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“What would you like to do?” he asked.
My good and faithful husband had hired a babysitter for our four sons (Combat pay!), and we were driving away from the house, the cavernous mini-van feeling empty and oddly quiet.
“Good question,” I thought, “What would I like to do?” As a homeschooling mum, church woman, maker of beds and of sandwiches, I had just about lost touch with what grown ups do when they are assigned the task of having fun or the responsibility of relaxing.
In Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength, April Yamasaki opens her own life to self-care scrutiny and examines Scripture’s claims about the abundant life alongside biblical promises of God’s care for those who believingly follow Him. To my great relief, Yamasaki frames self-care with a bigger vision than manicures and a daily green smoothie, as she encourages readers to receive the gifts that flow from the first great commandment:
“And 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.” (Mark 12:30)
Caring for You. Caring for Others.
The busy-ness of life in all its demanding seasons can lead to habits that could best be described as self-neglect. Conversely, culture screams messages that make a virtue of self-indulgence: “I deserve this.” I have had a tendency to read messages about self-care as burdensome checklists, one more item on an already too-full list of things to do.
The abundant life involves caring for your own needs, caring for others, and surrendering to the call of God. There is freedom to be found in the “healthy tension” (188) between loving ourselves well and also being fully available to our neighbor. In Four Gifts, April invites readers into a purposeful pursuit of healthy living according to God’s design in ways that are both challenging and realistic:
1. Self-Care Leaves Space to Honor Your Core Commitments
Just as the heart “represents the center of our physical, mental, and spiritual being,” (221) each of us has “core commitments” that direct our daily actions. Mine are shaped around marriage, mothering and grandmothering, homeschooling, writing, and church ministries. Because your commitments are different from mine, the parameters of our self-care regimens will look very different.
“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.” (234)
2. Self-Care Begins with Learning How to Stop
For me, self-care is mostly about knowing when to stop, and this came into sharp focus as I was reminded of New Testament directives to the early church that clearly distinguish “between being weighed down and being focused on following Jesus.” The Hebrews 12 “weight” that interferes with the believer’s race can often be the tasks we take on that are not really ours to do.
3. Self-Care Leaves Room for a Listening Life
In the rush of life, I often catch myself half-listening to people, tuning out details to conserve mental energy, or failing to set aside the task at hand in order to meet the eyes of my dearest people while they speak. When Jesus was being quizzed by the religious elite, pressed into choosing the most important commandment of all, His answer began with the word Listen!
“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
Taking time to listen to God, to hear the words of Scripture from a thoughtful stance, to listen to my own aging body in its need for rest, and to slow down and hear the messages coming through the words of the people I love are all forms of self-care that minister to the whole person and also spread ripples of health into a family or a community.
4. Self-Care Frees the Soul for Sabbath Rest
April Yamasaki is a ministry professional, and she manages a website called When You Work for the Church. Her perspective on Sabbath rest includes first-hand knowledge that Sunday is often the busiest and most stressful day of the week. It turns out that most of us have a much too narrow definition of Sabbath-keeping. The rest and rejuvenation that come with it are “sometimes a by-product but not the primary purpose. The primary biblical purpose . . . is to put away the idol of control and power.” (766) If I can address this issue at its core, suddenly other pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Turning off my phone or taking a nap or postponing an errand to another day can become an offering in which I kick myself out of the center of the universe, a fruit of self-discipline in which I say no to the habit of accomplishment and yes to the habit of quiet or rest.
At its core, then, self-care may be uncomfortable. It may push me to honor limits I’ve become accustomed to pushing through, to utter a few well-placed “nos” that feel as if I’m squandering opportunities, to admit that I need help rather than forging ahead on my own. God’s four gifts of heart, soul, mind, and strength come with the expectation of a graceful stewarding of those gifts, a responsibility that takes practice–and a privilege that comes with the following life as we lean on Jesus for each step in the right direction.
Many thanks to Herald Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.