Today’s article is a follow-up on last week’s article. In it, I made the point that ‘giving till it hurts’, when done at the expense of our spiritual, psychological and physical health, actually hurts us. We need to see the notion that the only serving that counts and is good enough for God is if you’re working your fingers to the bone, is simply unbiblical.  Furthermore, it breaks God’s heart. Right at the beginning in Genesis, we have God modelling to us a work-life balance. We are to work and rest. They are not incompatible. 

Katie who was working for a non-profit organisation intervening in human trafficking, recalled her early years as a missionary in rural Mexico as a 21 year old. Her bible hero she aspired to be like was Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers. She wrote, “As a budding anti-trafficking advocate, I was naturally drawn to Joseph’s story because he is one of the first documented cases of human trafficking in the Bible. But it wasn’t Joseph’s enslavement alone that probed my intrigue. It was the way he remained faithful to God in spite of it”.

Based on Joseph’s life, she came to believe that serving only counts if you’re suffering. When she found life in Mexico wasn’t ‘hard enough’, she moved to Cambodia, working as an ant-trafficking program manager in a slum. She began working 16-hour days, seven days a week ‘out of fear that anything less would raise questions of my spiritual integrity and commitment to the cause. After all, if Joseph never took it easy, then neither would I”. If she is to understand the suffering of the people she served, then she had to suffer too.

Eventually, this mindset had a debilitating effect on her health and ministry. There was nothing left in her tank. “I was too drained from trying to carry other people’s burdens, too mechanized to feel connected to the cause, too depressed to have hope for the very people I was trying to help”. Katie’s story is more common than we care to admit.

However, we have to be careful not to swing to the other side where our ideas and practice of self-care (such as mindfulness which sounds more like mindlessness) is devoid of God and a form of ‘self-salvation’ that pretends to address our needs but they actually cover them up and take our mind off of them. As an author puts it, let’s be careful to not swing from ‘self-care baths and shopping is an absolute must’ to ‘self-care is anti-Christian and you should only rely on Jesus’.

A biblical approach to self-care must begin with the notion that God designed us to be in reliance upon him and one another. We are not alone! This means in Jesus, we have the resources far beyond ourselves to address our deepest needs. God is always with us (Matthew 28:20); he will strengthen and help us (Isaiah 41:10); his love is for us is beyond question (Romans 8:39). In addition, God is big enough to meet the needs of others, not just through me but other members of the body of Christ. We often expect way too much of ourselves.

While our lives are not ours to do as we please but to be lived in honour of God, let’s remember from Isaiah 58 that following the call to ‘loosen the chains of injustice…to set oppressed free…’, God makes this promise of care to us, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy such as satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:11). 

“Increase our faith in you, Lord!”
Mark Ng