I once knew a healthy and strong gentleman that had reached retirement age. He had spent his adult days as a tradesman, working with his hands over the course of his career, and saw retirement as an opportunity for some well-deserved rest for body and soul. Soon after his last day on the job, he purchased a motorhome. His intent: to travel the country with little schedule and no agenda, enjoying a lifestyle free of responsibility and toil. However, within months his body started to fail. He developed complications to heart problems and diabetes that rendered his dream to travel freely and broadly short lived as he needed to stay close to medical facilities. The motorhome sat parked next to his house, mostly unused, for the next fifteen years until he sold it with the realization that he would never be healthy enough spend time in it again. He lived the rest of his life in and out of hospitals and hospice care.
Unfortunately, this type of story is all too common.
Each one of us on The Resilience Resource team is a persistent advocate for self-care; those regular and rhythmic practices that maintain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. It is vital for personal resilience that one recognize tools that can be used to de-stress, decompress, and wind down from the highs and lows of life. Intentional routines and disciplines of work, play, and rest build vital resilience capacity and are a crucial support for an individual’s ability to cope with crisis and trauma.
There is a quiet, dark side of self-care. A rhetoric that slides very quickly down the all too slippery slope into the well of narcissism and selfishness. This side creates a perspective of introspective focus that stops someone from reaching out in service to the needy, hinders the building of new relationships, or inhibits the hard work of resolving conflict in the pursuit of comfort, ease, and protection of self against over-exertion. When these things happen, self-care becomes not only ineffective, but counterintuitive to its purpose. It can actually cause harm to body, mind, and soul rather than bring healing.
The key to keeping self-care helpful is the motive behind the actions. If a person looks to self-care to create a bubble of safety for their emotions, mental capacity, and physical body, then each of these will eventually atrophy and die.
On the surface, the retired gentleman’s choices fall directly within the lists of self-care tools that are so easily and readily accessible in social media memes and tweets. He had plenty of time to meditate. He invested in a hobby that he thought he would like. He got out into nature. He read books. He spent time in community.
According to all the suggestions, he did everything right.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a desire for freedom, wanting to travel, or even motorhomes, we were created by God to invest in more than ourselves. God desires us to contribute to the world, not to simply be consumers of it. I often wonder if this man’s story could have ended differently if he had not focused so much of his self-care on himself.
The motivation underlying self-care practices must focus on investing more in others. If I consistently have the mindset that I am keeping myself healthy so that I can give again, then my self-care tools will have their desired effect. However, if attempts at self-care come from a place of self-focused drive to hoard mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual resources for personal comfort and ease, the result will be loss of purpose and meaning in life.
Do you have healthy rhythms of self-care?
How do you look to serve others from your own times of refueling?
Are there changes that you need to make?