Sarah Bessey's Field Notes Book Club January 2019 Selection
Is self-care different from being selfish or self-indulgent? Is it the same as caring for your soul? And what does self-care look like in light of following Jesus, who called his followers to deny themselves?
In Four Gifts, pastor and author April Yamasaki addresses these and other questions about self-care. Drawing on the ancient scriptural command to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, Yamasaki helps readers think about the spiritual dimensions of attending to your own needs, setting priorities, and finding true rest in a fast-paced world. She weaves together personal stories, biblical and theological insights, questions for reflection, and practical ideas for self-care. Four Gifts helps readers sustain their spirits and balance competing demands. Feeling overwhelmed by the pace and stress of daily life? Find respite from superficial definitions of self-care and move toward deeper engagement with God.
Featured by Focus on the Family Canada
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About the Author
April Yamasakiis a pastor, speaker, and writer on spiritual growth and Christian living. A member of Redbud Writers Guild, she is the author of Sacred Pauses, and her work has appeared in Christian Century, Canadian Mennonite, and other venues. Yamasaki has more than twenty years experience as a congregational pastor and leads workshops and Bible studies in denominational and other settings. Four Gifts is her fifteenth book. She and her husband, Gary, live in British Columbia.
Read an Excerpt
The Heart of Self-Care
Taking care of yourself doesn't mean me first; it means me too.
— L. R. KNOST
One summer I celebrated worship and communion outdoors with several thousand other hearty souls. We gathered in a huge field to sing our praises to God, and every tenth person or so had been given a brown paper bag with bread and juice to share. Our picnic blankets, spread out on the grass, became tables of communion as we ate and drank together.
As a final blessing, our worship leaders invited everyone to participate in an interactive call-and-response. They would say a line, and we were to respond each time with either "Oh yes he did!" or "Oh no he didn't!" We had no printed liturgy, no words on a screen — just our ears to listen and our voices to answer back.
"Jesus said, 'The kingdom of God is among you,'" said one of our worship leaders, and we all responded, "Oh yes he did!"
"Jesus said, 'I send you out as sheep among wolves. Be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.'" Again we all responded, "Oh yes he did!"
"Jesus said, 'Love your neighbor and your enemy and yourself.'" All around me, people were calling out, "Oh yes he did!" I seemed to be the only spoilsport adding at the end, "Oh no he didn't!"
Because Jesus never actually said, "Love yourself."
Or did he?
IS THERE A THIRD GREAT COMMANDMENT?
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to his closest followers, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Then, later, when a scribe asked him for the greatest commandment, Jesus replied with the double commandment to love God and neighbor: "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:29-31).
Jesus certainly demonstrated his love for God; he regularly spent time in worship and prayer and understood his entire life and ministry to be grounded in God's Word. As he healed the sick, cast out demons, forgave sins, and preached good news to the poor, he showed love for his neighbors — and that included the people of his own Jewish community as well as those considered marginalized, outcast, and enemy. Just as he taught his followers, Jesus prayed for those who persecuted him. For those who arrested, tortured, and executed him, he prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Clearly, in his teaching and by the way he lived, Jesus said to love your neighbor and your enemy — oh yes, he did! But the closest he came to telling us to love ourselves appears only as an aside: You shall love your neighbor "as yourself." His side comment might assume that we already love ourselves, but Jesus doesn't present this as a command equal to his instruction and example to love others. In his discussion with the scribe and in the rest of his life and teaching, Jesus' emphasis falls squarely on loving God and loving neighbor.
New Testament scholar Timothy Geddert makes this point:
Some have suggested that there is an implied third great commandment, to love ... yourself ([Mark] 12:31). This, however, misses the point of the passage. The text refers to an active, caring love that invests heart, soul, mind, and strength in the service of God and others. To love others adequately requires a redirection of these energies. Instead of active investment of our energies to serve ourselves, we are called to active investment of them in the service of God and others (cf. 10:43-45). While a healthy self-esteem is compatible with (and perhaps necessary for) a self-giving love of God and others, that is not what this text is teaching.
So did Jesus say to love yourself? Oh no, he didn't. Or not exactly. If there were a third great commandment about loving yourself, Jesus certainly didn't state it as plainly as he did the other two.
The sixteenth-century reformer John Calvin wrote that loving God and others must come first, for "we are too much devoted to ourselves." However, early church fathers like Tertullian, Chrysostom, and Augustine read this same text as giving priority to self-love. If we do not love ourselves first, how are we to love our neighbor as ourselves?
While some might wish for a single consistent understanding of these words of Jesus, I appreciate the healthy tension between these two views. For when I am overly stern with myself and forever putting myself in last place, the early church fathers remind me to love myself and so love God and neighbor.
And when I am too much devoted to myself and becoming self-centered, the reformer reminds me of the priority to love God and neighbor. In navigating between these two poles, I find the place of authentic and wholesome self-care.
WHO'S ON FIRST
In contrast to Jesus' emphasis on loving God and neighbor, the concern for self-care often puts loving ourselves in first place. After all, as the logic goes, if you don't love yourself, you can't love anyone else. If you don't take care of yourself first, you can't take care of anyone else. It's like the airplane safety talk: if the oxygen masks come down, put on your own mask first before helping your child or anyone else. That's good practical sense. That's good self-care that enables us to care for others.
