Many of us live at a pace that is impossible to keep. Unrelenting busyness might feel necessary, but it can lead to chronic stress and burnout that hinders our love for God and others. Instead of adding more to our long to-do list, counselors Eliza Huie and Esther Smith guide readers in how to think biblically about their whole life. In The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care, they give Christians a framework for biblical self-care that will help them live for Christ by stewarding the spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical aspects of life.
In the following interview with Eliza and Esther, they share more about why self-care is so important for all of us.
Q: Why does the term “self-care” raise eyebrows in the Christian community? In reality, why is it a biblical concept?
The term “self-care” has been broadly used in secular circles and wellness platforms in various ways. From expressing healthy priorities all the way to using it as means to justify a self-centered and indulgent lifestyle, self-care is a buzzword that can mean a lot of different things to people. More self-centered forms of self-care have likely contributed to concerns that Christians have when they hear the term. However, another contributing factor to hesitation on the topic is likely a wrong understanding that a life of self-sacrifice means you should not care about your own needs. This is not what the Bible teaches, nor is it what Jesus modeled.
Self-care is a biblical concept when we consider it in light of three things that are reflected in our definition of biblical self-care. We define biblical self-care as “the practice of drawing on divinely given resources to steward our whole lives for personal enrichment, the good of others, and the glory of God.” Biblical self-care is about stewarding everything God gives us. This includes resources such as our time, energy, health, relationships, skills, and abilities. These things enrich our lives so that we can do good to others and glorify God.
Q: As experienced counselors, what have you seen that confirmed that your book, The Whole Life, was so needed?
Being in the helping field of work, we were both aware of the high levels of burnout experienced by counselors and caregivers. An article from The American Psychological Association states that 50 percent of mental health workers report high exhaustion and cynicism. Ministry workers don’t fair much better. One study completed by the Schaeffer institute indicates that 1700 pastors leave the ministry each month. These pastors state their primary reasons for leaving are experiences of depression, burnout, and overwork. Statistics like these underscore what we know: it is very easy to put the critical needs of others above our own need for rest and refreshment.
We also saw the need for this book in our counseling practice. Whether it was the college student feeling unable to keep up, the homemaker experiencing exhaustion, or the professional burning the candle at both ends, we saw people who had little concept of how to wisely care for themselves. When they did take steps to care for themselves, they often felt guilty about it. In light of all this, we knew a book like The Whole Life was absolutely essential.
Q: Personally, how did you come to realize self-care was a necessity? What are a few of the things each of you do regularly to take care of yourselves?
Eliza: For me, it is easy to say yes and hard to say no. Much of this, I believe, comes from a good desire to help others as well as having a natural entrepreneurial personality. I love being a part of building something, and I have been told I have a capacity to match my interest. Whether I’m investing my energies into a project or a person, I jump in with both feet. But this is not without a cost, and I was starting to feel that cost. I began to feel overwhelmed, and stress started to impact my body. In addition, I felt the negative impact of the emotional stress I was carrying in various ways, including difficulty sleeping and other health challenges. I started feeling like the act of spinning many plates was normal. As much as I hate to admit it, I did not want to slow down, but I knew a frenetic pace was not healthy physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually.
A couple things I do to care for myself are to get up early and read and listen to the Bible. Reading while I listen allows me to really focus on God’s Word. My mind can easily wander, so this is one thing I do to ensure that my time in the Word is not distracted. Undistracted time with God seems to set a tone for the day for me. So, I try to guard that time. I also try to spend time in nature as often as I can. I find breathing in the fresh air and noticing the beauty of whatever I happen to encounter on my daily walk revitalizes me. Sometimes my husband joins me on these walks and we both have found it beneficial to our personal and relational health as it affords us time to slow down together.
Esther: Over ten years ago, my life was interrupted by chronic pain and autoimmune illness. It soon became apparent that I would need to make major life adjustments to manage my symptoms. After years of searching for answers, I was diagnosed with lupus, and since then, I have found it necessary to slow down and revolve much of my daily life around self-care.
One area of self-care that is especially important for me to regularly practice is a balance between exercise and rest. Most days I find time for a gentle Pilates practice. Every day, I make sure I find time to rest my body. This combination of movement and slowing down is essential for my body and mind to function at their best. Another important self-care practice for me is reading. From slowly reading through a devotional to spending the afternoon with a good novel, I find that various types of reading are beneficial for my well-being.
Q: What are the six sections of the book/areas of life that you cover?
The book is divided into six sections that encompass self-care tools for a person’s whole life.
- We begin the book with a section entitled Spiritual Life. Biblical self-care begins with care for our souls. It includes focused time with God in the Word and through prayer. It involves meditation, spiritual disciplines, and seeking God throughout the day.
- The second section, Physical Life, explores how people can begin taking better care of their bodies. Healthy eating, exercise, doctors’ appointments, medication, and similar practices are necessary aspects of biblical self-care.
