What Makes Self-Care Unselfish?
It was early Friday morning and I really wanted to get out for a bike ride. I needed the exercise, I knew the outdoors and sweat would do me good, but I had a long list of projects that needed to be completed. I had a few unfinished tasks already beyond their deadlines and people were waiting on them.
So I faced a dilemma. Hop on my bicycle and get in a good 60 minute workout or dive straight into the tasks screaming at me? Do something that would be good for me or take care of things that other people needed?
Then it hit me. Deciding to take care of myself feels inherently selfish. After all, it literally means putting my personal needs ahead of what others want or need. Choosing self-care will always feel self-serving. Doing what other people need always feels more heroic, more gallant, more servant-like.
However, the list of things that other people need never ends. There is always more to do. There are always more projects to tackle, more email or phone calls to answer, and there are always more game-changing opportunities to be seized.
If I wait until nothing calls for my attention, I will never get out to do what I need for my own health and well-being. I will always put it off, demoting my own self-care and well-being to the category of non-urgent, and non-important.
Twenty-three years ago I wrote the first draft of a personal calling statement. It's morphed and refined over the years, but one unchanged component is a passion to live so that I am accelerating through age 80. By that I mean that in every area of my life I want to have more to offer each year than the last. It means continually expanding my world view, growing deeper in my relationship with Jesus, loving my family well, sharpening my leadership and ministry skills, stewarding my finances, and attending to my physical health. It's not about drivenness, but my vision for the way I want to live my life.
I realize taking care of my body is one of the most important components of fulfilling that calling. It is the only vehicle God has given me through which I can engage in everything that matters. Being a steward of this body is non-negotiable if I intend to be accelerating at 80. However, even though I get it in my head, on a daily basis I get seduced into taking care of other things and other people at the expense taking care of myself.
There are things that happen in life that will always be out of my control. Accidents, illnesses, etc. But insofar as it depends on me, unless I appropriately care for the only body I have, I will be out of the game and unable to contribute to the world in any significant way.
That niggling little voice in the back of my head might always announce that I'm being selfish to put other things on hold in order to focus on what I need, but that voice is lying. The only way to steward the call and opportunities God has given me is to practice healthy self-care in every area of life.
Self-care is not only unselfish, caring for ourselves is actually one of the gifts we give to everyone we serve. Self-care is definitively unselfish. Leaders cannot live above the red-line and hope to stay in the game!
Ignoring any aspect of self-care, be it your soul, your marriage, your family, your health, your relationships, or your finances, will eventually take you out of the game.
So, let's get personal. What aspects of self-care are you most likely to short-change?
And, to pull this conversation all the way down to ground level, let's talk about today. As I post this, it is Friday July 3rd, a national holiday. It's a three day weekend for most people. How are you spending it? What does your body, your soul, or your family need?
I’ll see you on my bike.