'So, which came first, the habit or the self-care?' This might sound like an odd question at a time when many are finding self-care is all they have to look forward to while under lockdown. Perhaps you associate it with a self-indulgent pastime - something that feeds a sense of pride and pleasure in one’s own body while neglecting others (if you’ll pardon this slight reductionist interpretation). While I recognize this may be true for some, my focus here is on why self-care is so important (and pleasurable), even if we disagree where it sits on the scale between the holy and the sinful. Indeed, every act of self-care can only be as helpful as the strength of your relationship with God or, in other words, the more deeply you rest in Christ and the more intimately connected you are with His Presence.

But before we begin I must ask how confident are you in the reality of God’s love for you? If it is weak, then it does not matter whether we practice self-care as a holy endeavor or a selfish habit; our spirits will suffer from deprivation because what it requires, when we truly live for Him, is far more than we can ever give! Contrary to popular belief, self-care is not the same thing as self-help. The latter, certainly at its best, looks within oneself to find what’s missing. That’s because, the moment our faith dips below an acceptable level, there is a strong tendency to start looking outside of ourselves to find what is lacking, or lost, or breaking down in our lives. In contrast, a vibrant faith can trust God in all circumstances, no matter how confusing, chaotic or challenging life gets. It is no longer about finding something we need or want, but rather it is surrendering all that we are already equipped with. This requires our full commitment. And this kind of self-giving is unselfish by definition.

Does True Rest Require Death?

True rest can only come when the strength of your relationship with God is more important than the comfort zone of yourself. Otherwise, what I call self-care becomes a weak consolation prize in place of experiencing a vibrantly rich relationship with Jesus Christ. It can never become a joyful calling because we feel too worn out by having put ourselves last and now we deserve our break…which we mistakenly think comes in the form of putting us first! In fact, this does nothing but pour salt in the wound because the longer we delay God’s gracious embrace for us, the deeper we sink into despair, dejection and disillusionment. Even while we practice ‘self-care’ we remain distracted by the calls of the world and the clamoring of the flesh; we cannot set our hearts fully free to be at rest in Christ. So yes, paradoxically, true rest does require death—a dying to myself through laying myself down, daily, to abide in Christ’s loving presence. Only then does the Father fill me up to overflowing with love. The Holy Spirit teaches me how to live every moment in newness of life, trusting God’s provision in all things great and small.

And yet, for those who remain convinced that true rest in Christ somehow feels like a holy calling, especially when we can ignore the signs of our increasing spiritual dryness, here is a practical guide designed to help you shift your mental, emotional and physiological status from overworked to at rest:

Step 1. Take time to slow down. Spend a few moments praying aloud through the day, thanking God for the opportunities He gives you to experience His loving Presence and then naming the people who cross your mind, asking God to bless them, just as Jesus did.

Step 2. Stop thinking about everything you have to do and everything you are nkt doing properly. Release the stress that causes all your muscle tension! Bring to mind a favorite hymn such as 'Be still, my soul' or 'Fairest Lord Jesus.' Pick something that has special meaning to you, and sing it out loud. Listen to each word and phrase with full attention, paying close attention to what is being communicated, both visually and audibly. Think about the context surrounding the original composition of the song. What was going on in the composer's or writer's personal life at that time? You will likely be surprised by the story behind their words.

Step 3. Put yourself in front of the mirror or your c amera phone and pull funny faces as you hum a tune. (Even if nobody else knows what’s really going on inside of you.) Then slowly close your eyes, take some deep breaths, breathe out any remaining tension held in your body. Restore calmness into each cell of your body. Be still, take some deep breaths, repeat as often as necessary until you feel your body relax and your heart rate slow down. Smile as wide as you can manage and keep smiling! Allow your face to show what is happening inside of you - the deeper awareness that peace lies within yourself and not in what others might have done or said or thought about you during your day! So relax and enjoy the view :)

Here's another visual idea for you: imagine that your mind is like the dark starry night sky and you are the moon. All the stars glimmering above are your thoughts and feelings rushing around at high speed with little intention or purpose. But each time you practice this relaxation exercise, some light from inside you begins to shine out from beneath your eyelids – gently illuminating part of that vast expanse of darkness. As more light spills outwards, the glow grows bigger and brighter with each passing moment until finally it engulfs the entire sky with the brightest light ever seen before - so much so that eventually there will come a point at which even planet Earth cannot escape its radiance. Even though there appears no beginning or end to this exercise, it symbolizes the journey towards enlightenment found in living a Christian life... living our lives with God’s presence guiding us along this path, moment by moment.

Isn't it good enough reason to try again? You deserve this moment today - open your eyes, let go of whatever stresses you have been holding onto and enjoy the gift of restorative beauty and grace awaiting you, right now, in the present moment.