Sometimes I have an opportunity to escape being a mom, wife, and the primary caregiver to our adult daughter with Angelman Syndrome. It may just be for a couple of hours but one rather simple and satisfying way I can do this is to take a long bath and read a book or magazine. I might even give myself a pedicure. It’s a luxurious time of pampering to light a candle, pull out the Epsom salts and indulge in some “me” time.
Truth be told though, I could live without the pedicure and even the soak in the tub. What I cannot really live without is some time to myself to organize my thoughts, to rest from my responsibilities, to remember who I am apart from loved ones around me and to renew or deepen my connection with God.
The pampering is sweet and valuable. My flesh cries out to feel cared for. But it’s the solitude and spiritual intimacy that are my lifeline. That’s where I get in touch with my soul and the Creator of it. Both are important — myself and my soul — but I need to keep these things in balance or the cost is great to me and to others.
One reason it is tempting to neglect the balance is because the world and our culture lure me into thinking that self care and soul care are one and the same. There can be some overlap between the two but, for the most part, they are not the same at all. In fact, differentiating them has eternal implications.
Self-care fuels your body and mind.
Soul care fuels your spirit, your sense of purpose, and your hopefulness about the future.
Self-care will tend to keep you thinking about yourself and relying on your own strength.
Soul care points you to Jesus, your ultimate and eternal Source of power, purpose, help, and hope.
As caregivers, we can be vulnerable to getting our priorities out of whack. We might function in survival mode or on autopilot. Our opportunity for thriving lies in learning to do both soul care and self care in an energizing and God-glorifying balance.
For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
I hope you won’t neglect either one but recognize that you can actually live without one but not without the other. Your very life depends on the state of your soul.
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What are you best at — taking care of yourself or taking care of your soul? Where is your focus?
You will be a better caregiver for others when you take good care of your soul.
Why is soul care so effective?
Soul care gets to the root of what most deeply and purely fuels us. Like our vehicles function better on premium fuel, the quality of what you feed your inner spirit influences how you function. When your energy and motivation are depleted, self care might tide you over for a while. But soul care will nourish and empower you in a fundamentally different way and for fundamentally different purposes.
Jesus prioritized soul care but stayed on top of self care too. He paid attention to meeting his personal needs eating healthy foods, taking time to relax, getting the sleep he needed (he even took naps), and doing a lot of walking (Matt 26:18, 20; Mark 1:16, 3:23, 4:38; Luke 7:36; John 10:40, 12:2).
Jesus also sought the company of friends (Matt 26:36-38) and enjoyed solitude. But he made personal prayer time a top priority and regularly started his day that way (Mark 1:35).
Jesus also understood that maintaining healthy and God-honoring boundaries were necessary and demonstrated His trust that God would be the ultimate Supplier, Caregiver and Advocate. He was never in a hurry. He was interruptible. He understood that one way God fuels people and enriches their lives is when they are generous and sacrificial with their time, energy and resources by following Him into the world.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
You can be encouraged and energized knowing that God highly values what you are pouring into your family and others. Just remember that God will ease that load when you carry it His way and only bear the parts He has called you to.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
We tend to put more things in the category of soul care than really belong there and then wonder why those things don’t refresh or sustain us for longer than they do.
There is some overlap but far less so than what the enemy of your soul wants us to believe. A caregiver who enjoys little or no time for hobbies can still thrive. But a caregiver who harbors unforgiveness will struggle. A caregiver who relies too heavily on a well-ordered household for a sense of peace will gain only temporary relief from housecleaning. The state of one’s home cannot offer the kind of life-giving peace that comes from surrendering control. Our surroundings offer an illusion that is helpful but not sustainable and lacks eternal implications. (I’m preaching to myself here.)
We are called to choose our “burdens” carefully and learn to wear the “yoke” alongside Jesus. Soul care involves a partnership with the Holy Spirit.
Our children will reap lifelong benefits from seeing us model effective self care and soul care too. By modeling these priorities, even if imperfectly, we show your children that we all matter to God. As spouses juggle and navigate their own priorities and as special siblings grow up, they need to know their personal care matters. Your family is in a marathon. You will all need to stay fit for the long haul. You can help your loved ones learn how to do this well by learning to do it well yourself. Model personal care so that your spouse and children won’t worry about you. Model it so your children see that your marriage matters to you. Model it proactively so they are reassured their family will not run off the rails of exhaustion. Most of all, model soul care so that when the ultimate race is finished, your family can enjoy eternity together in heaven.
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Don’t neglect self care or soul care but recognize that you can actually live without one but not without the other. Your very life depends on that state of your soul.
By all means, indulge in that pedicure — or whatever it is that refreshes you! Just consider prioritizing something that is truly fuel for your soul and then make self care a reward for choosing well.
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever.
In the battle between self-care and soul care, your soul will always win.
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Lisa Jamieson is a caregiver consultant, pastoral counsellor and author of popular books and Bible studies including Finding Glory in the Thorns and Jesus, Let’s Talk. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Together, the Jamiesons founded Walk Right In Ministries in 2008, a non-profit organization building faith and community with special needs families.