Mention self-care in Christian circles and you’ll get conflicting responses. On one hand, Jesus called us to die to ourselves. We’re to be crucified with Christ so that we no longer live but Christ lives in us.1 The selfless call for the Christian seems at odds with self-care.
But Jesus also commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When our own soul is well nurtured, we can love others well. The balance comes in self-care, rather than self-indulgence or self-obsession.
And self-care in grief and hard times is especially important because the stress and intensity of those seasons can deplete us. It takes everything in us to process grueling emotions, to face unknowns and the unexpected and to continue to show up well for our family.
Grief and deep disappointment can wring us out, taking their toll on us emotionally, spiritually, cognitively and physically.
Jesus addressed these exact four areas when he gave us the first and greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind and all of your strength2.
Self-care in grief and hard times must be rooted in God.
Biblical self-care should never feed our flesh but free us to follow God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.
God cares about the well-being of our emotions, spirit, mind and body. Let’s look at ways to cultivate self-care in grief and hard times in these four areas.
Self-care for your emotions
Hold space for your emotions. The emotions of loss and deep disappointment can be excruciating. Emotions like sadness, despair, fear, betrayal, regret and more make us uncomfortable. We want to push them away or leap-frog over them. But we’ll never move through them if we don’t give ourselves space to process them.
Let your tears come. We so often apologize for our tears but they are a gift from God who created us and our emotions. Science now tells us emotional tears contain stress hormones we release in tears helping to reduce our stress and brings endorphins to help us feel calmer and better.
Give yourself grace to grieve. Don’t compare the way you grieve or the timeline for your grief. Everyone grieves differently depending on the kind of loss, our personality and our experiences. Caring for yourself means giving yourself grace to grieve the way God made you.
Self-care for your soul
Get alone with God. It’s vital to anchor your hard emotions in prayer and the truth of scripture. When Jesus learned his cousin and baptizer, John the Baptist, had been murdered, he got alone with God.3 Jesus did this often. At the end of his earthly ministry, in agony before his arrest, Jesus got alone to pray and pour out his heart before his Father.4
Worship and gratitude. Turn on worship music. Sing those old hymns while you’re folding laundry. And give daily thanks – on paper – to God. In worship, we praise God and in gratitude we thank him. Both take our eyes off our circumstances to focus on God who alone can lift our head and refresh our soul.
Journal the hard. When Dan died, journaling was another way to process “out loud” to God. I poured out my emotions, worries and needs. I recorded my thanks, answered prayers and all God was teaching me. Journaling not only helps us process in the moment, but provides a forever memorial of all God is doing.
Self-care for your mind
Clear clutter in your schedule. You need time to process the hard emotions of grief. The fog of grief is real – whether grief comes from a death, a miscarriage, an imploded marriage, chronic diagnosis or a soured adult relationship. Your brain works overtime to wrap itself around the new reality. Because it takes enormous head space and time, setting boundaries on your schedule and saying no in this season leaves room for grief.
Take fear captive. When something that seemed a remote improbability has happened, the door opens wide to all manner of new fears and worries. Stress from fear is crushing and can take years off a life. I began a Biblical process to tame my fear: call out the lie driving the fear and take it captive to the truth of Christ. Replace the lies of fear with the promises of God and let your mind dwell there.
Self-care for your body
Get good sleep. I have to admit sleep is often elusive in grief and difficulty. Night seems to magnify the hard emotions and loneliness descends in the dark. Pray for sound sleep and have a trusted friend pray for this specifically. One of my favorite verses to pray: “I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.” (Psalm 4:8, CEV)
Rest well. Rest is different than sleep. Rest is pushing pause on our to-do list, online noise, and expectations to relax. The trauma of grief and turmoil of hard seasons bring a need for extra rest. Rest lets us recover so God can renew our strength.
Get moving. I love that God designed our physical movement to release mood-boosting endorphins. For me, a walk or run let me physically work out some of the brutal emotions that get bottled up. Exercise, gardening or a walk also help counteract the physical effects of stress from loss and difficulty, help us eat well and sleep better.
Biblical self-care during grief and hard times is one more way to move forward through the pain, rather than staying stuck in it. For the believer, self-care is rooted in God, letting him tend and comfort the hurting places of our heart, soul, mind and body.
3. Matt 14:13
4. Matt 26:36-42
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