Most of us who work with people know the importance of caring for ourselves and finding balance between our work and the rest of life, between meeting our own needs and the needs of others. Maybe we all struggle to fit self-care and life-balance into our lives. But Wheaton professor Sally Schwer Canning argues that self-care is an unbiblical concept and that attaining a balanced life is “burdensome, unattainable, and unrealistic.” Writing in the current Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Canning describes how she and her graduate students went through the Scriptures and the psychological literature to evaluate the concepts of self-care, life-balance and burnout prevention.
Self-care. It is easy to pursue worthwhile activities that nevertheless wear out our bodies, undermine relationships, or weaken our mental and spiritual health. But the emphasis on self-care puts a heavy focus on ourselves. Instead, Christians do not aspire to caring for themselves so much as being faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
In place of self-care it may be better to think how we exercise stewardship over the resources, opportunities, and responsibilities that God has given. We are called to manage these resources, using and preserving them in response to God’s gifts and calling on our lives. This reframing puts a new perspective on how we live and serve. Working non-stop is not faithful stewardship. In contrast, exercise or resting are not so much me-focused self-care as they are stewarding the bodies that we’ve been given for a purpose.
Balance. The people we admire, including respected biblical figures, are characterized by passion, courage, focus, faithfulness and devotion rather than balance. The struggle for life balance ignores differences in family and career responsibilities, life stages, or variations in human capacities, energy, social support, available time and other factors that prevent us from putting all parts of life on a scale that keeps everything in a static state of equilibrium.
Like a symphony, life unfolds over time–sometimes it’s fast and complex, other times peaceful and melodic. We can’t take slices out of life or music and expect that everything will be in perfect balance.
Do you find this reframe helpful (like I did) or mere playing with words? What’s your perspective on self-care or life balance? Please comment.