Self-care is essential, not selfish

I feel guilty when I’m just sitting in my room doing ‘nothing.’ If my activities are not good for my résumé, they’re not good for me. If I’m just having lunch with someone, it’s probably not as intentional or effective as having a one-on-one. If I’m taking a class for fun, I’m wasting money. If I’m going to go to the skate park, I should go with a Cause Ministry so it accomplishes something. If I’m reading a book, I should be reading a textbook. If I’m taking a Buzzfeed quiz, I should be applying for an internship. If I’m reading poetry, I should call it a devotional (you know, so it counts). And my gosh, if I’m watching Jane the Virgin, I should start repenting.

We have created a culture that shames us for taking care of ourselves. We feel so guilty after putting our homework down to go to Swepco that we don’t enjoy our time there. We take a textbook on every car ride because we wouldn’t dare waste time staring out the window. We feel rushed and busy and stressed, but if we find a free hour in our day, we feel guilty.

We place ourselves in this ultimatum. Our whole life becomes a checklist, a task, a thing that we’re set on completing. People with souls become names in our 5 o’clock planner slot.

We become robots, ticking the days away.

I don’t think we were meant to live like this. I don’t think self-care is supposed to be radically subversive to our established Christian culture. But that’s what it has become. I don’t think you should be an anomaly for reading Wendell Berry when the sun falls on the floor just right without feeling guilty. I don’t think you should be an outlier for setting aside an hour of your day to watch TED talks or the news or cat videos. I don’t think you should feel bad about going to Café on Broadway with a friend because you like them and want to spend time with them, and I definitely don’t think you need to label that. It can just be getting coffee.

This might feel like semantics, just calling the same thing by a different name. And to some extent, that’s exactly what it is. But I think the way we talk about something is hugely important though, and there is an interplay in how we talk about something, how we think about that thing and how we act in relation to that thing. When we talk about eating dinner with a group of people like it’s a business meeting, it affects the way we actually eat the meal. When we talk about people like they are appointments, we make them feel like appointments.

When we talk about life like it is an emergency, we treat it as such. We treat ourselves like machines, and changing this pattern means bucking the system. It means pushing back against our need to accomplish. It means trusting ourselves. It means believing there is a gift found in going slow, in doing less and experiencing more, in living deep and in sucking out all the marrow of life. It means taking life so seriously that we enjoy it.

Guy is a junior majoring in psychology and family & human services. She can be reached at guyln@jbu.edu.