Self care has rubbed me the wrong way since I first noticed it. A search of the hashtag on instagram floods you with over 37 million posts, many of them containing candle-lit baths, women either being outdoorsy and active or conversely, lounging in their pajamas well past noon. Saying no to obligations (something I happen to fully support) and taking their "me time." Working out really hard or expending no energy at all and everything in between. Throwing an ax, buying flowers...there really aren't any activities that escape the possibility of being classified with this hashtag. You're reminded that "It's okay not to be okay" and that "Self care isn't selfish." But if you need a disclaimer like that, chances are that it might be. Trying to figure out why it bugged me, I googled "anti self-care" and also "self-care is bulls**t." I didn't find much, as anyone who is against self-care seems like a real jerk, right? Who could be against you taking care of yourself? Shouldn't we all do that?
As with a lot of popular, favored trends, there doesn't seem to be much of a counter-voice. Some of the "anti" articles I did find were actually in favor of self-care, but against the fact that it has become a 10 million dollar industry, with companies capitalizing on it by selling self-care kits. Or that influencers who are so good at self-care inadvertently make others feel bad about not taking the time for it.
What must others from a different time or place think of this self-care trend, I wondered? For the life of me, I cannot imagine my Mom engaging in self-care, let alone taking the time to post about how she was doing it, vaguely sending the message that you should be too and if you're not, then you're not managing your time right. Or her mother, or her mother before her. Previous generations were so busy and hearty, working sometimes both inside and outside their homes from before the sun went up until long after it set. And they didn't complain about it are act burdened. They just did it.
They worked hard for a better life for their children (and their children's children), so shouldn't I be grateful that I have have the privilege, luxury and ability to engage in these activities and extoll the benefits of them to others? It's not to say that they didn't sit and enjoy a cup of tea, go out with friends or go to bed early sometimes. It just wasn't a movement, a "thing."
I thought of women and mothers in current day who live in other countries and are concerned about feeding their children, obtaining clean water or not having access to medical care. Finally, I was able to put my finger on something about this self-care movement that irks me: Self-care comes from such an immense amount of privilege; so much privilege in fact, that the poster doesn't even recognize they have it (unless they also add the hashtag BLESSED, of course).
But there was more still. For me, it's the acute focus on the self; ourselves, to be specific. Something like this could only be borne from an individualistic society such as America, where myself and my needs and my possessions are placed above the common, greater good of society at large. Self-care is yet another form of individualism.
As one article in The Guardian puts it, "It's lifestyle advice for an age of diminished expectations, where most people have given up on getting to the top and the best they can hope for is to get through the day."
In our current culture, and in my own personal life, we seem to search for things that will fill a need, make us whole and make us complete. We temporarily fill the void with material possessions such as a new car or a larger home; the vacation or the next degree or a promotion but it only satisfies us for a little while. We are always chasing the next goal post but when we get there, it moves. In my own life, I remember thinking that life will "really" begin once I finish my degree, start in my career, get married, have children, buy a home. I have all of that now, and am happier than I have ever been and yet my soul still searches for something.
Could it be self-care that I am lacking? Self-care will fill this void that lingers and whispers to me in-spite of the fact that I love every single part of my life and wouldn't change a darn thing?
No way. I started to realize that perhaps we fill our lives with all of these things and not what matters most: God. The impermanence of this life is the one thing that prevents me from being at peace, and the idea of eternal life is the one thing that takes that away completely, leaving me feeling content and fulfilled. If only I knew that there was a God and knew that there was a Heaven, I would be fully satisfied and contentedly happy. But I don't, and that has been a life-long struggle for me. I admire and yes, even envy, those whose faith is solid. And so, rather than trying to fill my time with things like self-care, I am going to try and pour my free time into reading the word of God. The actual Bible, which embarrassingly I have attempted but never read all the way through. I am going to start with this one, which is in Chronological order (thanks, Drea!).
I'm also going to make an effort to take a break from my steady diet of murder-mystery podcasts and audio books, and throw this one in the mix to read next:
A framework for escaping our culture of trendy narcissism—and embracing God instead.
We're told that the key to happiness is self-love. Instagram influencers, mommy bloggers, self-help gurus, and even Christian teachers promise that if we learn to love ourselves, we'll be successful, secure, and complete. But the promise doesn't deliver. Instead of feeling fulfilled, our pursuit of self-love traps us in an exhausting cycle: as we strive for self-acceptance, we become addicted to self-improvement.
