In the spirit of taking words and using them however I want, I will now appropriate and recast “Self-Care” for my own purposes, scooping out its more usual meaning and pouring in my own, like a delicious drizzle of cream over un petit pot de Chocolat–one that you probably shouldn’t be thinking about, because you probably just gave it up.
Like many people approaching the first day of Lent, I often examine my life and my conscience, trying to think about what parts of myself are out of order, and what discipline I might undertake in order to remedy the trouble. I mean, sometimes I do nothing at all except for buy myself flowers once a week, because sometimes God chooses your Lent for you, and you just have to hang on for dear life. But other times I might think, oh, I am eating rather too much, or drinking a bit more than necessary, or am unable to walk away from all those cookies in the Parish Hall at church, the ones that were sitting there last week but who cares, I might as well just eat a couple, even though they are really stale, or not praying at all even though I think I am. I look at whichever curious insight I have gleaned about myself and decide to give up sugar, or take up some discipline of prayer, or stop drinking wine or soda or something. Midway through the time I fail, and have to pick myself up and start over again, and thus learn that I do need the help of my Savior, because I cannot keep my promises to myself or anyone, and am not a good person. When Easter rolls around I am relieved. God redeemed and saved me, and also, I can have whatever I gave up. Maybe I even have some new discipline in place that carries on a few extra months.
But honestly, if I am really honest, if honesty were even a thing, this sort of small discipline–though it grows very big as you face it day after day after day–comes very close to the world of Self-Improvement. All I really need to do, this way of thinking goes, is change my habits. Make small changes and keep at them over time, and true life transformation can be accomplished.
This is true, of course. I’ve done it in my writing life. I wanted to “write more” but I couldn’t just wake up one day and “write more.” What does that even look like? So, I slowly added days that I blogged until it was the whole week. Then I added other times to write. And now blogging is just one of the kinds of writing I do. I write more. Lots more. Though I could always write more. Same with prayer. I wanted to “pray more,” and so I did some small things. I now “pray more” than I did ten years ago, though not nearly as much as I should. I’ve done the same with diet and exercise. I am practically Rachel Hollis. Where is my first million?Problematically, however, all the self-improvement in the world will not restore me to communion with my savior. Indeed, some of my efforts might send me to the pit of hell if I do them as a means to get to heaven on my own, without the help and mercy of Christ. And Lent could be one of those times, depending on my motivations and “truth-telling” abilities. If it is a time to show myself that I “can” make a change in my life, but that that change is purely for my own personal well-being, my own “improvement,” then when Easter rolls around, that will be a real shame.
Lent is actually a good time to look at the horrible darkness that resides at the very core of who I am. It is a good time to look into the abyss of myself and discover that no amount of improving habits will remedy it. Think about it like “Self-Care.” What is the most caring thing you can do for yourself? I would say it would be to try not to die. I think death is fundamentally at odds with my well-being as a person, or “wellness” if you will. Frankly, I don’t want it. And it is getting closer. Indeed, it could come at any time.
“Self-Care,” then, for me, is dealing with the truth about myself, which is that I am utterly bound to sin and death, that I cannot break free on my own, that I need help that comes from outside of my own person, that all my efforts lead to nothing because I still die, and that even though I manage to “eat better,” “pray more,” and “get up at a decent time,” if I still perish that is a real shame.
So, for Lent, if you feel like it, join me in practicing some “Self-Care” rather than “self-improvement.” Throw yourself on the mercy of Christ. Look at yourself, tell the bald, horrible truth, go weeping to your Savior, accept that he made an unfair and shocking sacrifice so that you could live rather than dying, meditate on the glories of his cross, and stop trying to save yourself and the world. He already did it, because he Cares for you—no scare quotes required.