If you are a Christian, you have undoubtedly heard that a key part of following Jesus and honoring God is rejecting selfishness and embracing the joy of serving and loving others. These are fundamental, Scripture-based truths of the Christian walk and are part of “putting on Christ” (Romans 13:14). However, there are many Christians who think that focusing on the self in any capacity, including personal mental health, is a form of selfishness. Rejecting the sin of selfishness and opening ourselves up to true service and love is a beautiful, freeing, and God-honoring process, so please do not hear me say that we should not be fighting this particular sin. My goal in this article is to suggest that caring for yourself (in a way that honors God) is not selfish and that living selflessly does not mean you have to neglect your mental well-being.
It seems like in the Christian community, we focus on fighting the sin of selfishness but we neglect to clarify a very important fact: not all time spent working on and focusing on the self is selfish. Consider the following verse:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).
It is easy to look at this verse and glean that we are to only look out for others, but something we often miss is that first phrase - “Let each of you not look not only to his own interests…”. These words imply that we are to be caring for ourselves as well as others.
Let’s also consider the second greatest commandment - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. This command can originally be found in the Old Testament, but Jesus reiterates it here in Matthew 22 when he is asked which commandment is the greatest. As you may remember, He replies that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is to love others. And, how does He say we should love others? As we love ourselves.
I have talked to believers who say that they feel like it’s sinful for them to focus on their own “stuff” (be it emotions, thoughts, struggles, past experiences, etc.) and that they need to instead look outside of themselves and just focus on serving others. (Again, I am not saying these are bad things to do). However, what often happens is they neglect their mental, spiritual, physical, and emotional needs and run themselves ragged trying to meet everyone else’s needs. Service and care of others becomes a chore, another thing on the “to-do list”, rather than something born of genuine love and goodwill.
The point I am trying to make is that you can’t pour water from an empty pitcher. If you are “empty” due to issues such as unaddressed mental illness, unchecked emotions, undealt with relational wounds, or whatever it may be, your ability to love your neighbor will be hindered. This is where looking to our own interests and biblically loving ourselves comes into play. I believe that biblically loving ourselves means that we agree with God on who He says we are, and we treat ourselves in a way that honors Him and reflects His care for us. And when we do so, we are able to extend the same to others.
So, Christian, pursuing your mental health is not selfish. It honors that Lord when we agree with Him and walk into the healing that He so freely offers us. This increases our capacity to love Him and love others, filling up our pitchers so that we can pour into our family, friends, and community in a way that spreads the hope of Christ.
Let’s talk more about self-regulation! Why, you ask? Because self-regulation is KEY in living with intention and purpose, and I’d almost guarantee that most of us want to live intentional and purposeful lives. In the last post, we defined self-regulation and talked about why it’s important, and this week we are going to put some self-regulation strategies into practice! If you missed last week’s post, scroll down and give it a read before moving on.
When we talk about self-regulation, many people think that we’re talking about relaxation. However, we can’t just think about self-regulation as mere relaxation. Dr. Eric Gentry, one of the world’s leading experts in post-traumatic stress states, “Self-regulation is relaxation, but relaxation is rarely self-regulation.” In other words, relaxation is only a part of self-regulation.
Don’t get me wrong - deep relaxation is wonderful and has great health benefits! But, if you are in the middle of a stressful meeting at work or you are cleaning up the Cheerios your toddler has thrown all of the kitchen (for the fourth time in the last hour), there’s not an opportunity for you to go take a long relaxing bath, get a massage, or do an hour of yoga. The good news is… There are strategies that you can use (that take as little as 30 seconds to regulate your body and mind while you are fully engaged in your everyday activities.
Before I give you the practical strategies, it is important to keep in mind the two components of self-regulation:
There are many ways to practice the acute relaxation component of self-regulation, and as Dr. Gentry puts it, “The right way is your way.” The overall goal that you are trying to achieve is muscle relaxation. If you are in a relaxed body, you restore regulation and regain optimal brain functioning. Here are two quick self-regulation strategies that you can incorporate in your life today:
If you are looking for more guidance and support in the area of stress management and self-regulation, therapy might be a good option for you. Our therapists are not only trained in helping you find practical ways to manage stress, but also in helping you find the hope and healing that you may be needing. If you’re considering beginning therapy, give us a call today. We would love to help you find the right therapist for you and your needs.
Written by our counselors to help promote your help, hope, healing