On Self Care

by Hilary Horn

By Jeannie Kendall

As I write this I have just watched the film “Impossible”, the moving (and true) story of a family caught up in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Don’t worry – no film spoilers. At one point of the film, a young boy is looking up at the stars. Someone sits beside him, and watches them too. She tells him that some of the stars that he sees have already burnt out, but they continue to shine. What is more, it is impossible to tell the difference.

Now I have no idea if that is scientifically accurate, but I found the concept both intriguing and mildly disturbing. So many in our society rocket through life, cramming more into the day than the 24 hours was ever intended to hold, afraid that stopping may somehow diminish us. Society colludes with this lie that busyness equals significance – even promoting advertisements heralding ways to keep going when we are ill with the latest cold or flu treatment. Sometimes our over-activity stems from hidden scars – we fear that the silence or stillness of inactivity may reveal turmoil we are seeking desperately to keep at bay.

Why do so many of us struggle to look after ourselves by taking rest, by sometimes saying no to the good to foster the best – our seeing ourselves as worthy of looking after just as much as those around us? People of faith can find it particularly difficult – sometimes silently articulating the underlying false theology that we need to earn God’s love. As a new Christian I was taught “Jesus-others-me” as the order of importance and the way to be a good disciple. Yet to serve God and others well we need to look after ourselves too. Jesus took rest (albeit sometimes interrupted!) and was unafraid to ask for help or companionship when he needed it.

The salutary  message of that portion of the film is simple. Self-care is not an optional extra, or the lack of it a badge of honour. Indeed, if we do not listen to our bodies, minds and emotions we risk, like the stars, finding ourselves burning just as brightly but that brilliance disguising a core which has lost the life and vitality we once possessed. Jesus, it seems to me, wants something very different from that….

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

 

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