There is a lot of talk about self-care these days. It comes in all kinds of different forms: “me time,” “treating myself,” “boundaries,” and a multi-billion dollar “self-improvement” industry. Often the mantra of “self-care” just feels self-ish, a tagline to the individualistic self-centeredness of our day.
But as I train to be a mental health counselor I know how essential it is for me to care for myself well to be able to care for my clients. If I do not take “self-care” seriously, I will not only burnout, I also will be in danger of doing great harm to my clients. So, I began a quest to discover what the Bible has to say about this modern day term: “self-care.”
I turned to Scripture and soon found that I did not know where to look. As I talked to my professors, studied, and meditated I came to realize that though the idea of “self-care” doesn’t show up explicitly there is certainly a strong theme of care and rest in the Bible; it just doesn’t look anything like I thought it would.
Created to Rest in God
I started at the beginning, where God rested on the seventh day. God made the day holy, ordaining a rhythm of work and rest for all creation (Genesis 2:2). Why would the Creator and Sustainer of life rest, unless God was teaching God’s image bearers (Genesis 1:26) an important lesson?
It is as simple as this, we are created to find rest in God.
When I understood this, I realized that “biblical self-care” isn’t self-care at all, it is surrender to divine care.
This divine rest is not optional, just like breathing is not optional. Sure we can ignore it, just like we are free to ignore God, or hold our breath until we’re blue. But the only true rest we will ever find for our souls is in God.
God wove rest into creation itself, embedded it in the ten commandments, taught it to the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16:22-31), and let the nation of Israel feel the consequences of not seeking rest in God (Leviticus 26:34). The Psalms are brimming with how the Lord cares for and strengthens people (Psalm 1, 3, 6, etc.). The prophets paint vivid pictures of the Lord’s restoration (Isaiah 40, 58, Hosea 14). Jesus himself sought rest in the presence of his Father (Luke 5:16). And Jesus invited his followers to do the same (Mark 6:31).
How to Rest in God
God shows us through the story of Scripture what this surrender to divine care really means. It is a Sabbath rest, an outward sign and practice of an inner reality.
I was shocked to find that the Sabbath rest is less like repose or sleep and more like renewal to flourishing life. Jesus alludes to this when addressing the Samaritan woman: “The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life” (John 4:14b). Like the Samaritan woman, we must choose to accept Jesus’s invitation to drink from the living waters, to actively engage in surrendering to God.
This rest involves:
- partaking in the holiness and presence of God. It is an act of relationship and worship (Exodus 31:12-17).
- resting from our work, our dominion, and delighting in the work of our hands - acknowledging God who gave us dominion (Genesis 1:28).
- delighting in and communing with creation in imitation of our Creator (Psalm 8).
- meditating on the Word and works of God (Psalm 1, Psalm 119:97).
- trusting in the Lord’s provision and protection (Exodus 16:22-31, Isaiah 58:11).
- remembering and hoping in the Lord’s deliverance (Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Psalm 77).
- receiving a foretaste of eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3-11).
- waiting upon the Lord, abiding in him (John 15, Isaiah 40:31).
- walking in obedience to the Lord (Psalm 119:44-45).
Why We Rest in God
The rest that God gives to us is inherently relational, it is not something we do by ourselves and for ourselves. Jesus says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4 ESV). We rest in relationship with the life-giver. We abide so that we may bear fruit in this ancient rhythm of work and rest, growth, and harvest.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 ESV).
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