Jesus certainly took time for what we might call self-care today. After an intense forty-day struggle with Satan, he took time to rest in God's care before beginning his public ministry. After a day of healings that stretched long into evening, he made sure he had time alone the next day even though people were searching for him. When his disciples became so busy that they hardly had time to eat, he urged them to get away to rest.
Yet just as often, Jesus set aside his own self-care so that he could serve God and show compassion to others. When he heard that Herod had John the Baptist beheaded while in prison, Jesus went to a secluded place alone. But when the crowds followed him, he set aside his personal mourning and spent his time healing those who were sick. When evening came, instead of sending the crowds away, he again set aside his own self-care and fed them. Only then did he dismiss the crowds, send his disciples ahead by boat, and finally find time alone to grieve John's death.
On the night of his arrest, Jesus knew full well that he would be tortured and crucified. He had spoken to his disciples on three separate occasions of his coming suffering and death. That night he prayed for release even as he prayed for God's will to be done. Yet instead of retreating to the relative safety and obscurity of the countryside, instead of defending himself, he sacrificed his own needs and went to the cross. As Jesus had said to his disciples earlier in his ministry, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work" (John 4:34).
To the extent that Jesus practiced self-care, I can't say that he practiced self-care by putting himself first. While he clearly valued rest for himself and others, he would also at times deliberately choose to set aside his own need for rest. He set aside his own life in order to complete the task that God had set before him. Instead of "me first," Jesus' life was radically shaped by his two core commitments to love God and neighbor.
Of course, I'm not Jesus. But in my search for self-care, both his teaching and example ring true for me. When there's a death in my congregation, I don't refuse to spend time with a grieving family because I need to take care of myself. Young parents often set aside their own need for sleep to tend to one of their children in the middle of the night, and not just once but night after night after night. Firefighters and other emergency personnel regularly risk their own safety for the sake of others. Yes, we all need self-care. But self-care doesn't always come first, and it's shaped by our core commitments.
WHAT'S ON SECOND
In Scripture, the heart represents the center of our physical, mental, and spiritual being. It includes our thinking, our feelings, our will, our entire consciousness. The heart is a gift that directs our whole being and holds everything together. Our core commitments are like the heart, which directs everything else we do in a particular day and which even shapes our self-care.
As newlyweds, my husband and I were both university students, juggling his schedule and my schedule. Our days and nights included studying for classes and working part time, seeing friends and family, being involved in our church, and feeling pulled in many different directions. But every Friday night we set aside as "date night." We didn't use the language of self-care at the time, but that's really what it was: a time to set aside the push and pull of daily life and enjoy that time together.
We also didn't use the language of core commitments, but as I look back now, I can see how committed we were to our marriage and our studies, and how those core commitments shaped our self-care. Our self-care in the form of date night didn't exactly come first. For us, Friday was the end of our week, not the beginning. And if one of us had a big exam on Wednesday, then on Wednesday that exam came first. Yet self-care remained a key practice alongside our core commitments to each other and to our education.
Instead of "me first," self-care is really "me too." When parents set aside their own need for sleep to care for a sick child in the middle of the night, in that moment the child's need comes first. For the parent, self-care might be an afternoon nap when the child finally settles down, or time for a walk the next day. In this way, self-care that honors core commitments might be delayed or postponed or after the fact, but it's still self-care even if it sometimes seems to come in second.
For some, however, self-care is so far down the list that it never happens. Instead of self-care as "me too," it's self-neglect as "me not at all," which can lead to serious consequences.
In Japan, karoshi literally means "death by overwork," often due to suicide, heart attack, stroke, or other illness. When a journalist died at the age of thirty-one from heart failure, authorities classified her death as karoshi because of her extremely demanding job and work schedule. For years, she had taken little time off, logging as many as 159 hours of overtime in a single month. When a thirty-four-year-old maintenance worker died by suicide, his death was also deemed karoshi, again because of prolonged and massive overtime hours on the job. In 2015 in Japan, 189 deaths were officially attributed to karoshi, and others may well have gone unreported.
The deaths of these workers at such young ages may well have been complicated by physical and mental health issues, medication side effects, social expectations, family and cultural dynamics, and other factors. Attributing karoshi solely to a lack of self-care would be too simplistic. Yet self-care was clearly lacking in the absence of healthy boundaries and a healthy rhythm of work and rest.
THE GIFT OF SELF-CARE: HONOR YOUR CORE COMMITMENTS
Given this larger landscape of self-care, and given the core commitments that shape our lives, I understand healthy selfcare as "me too" rather than "me first" or "me not at all." So to begin, I find it most helpful to consider several questions: What are my core commitments, and how might they shape my self-care? How do I practice self-care — not always first, but in a way that is life-giving and sustaining for me and also allows me to honor my core commitments? Using the framework of Jesus' great commandment, how do I love God, love my neighbor, and still take care of myself?
