Care for Others and Self-Care
In Paul's day, and in the places he traveled, a myriad of gods flooded the countryside. Many of these were gods and goddesses that encouraged practices of orgies, gluttony, greed, and many other practices that, even today, we find distasteful. Ultimately, these practices were designed to serve the self -- to say and do things to make people feel better about themselves. Sex, drunkenness, even torture of others -- all these were terrible distractions from the kind of living Jesus, through Paul, was trying to encourage.
Jesus was about others, not about self. Jesus knew that the road to a peaceful planet did not happen when people looked out only for themselves. A peace-filled a just planet comes when people look out for other people. When those who have resources share their resources. When those who have education use it to educate those who do not. When those who have health rely on their wellness to nurture the sick back to health, or the dying to a peaceful death. These are the things of the spirit that the things of the flesh distract us from.
Now, 2000 years later, we have similar struggles. We do our best to look out for others, while at the same time seeking pleasure in things that distract us from following God. Sometimes our own selves are torn between what's good for us and what's good for others. Often we choose ourselves at the detriment of others, and other times we choose others at the detriment of our selves. Neither is healthy. If we are only looking out for ourselves, we miss the fullness of what it is to live in God's community. But if we are only looking out for others, we neglect our own needs, and many of us find ourselves burned out, exhausted, isolated, addicted, or depressed.
We need a healthy blend of both. We need to look out for others because being in community and loving others is how we're wired. We also need to care for ourselves. We need to get enough sleep to give our brains and bodies time to rejuvenate and sort things inside our brains into the places those things need to be sorted. We need to eat to fuel our bodies so we have energy and stamina to do the things we are called to do. We need to take time to pray, meditate, practice mindfulness, and generally be still and quiet (for as long as we're able -- some of us are better at this than others!) so we can communicate with God -- speak and listen. We also need to spend time with people we love -- people whose presence feeds us as much as ours feed them. We need to take a few things off our calendars to free up time to play, rest, read, watch a movie, make s'mores at a bonfire, hike a new trail, explore the city, walk the dog, get a massage, and yes, even have sex with the person you love.
If you're waiting for someone to give you permission to engage in self-care, this is it. You have permission to engage in self-care. It isn't frivolous. It's necessary. It isn't wasteful. It's fruitful. Nobody can control your self-care except you. Go do it. It will serve you and it will serve others.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Romans 8:8
For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.