What is your relationship with silence? Is it something you crave or fear, find tedious or enjoy? I ask these questions because I think that a woman’s relationship with silence and her commitment to self-care are intertwined.
Before we get too far, however, I want to address an underlying assumption that many of us may unconsciously hold: Isn’t self-care inherently selfish? Self-care can be selfish when done to a point of excess, but so can many good things. Taking time for self-care does not mean that I am disregarding the needs of others. Many times, I must meet the needs of others before taking care of myself, but there should be time for both.
When I choose self-care, I am acknowledging that I, too, as a being created in the image and likeness of God, am a person deserving of nurture and care. God did not rest on the seventh day of creation and follow-up by saying, “Everyone shall rest, except women.” But in our daily lives, it can feel like that. As a woman, when you are often the caretaker of others, who takes care of you? Self-care should not be characterized by selfishness and excess or neglect and scarcity, but by abundance, God’s abundance, and it is moderated by the virtues.
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What does God’s abundance look like? Recall the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 from the Gospel according to Matthew (cf. Mt 14:16-20). In this Gospel passage we see that in order to create his abundance, God waits for our gift. How does this apply to self-care? An example of self-care could be as large as going on a weekend retreat, or it could be as small as making a cup of tea and writing a letter to a friend. The point is that God can transform the little moments of caring for ourselves into an abundance to help us be more patient, more attentive, more loving to the people around us. And here is where the virtues come in. We need the fortitude to make time, the prudence to know when to take time and what to do, the temperance to moderate what we do, and justice to make sure we give God, others and ourselves what is due.
Here are seven reasons why we, as women, should form the habit of self-care.
No. 1: Fill your glass so that you have something to give
A glass of water has two parts: the glass and the water. In this analogy, my basic needs form the glass itself. Self-care begins to fill the glass with water. Engaging in self-care is different from making sure my basic needs of nutrition, sleep and exercise are met. I can successfully meet my basic needs (or have a fully formed glass) and still feel like I’m empty, that I have nothing to give. The goal is not to come to the point of feeling empty. By establishing a daily routine of self-care, I develop the habit of caring for myself, and because I have received care, I have something to give. I can ask myself: What can I do to care for myself so that I have something to give?
No. 2: Self-care is an opportunity to care for myself as a whole person
Our emotional, physical, intellectual, social and spiritual health are all connected. When one area is suffering, other areas suffer too. Likewise, when progress is made in one area, the other areas benefit. Learning strategies to bolster emotional health can lead to healing in the spiritual life and a renewed ability to focus on physical health. Step by step, little by little, progress is made in each area. Self-care is an opportunity to target the area that needs the most attention right now for the sake of the whole. I can ask myself: What part of me needs the most care right now?
No. 3: Self-care is an opportunity to be creative
There are many things to consider when drafting your self-care list: the season of life, the amount of time, the amount of money, the time of day, whether you are alone or with someone else, etc. We might be daunted by the work of planning for selfcare, but we can instead look at self-care as an opportunity to exercise our creative abilities. I can ask myself: In what creative ways can I care for myself?
No. 4: Self-care exercises the will; it should be done on purpose
We know that our society is not oriented toward creating healthy relationships with others. It is also not oriented toward helping us have a healthy relationship with ourselves. The wider culture prioritizes feeling and emotions over reason and will. But I know that I am more free when my reason and will rule my emotions. Choosing self-care, not just falling into a moment of leisure without a plan, is an exercise of my reason and will. This practice then sets me up to later be able to choose my response to whatever I encounter instead of reacting according to how I feel. I can ask myself: What can I choose to do today?
No. 5: Follow Jesus’ example
Remember the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 that I referenced before? The stories that frame this miracle are of particular importance here. Just before Jesus performs this miracle, he receives the news of John the Baptist’s death and attempts to go off on his own to pray, but he is intercepted by the crowds (cf. Mt 14:12-14). Instead of insisting on his original intent, he meets their needs, abundantly. Immediately following the miracle, Jesus sends the disciples away, dismisses the crowds, and goes up a mountain by himself to pray (cf. Mt 14:22-23).
We can do the same. We can meet the needs of those around us and then take time on our own. Instead of a question for ourselves, we can petition our Lord: Jesus, help me to meet the needs of others and to take the right time to care for myself.
No. 6: When we commit to self-care, we set an example for others
Children learn to be adults by watching their parents. They learn to take care of themselves not only by practicing what we actively teach them, but by watching how we care for ourselves. My son needs to see my husband sit down to read a book. He needs to see me bake cookies just for fun. He needs to see the many and creative ways we care for ourselves so that he will begin to do the same. This goes for our friends and family too. When we talk about the ways that we care for ourselves, this can encourage others to commit to self-care as well. I can ask myself: Am I helping others learn to take time for self-care?
No. 7: Self-care helps us practice humility, restores peace and grounds us in the present moment
St. Augustine defines peace as “tranquility in order.” There is peace when I am in right relationship with myself, with others and with God. Humility helps me be in right relationship because it helps me recognize reality. God has given me a body and soul, and it is my duty to care for them, but pride and/or laziness can get in the way. I need to counteract the temptation to put off my own need for restorative care because “I’m fine” or “I can handle it” or “I’ll make time for that later,” and instead accept the help and service of others, make time to meet a need in a creative way, and stick to my plan. When all is in the right order, God grants me peace.
This restoration of peace helps ground me in the present moment and helps me feel at home in my present reality. I don’t need to be afraid of silence, threatened by grief, disappointed by previous failures or worried about future struggles. I can rest in this moment of self-care because it affirms that I am a beloved daughter of a God who cares for me as a whole person, both body and soul.
I can ask myself: Am I in right relationship with myself, with others and with God?
Four final tips
There you have it: seven reasons why the habit of self-care is necessary for our well-being as women. As you sit down to build your own self-care list, I encourage you to keep these final tips in mind:
- One of the most important things to remember is that self-care is not an escape from “real life” but an opportunity to enter more fully into it. The activities that will be most restorative and most fulfilling will be things that help us encounter reality in a deeper way because they ground us in the present moment.
- It can be helpful to have an accountability partner, someone who can ask you from time to time what sorts of things you have been doing to care for yourself. It can also be an opportunity to allow your spouse or a friend to serve you by giving you time to engage in self-care.
- Self-care is not primarily a quick fix but a habit to develop overtime, and your list will change depending on the season, time of life, time available, money available, what needs should be focused on, etc.
- You can dedicate the time by beginning with prayer. “Come Holy Spirit.”