- The third section discusses what it looks like to live A Purposeful Life. Here we explore concepts of planning, goal-setting, and staying organized. The way we order our lives impacts our ability to effectively execute biblical self-care.
- Next, we discuss Community Life in the fourth section. We need each other’s help as we engage this journey of self-care. We discuss the avenues of daily conversations, asking for help, avoiding comparisons, and pursuing healthy friendships as ways to pursue self-care.
- Work Life is the fifth section. This may be the area most commonly associated with self-care, and we help people consider a healthy approach to work. Strategies such as setting boundaries, delegating responsibilities, and engaging in healthy rhythms are necessary tools in maintaining whole life balance.
- Finally, we end with a section called A Restful Life. God’s invitation to rest began in the garden and we can anticipate that rest will be a part of our lives into eternity. Remembering the Sabbath, observing healthy sleep habits, and spending time in solitude are all restful practices we invite people to consider.
We explore self-care through these six sections to help people attend to their human needs while being a blessing to others and glorifying God with all parts of their lives.
Q: Stewardship is a word you use a lot in The Whole Life. Usually, we think of stewardship being about how we spend our money, but how does stewardship apply to every part of our lives?
The Bible does not limit stewardship to our finances. We are called to be good stewards of God’s varied graces. This includes ourselves. All parts of us. God gave us bodies that need care. He gave us souls that need attention. He put us in relationships that require time and effort. He designed us to think and feel deeply about our life circumstances, and we must wisely manage our responses to those circumstances. Being good stewards means we are aware of how we are doing in all these areas of life—not only how we spend our money but how we spend our time and energy. Stewardship includes all the various parts of our lives that the Lord has given to us.
Q: Why do we feel like we have to keep pushing ourselves, even when we become physically burned out? Why do we think that is biblical?
Pushing through to the point of burnout happens for a variety of reasons. One common reason is that people find themselves stuck in busy schedules and simply aren’t sure how to change. Our culture makes it easy to fall into overwork. To a large degree, peoples’ ability to work and be productive is equated with their value. Working hard makes us feel competent and worthy. At times, we push through fatigue out of false guilt, legalistic tendencies, savior complexes, or because we feel uncomfortable at the mere thought of not being productive. When signs of burnout surface, many people continue to push forward because they underestimate the consequences of this choice or because they have never seen a more balanced life modeled to know what it might look like.
The question we need to consider is this: do we really think working in that nonstop way is biblical? Or do we just use that idea as an excuse? The most common Scripture people use to support pushing through to the point of burnout is Jesus’s encouragement to take up our cross and deny ourselves. As Christians we are to live self-sacrificial lives, give to everyone who asks, and not grow weary in doing good works. We use these commands to justify overwork. In reality, these commands can and do exist alongside our human need for spiritual rest and physical refreshment.
Q: Why is emotional health so often neglected? Why is there such an embarrassment and stigma attached to getting professional help?
Many people neglect emotional health simply because they don’t realize how important it is. Some Christians circles view emotions as dangerous or deceitful influences that only serve to lead us astray. This fear can prevent people from discovering how important emotions are to our ability to connect with others and navigate struggles. It can also lead people to shut down their emotions or become frightened when they struggle to manage them.
Professional help is stigmatized for a variety of reasons. The inability to handle emotional or mental problems is often associated with feelings of weakness and failure. Many people believe that if someone only prays enough or recites the right Scripture then problems would be bearable or even go away. In this context, needing professional help feels shameful. People feel defeated that their faith was not strong enough to get them through the struggle. People begin to think that something must be wrong with them for needing counseling or other professional services. However, God never designed us to walk through life alone. He designed us to live in community and to find help and support from others as well as from him and his Word.
Q: How important is community to living an overall healthy life?
It’s hard to overstate how important community is to living a healthy life. Most of us take community for granted and don’t realize it’s importance until it isn’t available to us. For many people, the importance of community was highlighted as they experienced isolation throughout the pandemic. People saw that the inability to worship in person affects us spiritually. The absence of regular human contact increases depression and anxiety. Loneliness impacts our physical health. Long periods of isolation highlight how much we need community to live a healthy life.
We weren’t created to be alone. On the contrary, we need each other. Conversations, physical contact, and human presence are essential parts of self-care. We need people to mourn with us, rejoice with us, encourage us, and stick with us through the ups and downs of life. Other people are essential to our growth and sanctification. Being in community is not only essential to our relational health, it is also a necessary aspect of our physical, emotional, and spiritual flourishing.
The authors have created an online community for readers to come together and discuss the book and support one another. The Whole Life Book can be found on Facebook (@WholeLifeBook), Instagram (@wholelifebook), and Twitter (@WholeLifeBook).
The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care
The Whole Life outlines a balanced life of stewardship, offering practical strategies for Christians to grow in honoring God and caring for others. Eliza Huie and Esther Smith focus on six key areas: faith, health, purpose, community, work, and rest.