I ended 2020 with Long Covid, a Staph infection on my face (that’s right ladies and gentlemen), and a concussion. (A window fell on my head. That’s not a metaphor. That’s classic 2020.)
What this means is that I started 2021 with extreme fatigue, constant headaches, random fevers, and an attitude that it would be benevolent to label ‘irritable.’
I started the year living in the studio behind my sister’s house. Seemed the perfect way to be cared for: they cooked me meals, gave me space, did my laundry. The one unforeseen complication is that I’m sort of obsessed with my nieces (aged 4 &1). It’s hard to prioritize laying in bed when a glorious little red-head asks you if you will come to her tea party and another glorious little red-head squeals when you accept the invitation.
Fast forward a week or two and some friends and I were talking (from a distance) about lessons from these Covid times. ‘What will you miss most from this time?’ was the question – and one friend said how deeply she’d enjoyed the space and time alone and how much healthier it made her feel. She would miss that when everything returned to ‘normal’ (Lord willing there is such a thing in our future). I asked her why she couldn’t keep that; why couldn’t she learn from this season that she preferred to stay home then go to the party. She explained that she so loved being with people, it was hard to imagine picking time and space at home, when people were on the table.
Fresh from my nieces’ tea party, that made more sense to this introvert than it usually would. Maybe sometimes we have a thing we love more than the thing that helps us be healthy.
That had me thinking this morning about self-denial. It had me thinking about how we’ve made it the enemy of self-care when maybe it’s the key to self-care.
Maybe self-denial is self-care: maybe it’s about prioritizing the thing that is the kindest to your embodied soul, rather than the thing you want most in the moment.
What a disservice we’ve done by making these things enemies, by dismissing self-care as self-indulgent. Does God NOT want us to care for ourselves? Surely, if anything He asks us to care for ourselves more than we do. Doesn’t He command our self-care? He asks us to take a Sabbath because it’s what our embodied soul needs. Deny our urge to accomplish for one day a week, so that we can rest. What is this if not self-denial and self-care working hand in hand?
It honestly sounds like our old enemy has been at work: convincing us – as he’s always tried to do – that God’s commands are about withholding vs. giving. Telling us that God wants us to deny ourselves, without telling us the second half of that truth: so that He can care for us.
And what a victory our enemy has had. Thousands of us are running around thinking that self-denial is about sacrificing what we need to be healthy, and as a result, we are unhealthy.
And our enemy got a two-for-one. Not only are we unhealthy because we don’t practice self-care, we also fail to deny ourselves. We pat ourselves on the back for what we label ‘self-denial’ when it’s really self-indulgence.
We hear people talk about solitude, or space, or connection and we tell ourselves we don’t have time for those things. We fail to raise the red flag that this isn’t healthy, and we go a step further and call it Godliness. We tell ourselves we don’t have time to care for self-care because we are too busy denying ourselves.
But isn’t the painful truth a little bit more that we refuse to deny ourselves? We refuse to deny our urge to be respected, appreciated, loved – even if those urges costs us our health. We have an urge to control our kids, to keep our house clean, to be respected at work, to finish our to-do list – and we refuse to deny that urge. On the contrary, when we are burnt out and exhausted and slaves to those around us – we label it ‘dying to self.’ We blame God. We feel like martyrs; godly heroes for letting our creative spirit or our physical bodies or our emotional and relational health fester.
The reality is – true biblical self-care is hard. Have you tried to keep the Sabbath? Have you tried to prioritize what makes you spiritually and emotionally and relationally healthy over what you want? It will involve death. Death of the self that is in bondage to instant gratification, death of the self that is a slave to being viewed a certain way, death of the part of the self-seeking to be a perfect mom, death of the part that thinks you can save other people, death of the part of you that fears being selfish, death of the self that finds worth in keeping others happy. Oh, how much self-denial there is in disappointing others and saying no. By embracing the limits of these embodied souls, by accepting the edges of our dominion, and facing all the grief that comes with that.
Death. That leads to life.
Life. That involves death.
**What do you need to be healthy? (Emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally?)
**And what part of yourself will you need to deny in order to move toward health?