Our current obsession with self-care seems to be fairly shallow and image-based, as in, if you can’t take a picture that captures the essence of your self-care, did you really… like… even self-care at all? Self-care did not start in the Church but it’s sort of wild to me how we can take worldy trends and put our Christian twists on them. I understand, not necessarily agree with, the most basic argument for Christians to love self-care: we need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, but how can we love them if we don’t even like the person in the mirror? That’s the strongest argument I’ve heard in favor of putting a larger emphasis on self. However, the reason why we harp so much on being students of The Bible, meditating on it day and night, hiding these words in our hearts, is because without a deeper understanding of the full context of the Word, we can manipulate a single scripture to become a whole theology… and that’s, to be eloquent, really bad. If you read the Word and study it, you’ll know that, especially in the New Testament, which is the covenant we live under, Jesus and the early apostles continually and purposely de-emphasize self in order to emphasize others.
Now, it’s important that you understand the second part of that statement: others. To just ignore our wants, desires, sometimes needs, for the simple sake of suffering or creating some false martyrdom image is not what Jesus has in mind for us. We deny ourselves so that we can see and meet the needs of those around us. What does this have to do with face masks and spontaneous vacations? There’s one extremely worrisome trend that can be categorized as “self-care” even among Christians. The trend is this: happily, decisively and at times, publicly ending a friendship with someone because they’re…wait for it… TOXIC! In the world of obsession with self, we’ve gone so far as to decide that part of taking care of ourselves is making sure we only have friendships with people who benefit us, give to us, check on us, serve us and pour into us. This seems honorable + praise-worthy on its face… but it completely contradicts Jesus’ words AND actions.
Wasn’t it Paul who said that if he could give up his very own salvation so that his people might gain it, he would? (Romans 9:1-4)
And wasn’t it Ananias who obeyed God’s orders to go and pray for Saul – who became Paul – even though Ananias knew that Saul could throw him in prison or order him executed because of his beliefs in Jesus? What if Ananias, in the spirit of self preservation, never went to pray for Saul? Would Saul ever have regained his sight, become Paul, dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel, and written ⅔ of the New Testament? Saul was a TOXIC man, but God asked Ananias to deny himself and see the bigger picture. And boy have we all benefited from that self-denial!
Luke 5:30-31 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
So what happens when all of the healthy people refuse to associate with the “sick”? I’ll tell you what: the sick now only have one another. And in this case, the sick, or toxic, people, only continue to get more toxic because WE, the healthy, refuse to associate with them until they’re all better. How can they heal or know what “healthy” looks like if we don’t spend time with them? How can they know about boundaries, forgiveness, communication, honesty, vulnerability unless the people of God show them?
I understand that there are times when a friendship is genuinely hurting us, and it’s best for that friendship to not continue at that time. The tough reality of that is, if a relationship has gotten out of hand and we’re feeling used and manipulated, is the other person really 100% to blame? No one can manipulate or take advantage of us without our consent. So maybe we’re a little toxic too. Healthy people have different tiers of friendship, reserving the highest one for peers who are on the same page and can shoulder their burdens, keep their secrets and be counted on in a moment’s notice. If you’ve blurred those lines and given too much of yourself to a friend who isn’t in a place to be trusted the way you’ve trust them, you might have some learning to do as well. You can’t be upset at a toxic person when they act toxic… but if you view yourself as healthy, you’ll keep the correct boundaries while still loving that friend like Jesus would. If you’re still trying to learn that balance, my advice would be this: find some healthy people who can help you heal the deep relational wounds inside of you through genuine friendship and the unconditional love of Christ. But when you get better, you know what you have to do, right? You have to turn back around and go searching for the sick like Jesus did… and invite them to your table. Or better yet, meet them at theirs. And teach them patiently what it means to be a friend, brother, mom, co-laborer in Christ.
Use your face masks and get your pedicures… but do it with someone else, and make their care your priority. That’s how we’re all going to get a little better. Together. I want to challenge you to do something if you’ve read to the end of this blog… text that person you’ve been thinking about the entire time you’ve been reading this. Ask them how they are, tell them you love them or see if they want to grab some coffee. Who knows? Your one act of self-denial could lead to many being saved. Crazier things have happened.