culture

Questioning the Self-Care Movement

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Every day we encounter messages that prescribe to us a way to live. For example, radio commentators debate over the political issues and invite us to share in their anger or glee. Our Netflix binges seek to shape our views on justice, sexuality and true love. I’m intrigued by these messages, wondering where they come from and questioning their validity.

One of the messages that repeatedly pops on my Instagram feed is the Self-Care Movement — the need to take care of one’s self. And it’s not just there. I encounter it at the end of my yoga class when the instructor encourages me to be selfish with my joy. I hear it standing in line at the farmer’s market, when a man (clearly eavesdropping on my conversation) says to me, “It’s okay to be self-centered sometimes.” Bruh, for one, wasn’t nobody talking to you, and for two, what kind of world are we living in that we tell people it’s okay to be self-centered?

Though my eavesdropper’s comment is likely an extreme application of the Self-Care Movement, I wonder if this kind of thinking has subtly seeped into our being in such a way that has made it…

…too easy to not return the phone calls from needy friends who exhaust us.

…too easy to be inflexible with our restful plans.

…too easy to say, “Nah, I ain’t doing it!” as a way to protect our comfort, our joy or mental peace.

Now as an anxious, people-pleasing, extroverted-introvert who struggles with FOMO (the fear of missing out), I appreciate the Self-Care Movement. I have a bad habit of relationally and emotionally overextending myself. I need reminders to rest and set healthy boundaries with the world around me so I don’t completely burn out.

However, as of late, I have had to ask myself some questions:

How am I to view the Self-Care Movement in light of Jesus’ call to live sacrificially? Jesus says that if anyone wants to be His disciple that he or she must lose their life. Jesus calls us to self-denial. However, the Self-Care Movement calls us to self-preservation. Preserve your energy. Protect your joy. Get negative people out of your life. Positive vibes only.

But what if the negative person is my brother or sister in Christ? Do I boot them out my life? Some people within the Self-Care Movement encourage us to cut ties with negative people; you don’t need them to drag you down, they’d say. However, doesn’t Paul prescribe to us a life in which we bear with one another in love? Isn’t this what He calls a life that is worthy of the gospel? (Ephesians 4:1-3)

While the Sabbath centers around God as the source of “making it,” the Self-Care Movement centers around you being that source.

And, what about the Sabbath? How is the call to Sabbath rest different from the call to self-care? How are they alike? While they both call us to respect our limits and rest, their motives are different.

The Sabbath calls us to respect our limits and rest as a means to worship the One who exists without limits. It’s a recognition that our strength to live in this world with all its demands and pain comes from Him.

The Self-Care Movement, in its simplest form, calls us to respect our limits and rest as a means to replenish and protect our reservoir of comfort, happiness and mental peace. It’s a recognition that the world is not safe and that one must look out for oneself as a means for survival.

While the Sabbath centers around God as the source of “making it,” the Self-Care Movement centers around you being that source. This self-focus is why our restful plans become inflexible. If I’m the source of my own strength and I’ve got nothing to give, then I’ve got nothing to give. But, if God is the source and I’ve got nothing to give, then I can trust that God will empower me to have something to give. And herein lies the danger of the Self-Care Movement. You and your self-care disciplines can become your refuge and strength, instead of God.

As a black girl living in America, the Self-Care Movement resonates with me. It calls me to rest from the harshness of this often misogynist and racist world. It gives me permission to protect myself and hoard my comfort, joy and mental peace. Yet I hear Jesus calling me to trust Him to give me the strength to be present in difficult spaces and relationships. I hear Him calling me to sacrifice my comfort for the comfort others. I hear him calling me to remember that He is the source of all life (not me).

Therefore, because He is the source of life, you can and should rest! And because He is the source of all life, you can and should pick up the phone when you don’t want to be bothered, serve when it interrupts your restful plans and persevere with that brother or sister that gets on yo’ last nerves.

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Yana Conner

Yana is a proud St. Louis native residing in Durham, NC. She serves as a Consultant on BSCNC’s Collegiate Partnership Team by coming alongside churches to help them effectively reach college students. She's also a graduate student at Southeastern Seminary seeking to learn all that she can for the glory of God and the benefit of others. She enjoys laughing, quality time with friends, and meaningful conversations about the chief things of life. She blogs at everydayyanajenay.com.

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