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You cannot be happy, meet your responsibilities and have good relationships with other people, if you don’t take care of yourself. If that concept is obvious to you, and if self-care is second nature to you, feel free not to read further.  This article is for those of us who struggle with that idea.

I am one of those people. I have difficulty doing even the smallest things for myself.  For instance, a part of me feels guilty if I do something as simple as treat myself to a cup of tea at Starbucks.  But that is neither a healthy nor a spiritually proper approach to living.

Consider Jesus’ statement in the Gospel According to Mark:

“…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.”  Mark 12:31 [emphasis added]

When we read this verse, we typically focus on our obligation to our neighbor. However, most of us are quite good at loving our neighbors!  In fact, we tend to treat our “neighbors,” e.g. our families, friends and colleagues, better than we treat ourselves.

However, Jesus doesn’t tell us to treat our neighbors “better.” He specifically says to love our neighbors “as,” or in the same way, as ourselves.  There is wisdom in that approach.  So often, I see young mothers who are disheveled while their little children have on immaculate outfits and perfectly combed or braided hair.  Or I see mothers of teenagers who are schlepping their kids to countless sports practices, while they are overweight and exhausted.  Or I hear of people who care for their sick family members, and then work to the point where they themselves become physically ill.  Those situations aren’t just sad.  They aren’t in keeping with Jesus’ teaching.

The challenge is that it takes a great deal of confidence to say to the world, “I am going to take care of myself first, and I will meet everyone else’s needs second.”  Unfortunately, the world is not going to applaud you for that statement.  In fact, you may get both subtle and overt resistance.  Why?  Well, some people are lazy.  And they’ve learned that if they simply refuse to do things, or if they complain about having to do something, others will pick up the slack.  It is bizarre, but every family and every organization has people like that.  So if you engage in self-care, the lazy people are going to give you some resistance because they want you to keep doing all the work.

As a result, when you make self-care a priority, you have to accept that it may make you unpopular. But life is not a popularity contest with other human beings.  Life is about serving God.  And you cannot serve God fully if you are not physically and mentally at your best.

How should we take care of ourselves? Well, it is important to remember that we are not God.  We don’t have infinite power.  Instead, we are fleshly, fragile creatures.  So we need rest.  And we need healthy food.  We need to do things that we enjoy.  We need time to think, read and mentally recharge.  And we need time to pray.  Without doing these things, we simply cannot serve God and be a blessing to the world.

So this week, consider the ways that you can start taking care of yourself. Create new routines of self-care.  Realize that taking care of your body, mind and spirit is one way that you can say “Thank You” to God for the life that He has given you.

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