Ask A Counselor: How in the world can we do self-care when . . . ?

roadblock with text

Good self-care is a lifestyle of regular, ongoing, non-crisis activities that promote good spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

What feeds your soul?  Reading, running, painting, playing a musical instrument, watching a comedy, a week at the beach?  Whatever feeds your soul, brings you rest, refuels you for the journey, those things constitute good self-care for you.

Self-care gets talked about a lot.  Most of us, I think, agree that self-care is something we ought to do.

However, when it comes to taking the actual steps necessary to care for ourselves well, roadblocks mysteriously emerge.  I find this is especially true in missionary communities. Right where good self-care is most necessary, there are enormous roadblocks to its actual implementation.

People ask me things like this:

How can we possibly do self-care when . . .

  • the needs are so great, and our budget is so small?
  • we’re so isolated, and we have none of the resources we’re used to?
  • we need help, but going someplace to get it would create even more complications?
  • _______________ (fill in the blank with your difficulty)?

These roadblocks strike me as strange, quite frankly.

In missionary culture, forget cleanliness.  It’s getting things done under difficult circumstances that’s next to godliness.  Small budgets, isolation, and complications?  We eat that stuff for breakfast around here.

So why do these roadblocks present such a challenge to self-care?

Perhaps it’s a simple failure to prioritize self-care as important.  We’d rather do other things with our time and money.

Maybe it’s that we think God will magically protect us without the maintenance routine of self-care. After all, everybody says that “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

The truth is, some of us have never needed to think about self-care before.  We just don’t see a need.  (The problem is, by the time you see a need, you may need crisis care, not regular self-care.)

Some people, frankly, are workaholics.  It’s easier to work than stop and deal with the emotions, the relationships, the complications that arise without the diversion of busyness.

Sometimes there can be an element of pride.  Amy Carmichael went 53 years without a furlough.  We can do it, too.  (Of course she was in bed for 20+ years. Which sounds good some days.)

Maybe we’ve been the teensiest bit judgy about people who can’t cut it, and we don’t want to be needy.  We like to be seen as competent, successful, and strong (all for God’s glory, of course).

Maybe we think we won’t be good enough for God if we can’t keep going and going.  Maybe we forget how God tenderly cares for Elijah, who’s fallen in his tracks after doing just what God asked him to do (I Kings 19).

Maybe we’ve got a mission agency or a church or even family members that don’t support the idea of self-care.  (If this is true, find a better support system.  Now.)

Finally, I wonder about our need to be in control, and our ability to ultimately trust God.  Do we, bottom line, trust God enough to stop our so-vital work, and take care of ourselves and our families on a regular basis?  Or do we, deep down, believe that it’s all up to us?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this “Ask A Counselor” series.  You can ask me all kinds of questions, and I can give you the best answers I know of, but if you’ve got an underlying belief system that says things like:

  • The job matters most
  • Other people are more important
  • We can’t spend money on ourselves
  • We shouldn’t have needs
  • Only weak, unspiritual people need help
  • If I don’t do this, right now, today, the world will come to an end…

…well, your questions and my answers won’t make any difference at all.  We’ll never get past the roadblocks.

Getting past those roadblocks, I think, comes only when we

  • experience that God loves us and is for us;
  • trust that God loves and is for others;
  • trust that God has the capacity to work and move and redeem even though I have stepped away from my work, in order to receive rest and renewal in regular self-care.

It’s easy to assent to these things verbally:  of course I believe God loves me and others and is ultimately in control!

But I want to ask you, what happens in the doing?

The book of James puts it this way:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  (James 2:14-17)

Some of us desperately need to say to God, “I trust you enough that I will lay this life of mine, including my precious ministry, down at your feet.” 

And then accompany those words with radical, self-caring actions.

What most restores your soul?

When was the last time you experienced that kind of restoration?

What roadblocks do you experience with self-care?

How does your experience in self-care reflect your relationship with God?

 Photo Credit:  (Changes made)



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Kay Bruner

Kay Bruner was born in Buffalo, New York and grew up in Brazil, Nigeria, and the wilds of Kentucky. She and her husband have raised their four children in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and currently reside in the great state of Texas. Kay is a Licensed Professional Counselor, and divides her work days between counseling and writing. She is the author of As Soon As I Fell and blogs at She is available for counseling at her office in Dallas or via skype for a reduced rate to clients overseas. For more information go to:

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