Spiritual Care Versus Self Care

I am an ardent advocate for self-care. There is no debating that if you do not get enough sleep, healthy food, exercise and quiet, you are not living your best life now. You are not able to live into all that God calls you to be. Of course, we all go through times when all of those things are simply not possible (sick kids, work deadlines, family crises), but making rest, nutrition, exercise and quiet/meditation/prayer a priority should be an ongoing goal.

This is especially true for Christians, as care of self is crucial for all who want to experience a Christ-centered, service-filled, community-lived life without ending up exhausted, empty and angry.  The ability to say “no” is critical, as is the ability to know one’s limits.

But more and more, I’m witnessing how “self-care” is taking the place of spiritual care and Sabbath in our world.

Self-care is not the same as Sabbath. God calls us to Sabbath…not care of the self. Self-care is rooted in the idea that we should engage in activity (or non-activity) that brings us a sense of inner peace.  Sabbath is something more.  It is time spent with God. It is kairos, rather than chronos time (or holy rather than worldly time).  It is God-centered, not self-centered.

Is your time for self taking over your time with God? Does self-care come before Sabbath? And if so, why isn’t time with God the most important self-care you can engage in?  Come to me, all you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28


Does your self-care time merely distract you from your problems or actually equip you to better deal with them? I am an audio book addict and am totally guilty of putting on my headphones and listening to a story about a snarky, sassy female bounty hunter in order to not think about things I’d rather not think about. It is great distraction, but in the end, it simply delays dealing with whatever problem I’m avoiding.  Does what you refer to as self-care strengthen you for what lies ahead or simply put off having to face it?

Is your self-care ever an excuse to ignore the call to discipleship? This is a hard one. We all have only so much physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy to give, and there are times when we need to step back, take a break and recharge. But prayerfully and honestly consider if you are using self-care to renew yourself so that you can continue to answer the call to serve and participate in community,  or if you are using it to avoid things you just really don’t want to do?

Sabbath is not merely a time of distraction from our problems or an opportunity to refill our emotional reserve tanks.   Sabbath is part of a regular rhythm of life that calls us to take time away from our busyness, away from the things the world tells us are important and to spend time experiencing God.  Sabbath is not an escape from anything but an escape to something.

I am a believer in the healing effects of a massage, a nap or even a lost weekend binge watching Netflix. Sometimes we just have to disconnect.  But if our need to disconnect from the world overrides our desire to connect with God, we are missing something… and true rest will continue to be elusive.

Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer provides tools and encouragement for the rollercoaster ride of your faith journey. Follow me on Facebook , Instagram and YouTube. You can also follow on TikTok. Get emails to keep up with all that is happening.

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