I’m typing this curled up in bed with Rachel Platten’s “Superman” pelting out of my computer, and look – can someone say appropriate?
A few hours ago I was sitting across from my therapist, who was valiantly trying to show me why I need to take self-care more seriously. People cope with stress in all sorts of ways. Me? I keep busy. Like, really busy. Like, I can never remember all of my on and off campus leadership positions and clubs in one go busy.
I throw myself into what I love… self-care be damned, I admit. I know that self-care means taking time to do fun, relaxing things for yourself (or do nothing at all) when you’re overwhelmed or tired. I know it’s supposed to be a necessity, not a luxury.
But I don’t even know what self-care for myself might look like. And that ignorance? It’s a relic of the 18 years I spent in a Christianity that condemns self-care, and it has very real consequences (ever melted down and burned out at the same time? It’s a sport.)
Unsurprisingly, Christianity finds a way around logic anyway
The thing about Christianity is it’s so all or nothing. You accept Christ and spend eternity in the best place in the universe, or you reject him and suffer unending torture. You actively offer your entire life to God – thoughts, education and career goals, free time, personality – and become the best person you can be, or you deny God of what’s rightfully his.
This is a recipe for disaster, especially when it comes to self-caring. You are bad and should go to hell. Jesus was tortured to death to save you from yourself. Therefore, you have no excuse to not give him fucking everything.
Jesus gave up supremacy over the universe to get nailed to a dead tree. Your struggles are peanuts compared to that. How can you complain? How can you even worry?
Share the Gospel with friends and strangers, even if they don’t want to hear it. Read the Bible every day. Ask forgiveness every time you think something bad. Get your guilt on. Forgive everyone who does you wrong (even if they raped or abused you.) Volunteer your time in church. Embody the God of the Universe to family, friends, and strangers on a daily basis. Oh, and by God, look happy while you’re doing it!
Christianity teaches us that following and loving God as he deserves means complete abandonment of what we want and what we need.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
This is Paul. Paul didn’t give a damn about self-care. Don’t be Paul
Meet Paul, if you don’t already know him. I heard a lot about him in church, namely about how Great and Godly he was… and especially because He Had Seen Some Things.
Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
2 Cor. 11:23-28
Yeah… Paul was carrying one BIG-ASS ALLOSTATIC LOAD. In case you missed last week’s post, allostatic load = the physical/psychological effects of having a lot of stress + long-term inability to defuse it, and anything can cause it, from living life from one school assignment to the next to suffering abuse or trauma to becoming a parent.
But it’s Paul’s view of his allostatic load… that gets toxic. Because Paul sees all of these traumas as badges of honor. He sees all of his struggles as weaknesses that magnify God’s glory. He sees unmet physical and emotional needs (assault, trauma, stress, crises, near-death experiences, poverty) as deeds accomplished for Christ’s sake.
…[God] has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Cor. 12:9-10
It’s… not hard to see this idea reflected in myself, my church, and other Christians I’ve met in my years. Grief, stress, crises – they were opportunities from God to grow more dependent on God, making ourselves look weak in the face of his Generous and Powerful and Life-Changing love. They were invitations to show non-believers that we were happy and confident even in the worst of times… because we had Jesus. They were PR ops for God.
Unfortunately, this Unmet-Needs-Equals-Godly-Deeds idea manifested in silencing and stressful ways for little me.
- When I approached my doctor about having depression, she prescribed me Bible verses. Obviously, I wasn’t getting better because I didn’t memorize them.
- When I didn’t feel better, it was because I wasn’t trusting God hard enough, and then it was because I wasn’t grateful for everything he’d done for me.
- When I woke up nauseous every morning in high school because of repressed anxiety, it was the same story.
- When my depression made me want a break from socializing, I was selfishly withholding myself from fellow believers who deserved my presence.
- When my mom violated my boundaries and claimed it was a one-time thing, I had to forgive her and I couldn’t bring up all the times she had done it before – because Jesus forgave me my sins.
- And so on.
It’s ironic, when you think about it. God himself took a day to chill out after he created the freakin universe (Exodus 31:17). And, you know, then created an entire religious law for the Israelites to follow suit (the Sabbath, anyone?) Oh, and let’s not forget that one time Jesus literally took a nap on a boat (Mark 4:38).
…but, as a Christian, I still felt bad about complaining when I was hungry, because Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights. …But your pastor still told you it was selfish to take a break from leading worship, because Jesus taught the masses even when he was exhausted. …But you still couldn’t afford not to evangelize to the next stranger you sat next to on the bus, because the fate of their soul might rest in your hands.
Now that I’m out of Christianity, I see that I’m a person and that people deserve to have their needs met. I see that trying to give an invisible man everything I am, present and future, is impossible and unhealthy. I see that I don’t owe anyone anything of myself, unless I choose to give it to them – not out of guilt, but love and generosity.
I am still figuring out what self-care looks like for me. Last week, I finally acknowledged to myself that I have endured trauma, and I stopped talking, eating, and sleeping for a week. What did I do to “relax?” Researched trauma and PTSD and wrote an article.
But I have an idea of what self-care might be. Netflix (Scooby-Doo, The Office, Parks and Rec, Master of None.) Otter videos. Sleep. Animal Crossing.
“Kickback” is a new section I’ll be adding into my articles going forward. I want to know what you guys think – if you disagree, commiserate, had a huge revelation/comic-relief otter video you want to share…
- Are there any articles or bloggers that this post reminded you of? Any common experiences you’d like to share?
- What does self-care look like for you, and how’d you figure it out?
- What did your religion teach you about meeting your physical and emotional needs, and what do you think of those ideas now?
Look forward to hearing from ya, and I hope you find ways to self-care this week! :^)