The answers may well be different at different points in our lives. As a student and newlywed, I led a different life than I do today as a pastor and writer. The young mom, the father of teenagers, the business owner, the retiree, the person living with chronic pain, the activist: the whoever-you-are-today may have different core commitments and different self-care needs than the whoever-you-will-be-tomorrow. As a former educator and administrator said to me recently, "The solutions to life's problems keep changing, because our lives keep changing."
To reflect on your changing need for self-care, consider one or more of the following. Receive them as gifts to try or to skip as you choose. In other words, don't stress out over them. Use what you find helpful for now, and come back for more whenever you wish.
* PRAYERFULLY REFLECT on your core commitments. Are you caring for young children, aging parents, a spouse with health problems, or other significant relationships? Are vocational commitments or personal health issues at the core for you? As alternative ways of identifying your core commitments, think of your life purpose, your personal mission statement if you have one, what you would like to be known for, or the legacy you would like to leave behind.
* IN WHAT WAYS do your core commitments give opportunity for self-care? What challenges do they present?
* TAKE A PERSONAL INVENTORY of the self-care practices that already form part of your life. Which ones would you like to do more? Which ones may not be as life-giving as they once were?
* CHOOSE ONE SELF-CARE PRACTICE from your list and then follow through with it. Add it as a reminder on your phone or in your datebook. Or jot it down on a sticky note and post in a prominent place. Take time to take good care of yourself.
* TURN TO THE CONTENTS PAGE of this book and consider the four gifts: (1) our overall well-being, represented by the heart, (2) our spiritual well-being, represented by the soul; (3) our mental well-being, represented by the mind; (4) our physical well-being, represented by strength. Which of these is your strongest area of self-care? Which could use more attention?CHAPTER 2
Boundaries of the Heart
"No" is a complete sentence. — ANNE LAMOTT
At the start of a workshop I lead on spiritual practice for busy people, I ask, "So what has made us such busy people this last week?" The question functions as an easy icebreaker as I ask people to call out their answers. I write them on the flip chart. Work. Family. School. Church. Social media. Driving. Sports. Expectations and trying to meet them.
When the page is full, I turn to the next, and the next, and I keep writing. The answers get more specific as we warm up to the exercise, and I hear more murmurs of recognition — yes, we are busy people!
"For busy people, spiritual practice begins quite simply with stopping." I draw a vertical line through the busyness recorded on each page. "All these things might be good things that we want and need to do. But one way to begin attending to our spiritual life is learning how to stop. That might mean stopping our work at the end of a day or the end of a week. Or pausing to catch a breath between one meeting and the next. Or spending a quiet moment alone before the day begins. For anyone — and especially for busy people — spiritual practice begins with stopping."
When it comes to self-care, stopping is also a good place to begin. Quite literally, self-care starts when we stop. I used to think that self-care meant adding something, especially something fun and self-pampering. Like going out to dinner in the middle of the week. Or an hour of retail therapy on a Saturday afternoon. Or getting a massage, just because. Or making time for all three. I'm all for some fun as part of healthy self-care, but rather than adding on more things, what if self-care begins with learning how to stop?
PUTTING ON THE BRAKES
In Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend tackle three key questions as outlined on the back cover:
Is your life out of control?
Do people take advantage of you?
Do you have trouble saying no?
The book begins with "A Day in a Boundaryless Life" and ends with "A Day in a Life with Boundaries," following Sherrie as she interacts with her husband, children, friend, coworker, mother, and others throughout her day. As Sherrie works at developing healthy personal boundaries, she becomes less frazzled and finds more satisfaction in her family, church, and work relationships, and those around her seem healthier, too, as they adjust to her newfound life with boundaries. The authors conclude their book with this note to their readers: "It's our prayer that your biblical boundaries will lead you to a life of love, freedom, responsibility, and service."
I wish I had read this book early in my ministry when I needed to establish some healthy boundaries. Instead, I was so excited to be called as a pastor, and so eager to learn, that I said yes to every new opportunity. Serve on a denominational committee? Yes, I'd love to get to know the wider church and contribute where I can. Be a guest speaker at the local Bible college? Yes, I'd be glad to connect with students. Write a series of devotionals? Yes, I'd like to continue with my writing. Lead a weekend women's retreat? Yes, I'd be happy to prepare a few sessions and enjoy the time together. Yes. Yes. Yes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Four Gifts"
Copyright © 2018 April Yamasaki.
Excerpted by permission of Herald Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Amy Simpson 11
Introduction: Seeking Self-Care 15
Part I Heart
1 The Heart of Self-Care 25
2 Boundaries of the Heart 37
3 Hearts in Community 47
4 Heart to Heart 57
Part II Soul
5 Tending Your Soul 71
6 Sabbath as Soul Care 83
7 The Soul's Lament 93
8 The Soul and the Fruit of Self-Discipline 103
Part III Mind
9 Minding Your Focus 117
10 Minding Your Digital World 127
11 Minding Your Mental Health 137
12 Renewing Your Mind 149
Part IV Strength
13 Strength in Weakness 161
14 Strength in Healthy Sleep Habits 173
15 Strength in Healthy Food Choices 185
16 Strengthening Your Self-Care 195
The Author 207