18 May 2023

Look after yourself: Working smarter, not harder

Ivan Radford

A photo of a pad of paper with the words 'To do list' written in ink with a 1,2,3 list left to fill in.

This Mental Health Awareness Week (15–21 May), Ivan Radford considers the importance of self-care in today’s always-on world.

Put your hand up if you’ve heard this: Jesus first, yourself last and others in between. That spells ‘joy’, right? Keep your hand up if you know Christians who are joyful, but have also worked themselves to exhaustion. That might be a loved one or a leader. That might be you. It’s often been me. Either way, there’s a risk in taking that maxim to an unhealthy extreme – not by putting Jesus first or others before you, but by neglecting yourself entirely.

In Matthew 22:37–39, Jesus reminds us of the two greatest commandments – love God with ‘all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. Loving others as yourself can already be challenging, but do you love yourself as you love others? As God loves you?

As God’s children, we are unworthy, sinful and imperfect. And yet, wondrously, we are also redeemed and loved by a Father who knows us by name. Do you love yourself as a disciple of Christ, being shaped by his Spirit? Do you love yourself as a valued co-worker in God’s mission, sharing his love with others?

If we are not mindful of our wellbeing, we can become poor examples of fullness of life with Jesus – we cannot hope to join the fight for the world’s salvation if we are too burnt-out to step up to the front line. Even Jesus delegated spreading the gospel to a team of 12.

As a millennial growing up in a time of uncertainty, inequality and social media, I have always been better at doing than being. God, incredibly, has found ways to use that, but I have also learnt the importance of self-care. Thanks to modern technology, we can be always-on, 24/7, aware of everything everywhere all at once, from bad news in other countries to emails in need of replies. It’s hard to step back from the busyness and find a healthy work-life balance, particularly if you see your work as directly or indirectly serving the Lord.

Jesus modelled self-care during his busy years of ministry, repeatedly taking time out to recharge. ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,’ he told his disciples (Mark 6:31). In Matthew 14:23, he went ‘up on a mountainside by himself to pray’.

Paul reminds Christians in 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 20 that their ‘bodies are temples’ and they should ‘honour God’ with them. That includes taking care of them – working to the point of physical, mental or emotional exhaustion is not what any parent would want for their child. God in his grace gives us strength for what we’re called to do, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still human – we are. Humans have limits, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that.

At the heart of self-care, of course, is spiritual wellbeing – Jesus’ rest included prayer, spending time in God’s presence without rushing away. By starting from that place – putting Jesus first – safeguarding your wellbeing means you are able to serve God fully and effectively. It’s not about putting yourself before others – but if you don’t look after yourself, and don’t let others and God take care of you, how can you love anyone else?

Written by

A photo of Ivan Radford.

Ivan Radford

Managing Editor

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