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Commitment to Self-Care

Love your neighbor as yourself. We tend to forget that last part, don't we? So much of religion is focused away from ourselves – serve others, forgive others, be compassionate to others. So, this second most important commandment (next to loving God) is somewhat surprising. Why does Jesus say this? (And, believe it or not, this is also found in the OT book of Leviticus 19:18!) Because loving yourself is a spiritual practice. This is not erotic love, or friendship love, or "I-love-ice-cream" love, this is agape - Divine, unconditional love that recognizes your very self as worthy of love. Agape recognizes your very self as sacred, unique and beautiful. Plus, psychology tells us that we can’t really love anyone else any better than we love ourselves.

Let’s flesh out this concept of loving oneself before we go further. Perhaps it's easiest to start with what self-love does NOT mean. It does not mean I get to eat Kopp’s custard every day even though I love it! It does not mean I can ignore my responsibilities or walk all over others. It does not mean I get to do or say or acquire whatever I want. It’s not self-improvement, motivated by a feeling of lack in ourselves or a desire to be more “perfect.” In other words, you can change your eating habits because you hate how you look, or you can do it because you recognize the need to care for your body, reduce the stress on your joints and heart. Beating yourself up so that you’ll diet isn’t really self-caring, or self-loving.

I'm inviting us to make a commitment to loving ourselves through self-care. This means taking care of our physical health out of love for our bodies and gratitude for all the strain we put them through and how they still carry us through each day. This means being compassionate and kind to ourselves. This means caring about all aspects of ourselves - body, mind and spirit. This may mean setting boundaries at work or home or with ourselves.

Often, numbing behaviors, like drinking, eating, or surfing social media in excess, are mistaken as self-care. Gracy Obuchowicz, in a Healthline article, said, “When a lot of people think about self-care, they think about how they can feel better, and numbing in the short term makes you feel better, but self-care is a more proactive response that requires you process what is causing you to numb,”

Because it can be hard to distinguish between the two, she advises people think of it in another way. “Self-care is something that when you do it, you wake up the next morning feeling better, while numbing is something that when you wake up the next day, you think, ‘Maybe I didn’t need that extra glass of wine or dessert.'”

So, here’s an interesting paradox. According to Google Trends, the number of searches for “self-care” has more than doubled since 2015. Paula Gill Lopez, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the department of psychological and educational consultation at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, says the need for self-care is obvious. “We have an epidemic of anxiety and depression,” she says. “Everybody feels it.”

So, while society as a whole is feeling more stress, more anxiety, more depression and looking for ways to alleviate some of that, at the same time a recent Harris Poll reported that self-care isn’t a priority for people because 44 percent believe self-care is only possible for those with enough time. And about 35 percent believe self-care is only possible for those with enough money.

In addition to all this, our society really doesn’t look too graciously on the need for self-care.

Perhaps you’ve heard the recent controversy over professional tennis player Naomi Osaka. She is the number two ranked player in the world, but struggles with depression and anxiety. At the end of May, after winning the first round of the French Open she was fined $15,000 for skipping her mandatory news conference following her round. She said, “I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media. So, here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences. I announced it preemptively because I do feel like the rules are quite outdated in parts and I wanted to highlight that. I wrote privately to the tournament apologizing and saying that I would be more than happy to speak with them after the tournament… ”

Sadly, her request for self-care fell on deaf ears and there was no attempt to even work with her.

According to ESPN, “In addition to [the] fine, Osaka drew a surprising warning from all four Grand Slam tournaments that she could face stiffer penalties, including disqualification or even suspension, if she continues to avoid the media.”

Of course, all of this garnered huge media attention and she decided to withdraw from the French Open altogether saying that she was going to “take some time off the court.” She is still taking time off, having just this week withdrawn from a Wimbledon warm up tournament in Berlin.

Personally, I give Naomi a lot of credit. It had to be incredibly brave to explain her situation and stand up for herself and her health.

My request today is that each of us take a look at ourselves and how we live our lives and make a commitment to loving ourselves through self-care.

It does not have to take a lot of time and money. In seminary we were taught to block off small blocks of time because it would be hard to count on full days off. Even if it is 15 minutes to walk around and look at your flowers to take a breather and get re-centered. That is self-care.

And many self-care practices don’t take much, if any, money. Meditation, a phone call to a friend, doing a crossword puzzle, sitting and soaking up the beauty of nature. One article I read even suggested something as simple as buying a good smelling bar of soap to enjoy in the shower and then consciously relishing that time, that smell, as a moment of pampering, relaxation and joy.

Five areas to consider. I am not asking you to take all of these on at once, but pick one small thing you can change just because you are working at loving yourself better.

Physical –  What one small thing could you change to improve your physical health and well-being? Could you make that doctor/dentist/eye doctor appointment you've been procrastinating about? Or maybe you could commit to a daily walk, even if it is only around the block. If sleep is an issue, strive to go to bed a bit earlier. Maybe it  is time to cut back on something you know you shouldn’t be eating or drinking so much of.

Social – The better connections we have with other people, the more emotionally and physically and spiritually healthy we’ll be. Make time with friends and family. Have a date night with your partner, or plan something special, to nourish that relationship.

Spiritual – This is the part of our lives that grounds us, helps us develop a deeper sense of meaning and a connection to the universe. It strengthens our resilience, our courage and our compassion. Is your spiritual path fulfilling? If not, start exploring what more you might need. Time in nature? Spiritual director? Retreat time? Spiritual reading? Yoga, Tai Chi, meditation? Come talk to me if that would help.

Mental – are you making enough time for things that mentally stimulate you? Puzzles? Reading? Art? Music? Creative endeavors? Trying something new?

Emotional – Do you have healthy ways to process your emotions? Someone to talk to? Time for journaling? Activities that help you process emotions – exercise or a sport can help process stress and frustration. What brings you joy? Do more of that!

Results of self care are well-documented. It reduces stress and gives us a better ability to manage stress. It improves our immune systems, increases productivity, helps us live longer and with a higher self-esteem. Seems worth it to me. Give it a shot.

Love & Light!