When does self-care become selfish?

10 Questions to keep your heart in check

Self-care is a current trend that is popular in our culture at the moment. We use the term to justify taking a nap during the work day, cutting off friends who are being mean to us and going away for a spa weekend of massages and bubble baths. Is self-care godly or selfish? Where is the line? 

Most blogs I read, and to be honest most of what I write, is firmly either championing self-care or self-sacrifice. It’s all about either one or the other. It’s hard to find a balance that is wise and godly that works in the everyday challenges of a real life. Life is messy and complicated, and there is no formula that will work for everyone, or even for anyone for more than a week at a time.

 I live in this tension all the time. I help people for a living. It is my purpose and passion to comfort the hurting and support those who are struggling. I get to pray for the sick and talk to the lonely. Being in ministry is an absolute privilege. It’s also really hard.

Being the one in the room that holds the hope in the face of hopeless circumstances can be difficult. The pain others walk through deeply impacts my empathetic heart. I know the heaviness of carrying one another’s burdens. I have suffered from stress related illness and know what it feels like to have my passion disappear due to burnout and compassion fatigue. It’s hard.

Without good, intentional self-care I could not continue to do my job. Without a passion to help the hurting, demonstrating sacrificial love, I could not continue either. I need both, working in partnership. And so do you.

Here are some reflection questions I use to keep my heart in check to help me determine if I am practicing good self-care or have crossed the line into selfishness. Use the answers to these questions to discover if your self-care is selfish.

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Is your self-care routine selfish? Answer these 10 questions to keep the balance right. #mentalhealth #selfcare #devotional

1.    Are you healthy?

Health takes hard work, or in other words, self-care. Are you a healthy weight? Are you eating fresh, nutritious food? Are you getting regular exercise? Are you getting enough sleep? 

All of these things require a certain amount of investment in time, effort and money. You can’t be healthy by accident; it costs you something, and this cost is not selfish. Finding an exercise activity and routine that works for you, no matter what season of life you are in, should be a priority. 

When you neglect your health, you invite selfishness. Although I understand that even the healthiest of people can get sick, there are many illnesses that are preventable when you make health a priority. When you are healthy you have the capacity to contribute and care for others. When you neglect your body you will need to rely on the support of others.

2.    Are you generous?

Practicing generosity helps us keep selfishness in check. When is the last time you gave something away knowing that you would not receive anything in return? Scripture is full of teaching about the importance of giving generously and sacrificially to those in need. The early church shared their combined wealth so that no one among them was in need. 

Generosity is more about the attitude of your heart than the amount in your bank balance. Do you hold onto your wealth loosely, give to others cheerfully, and manage your personal finances wisely?

3.    When did you last have a day off?

In a culture that glorifies busyness, it can feel selfish to take a day off to rest and do something fun. There is always more on the to-do list than what can get done in a day. Our society worships work and success and the excesses of consumerism that drives our insatiable appetite for more. And more. We easily get sucked into the lie that work is good, and rest is bad. Wrong.

The need for work/life balance is becoming more acceptable, as the burnout and family breakdown rates increase. God has a lot to say about rest. From the very beginning, in the creation story, God tells us to take a day off. In the Ten Commandments, God’s top ten wise practices for life, the Sabbath day is number four. We were not designed or purposed to work all the time.

Taking a day off every week is good for our bodies, minds, relationships and spirit. We step back from our toil, refocus on God and His power and purpose, and replenish our reserves for another week of work. 

4.    Do you have needy friends?

There is a lot of popular wisdom on social media at the moment about cutting negative people out of your life. The often go along the lines of, “Disconnect from negative people and see how good your life becomes” or similar.

There are some relationships that fill you up. There are people that, when you spend time with them, you feel encouraged and energised. They are a pleasure to spend time with. You need time with these people! Regularly. Invite them for coffee, join their groups and go to their parties. Fill your relational energy tank with good, life giving friendships!

Other friendships are hard work. Some people just drain you. They are often hurt, lonely and negative. Some are hard because they are so different. Perhaps they come from a different nationality and speak a different language. Some have different faith backgrounds, world views or family values. These people can be tiresome to spend time with.

These are the friendships that challenge you. This is where you learn about different points of view, understand other’s challenges and fears. These relationships make you grow.

You can’t have a lot of needy friends, but make sure you have some. Invest in them. Value them.

5.    Do you have margin in your calendar?

I used to be terrible at this. I could say ‘yes’ to all these great opportunities to be involved in things and help with activities. There are so many great things to contribute to. And then, the calendar is full to the brim. As soon as one of the kids gets sick, hubby has to go away or the washing machine breaks down, the world collapses. 

Create space, margin, in your calendar. Plan and protect capacity in your calendar for the unexpected.

6.    How stressed are you?

Having a little bit of stress is a good thing. It pushes and motivates us to grow and step up to challenges. However, too much stress, or prolonged periods of stress can be dangerous.  

My body doesn’t cope well with prolonged stress. I’m not going to go into details, except to say that it isn’t fun. I’d be surprised if you don’t have your own stress story to share. 

Stress is impossible to avoid, and difficult to manage, but manage it we must. There are a number of ways that we can minimise the effects of stress on our bodies. Many of them are simple to do, but still require intentionality and effort.

Journaling, gratitude, exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness and meditation can all make a significant difference when practiced regularly. Stress management is important self-care.

 7.    When is the last time you did something for fun?

This can be challenging for busy, sensible adults. Play is often at the bottom of our list, when the house is clean, and all the jobs are done. We buy into a false economy that values productivity over joy. Don’t neglect doing the things that bring you joy, make you laugh and remind you that life is a blessing to enjoy living. 

Play with your kids, go out with your friends, read the book, watch the movie, eat the chocolate. Take a deep breath. Enjoy.

 8.    Who gets your ‘yes’?

Sometimes we can forget that saying ‘yes’ to something also means saying ‘no’ to something else. ‘Yes’ is always a choice with a cost.

Saying ‘yes’ to overtime to get the project in on time means saying ‘no’ to walks to the park and bed time stories. Saying ‘yes’ to helping with that ministry at church means saying ‘no’ to an evening with your spouse. Every ‘yes’ has a cost. 

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t say ‘yes’. By all means, go for it! But consider what you are giving up and make sure you are making a wise choice.

9.    Do you have time for God?

When Martha complained to Jesus because her sister, Mary, wasn’t helping with the chores, Jesus told her to stop worrying, that Mary had made a better choice. Do you have time to sit at Jesus feet, to be devoted and nurture your relationship with Him? This time isn’t selfish, it’s essential. This is where our source of life and love comes from. 

Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident. It has to be intentional. When you feel lost and unsettled, where do you turn for comfort and wisdom? To your phone? To Netflix? Or to God? Get a good Bible Reading plan that will help you to spend time in God’s word every day. Make use of the apps, planners and devotional resources that make it easier than ever before to engage with God’s word.

I’m enjoying these 10 Minute Journals from Honey & Gold, this reading plan from The Bible Project, and this Journaling Bible with these pens at the moment.

10.  What do you need to change?

Is your self-care/selfishness tension out of balance? Is there anything you need to change? Do you need to stop some of your activities so that you can have more time for your health or family? Do you need to be more generous with your time or money to help those in need and cultivate new friendships? Do you need to put your phone down or turn the TV off and spend time growing your faith?

With good self-care we can serve God with our best selves and make a significant impact in our families and our world. Take care of yourself and live generously. 

You may be interested in What the Bible says about self-care and 10 things not to do when you’re stressed. If you are feeling depleted you can download my energy inventory in Running on empty.


God bless,