judgment and falter in my steps. But when I humbly seek His wisdom (James 1:5), I have seen Him direct my path and save me from a wrong turn (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Penning Our Prayers
Many psychologists recommend journaling as an effective way of channeling disturbing thoughts and emotions onto paper. As we watch our tangled thoughts unravel on the page, we not only release pent-up emotion, we also learn to spot and correct unhealthy patterns in our feeling and thinking.
This leads me to ponder about prayer. There have been times where I’ve felt so overwhelmed by my thoughts that I barely knew where to begin. Sometimes it became too difficult to form the words. Other times, the hardness of my heart made me unwilling to utter them.
I came to realise that how I pray is shaped by the way I see God. When I pictured God as someone who grants wishes, I would pray only when I needed something and would get frustrated when my requests weren’t answered. But when I began seeing Him as my Heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9), prayer became the means to relating to this Father who knows me best, whom I can trust to untangle my unhelpful thoughts or emotions.
Our Father wants us to bring every troubling thought to Him, and to let His Spirit steer our minds towards what is good and true (Philippians 4:6-8).
As we pen our prayers, not only can we put down our worries and leave them to Him, we can also look back in gratitude for answered prayers, remembering that God hears and cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
Feasting on Fellowship
As an introvert, I found that fellowship often took more personal time and energy than I anticipated, even though it was always rewarding and mutually encouraging. There were times when I would spend nearly every waking hour talking or listening to someone, followed by a day or two of being cooped up in my cave, trying to rest and refuel.
Later I learnt that rather than approach it from a standpoint of “I must” or “I should”, fellowship becomes most meaningful when we want to be someone else’s friend. Examining my own heart for feelings of dread or resentment helped me recognise when I was spreading myself too thin and thus needed to spend time alone with God to refresh. True fellowship—koinonia in Greek, means communion, oneness with both God and others.
How we fellowship with other believers may look different from person to person. Since God created us with unique gifts and personalities, He can give us the wisdom to relate to people in mutually beneficial, life-giving ways.
Just as how a potluck party is successful when every guest contributes a hearty dish, our relationships are satisfying when each person gets to taste and savour the distinct flavours everyone brings to the table.
As we wrap ourselves in God’s love, sip from His cup of grace, pore through His pages, and pen our prayers, let us not forget to feast on fellowship and walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether we are in a spiritual oasis or crossing a dry, desert land, let’s draw near to God, and to each other. In Christ, we have everything we need to care for others as ourselves.