The truth is we can't find satisfaction inside ourselves because we are the problem. We struggle with feelings of inadequacy because we are inadequate. Alone, we are not good enough, smart enough, or beautiful enough. We're not enough--period. And that's okay, because God is.
The answer to our insufficiency and insecurity isn't self-love, but God's love. In Jesus, we're offered a way out of our toxic culture of self-love and into a joyful life of relying on him for wisdom, satisfaction, and purpose. We don't have to wonder what it's all about anymore. This is it.
This book isn't about battling your not-enoughness; it's about embracing it. Allie Beth Stuckey, a Christian, conservative new mom, found herself at the dead end of self-love, and she wants to help you combat the false teachings and self-destructive mindsets that got her there. In this book, she uncovers the myths popularized by our self-obsessed culture, reveals where they manifest in politics and the church, and dismantles them with biblical truth and practical wisdom.
This. This summary hit the nail on the head for me, and gets to the root of what rubs me the wrong way about the #SELFCARE and #SELFLOVE movements. It's not that I don't believe in filling my cup so that I can pour it into others. Doing that should be a given. Taking care of ourselves should be something that we all do. I run daily, don't drink alcohol, try to eat right most days and go to bed early (well, sometimes) so that I am fully present for and to give to, my family.
I'm guess it turns out that I'm not against self-care, after-all. It's that no amount of self-care can fill the void of placing ourselves first instead of God and our families; of not caring for our soul. I'm not against us caring for ourselves. Rather, I am against it as a movement, as something to fill a void and as the answer to happiness. I'm against the idea that self-care is more fulfilling than serving God and our family. Self-care is a means to an end: something that we do daily so that we can do the more meaningful work of being a parent. Maybe those who suggest we have a "relationship" with ourselves are missing the benefit of not being the greatest thing in the universe; of believing in a power higher and greater than ourselves; of not being the center of our universe and of serving others.
As Stuckey explains in one of the first chapters: We are not victims of motherhood rather, it is a gift from God that we are privileged to own. It's not that our husbands shouldn't help watch the kids sometimes, or that we shouldn't get our nails done, she explains, but rather a shift in the viewpoint that we are victims who are burdened and entitled to those breaks. It's a shift in the perspective and our outlook. That we are weighed down with the care of our family rather than privileged be able to do it.
My Mom didn't care for my father and my brother and I out of obligation. Rather, the work of it was meaningful to her and she received more fulfillment and enjoyment out of it than anything else she spent her time doing. And I feel the same. No amount of "me time" is as fulfilling to me as reading to Chas before bed, cuddling and rubbing Aut's back before she falls asleep or exploring the back trail with them each day before sunset.
Do I have all the answers? Am I at peace and happy with the state of the world? Do I believe in Heaven without doubt or fear that it isn't real and that I won't see my Mom again? No. I have farther to travel along the continuum of faith than most, for sure. But I do know that my whole life, I have searched for something that can't be purchased or gleaned from psychology. My whole life - as long as I can remember - this whole not existing thing has not sat well with me, at all. It's not the process of dying that bothers me, it's the what comes next aspect and my inability to accept that this is all there is. I thought studying Psychology would help but receiving a Bachelor's and then also a Master's degree didn't do a thing for the fact that the impermanence of life is unsettling to me.
I believe now, as many Christians do, that God places a desire in our hearts for Him. While our search for Him is often obscured by society's focus on the individual and the material, none of that "stuff" really helps or satisfies us beyond temporarily making us feel good at the moment. I think the #SELFCARE movement is another distractor; another shiny object taking us away from more important and meaningful work: God and family, in that order. God and family are the true keys to happiness. When we invest in these, they are not fleeting or replaced by something bigger and better the following year.
Uncertain about all this like me? Read or listen to Stuckey's book and see if it doesn't move you along the continuum of faith or change your viewpoint, even just a little. If you don't already have audible, I can send you her book for free. Just email me at: Megan 26.2 at gmail dot com. Thank you for reading all this. I don't write this to change anyone's viewpoint or to evangelize. My main motivation for this blog is so that my children can read about their childhood and so that they have some of my thoughts and viewpoints when they are older and I'm not around. If, in doing that, it causes others to reflect and look at things a little differently, that's a bonus.
"As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalms 42:1-2).