High River United Church of High River, Alberta


What You Need More Than Self-Care

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We’ve all done it. Stood there at the book shelf labelled “Self-Care” in the library or bookstore and scanned it in hopes of finding that one book which would bring everything back into balance, which would answer that longing, that need, that struggle within ourselves.  We search for the right title, the one that will resonate with the need we feel but just can’t name.


But have you ever bought a self-care book that really did it – that really filled the need within you?  Oh, it might have some good ideas!  It might offer some phrases and thoughts that are deeply helpful. You might catch some ideas about how to proceed in the situation.  But I’ve never walked away with a self-care book that left me feeling truly cared for, that allowed me to fully relax and rest from whatever I was dealing with.  That’s why the self-care section is so large; we keep going back for more.  Looking for the next book – one that will truly fill the need within.


So if self-care books don’t work? What does? 


How about taking time for myself, pampering myself, buying myself little treats (or big treats)?  Will investing time and energy in myself fill my inner need?  Though it is good to take some time for yourself, time to do things you enjoy in order to re-energize and get perspective, ultimately, this kind of self-care also fails to meet that inner need – the longing to be loved and cared for.


Here’s how love and care are supposed to work.  It’s all about being in relationship.  Self-love, self-care, can never be fully satisfying because as human beings we are made to receive love from others and to give love to others.  It is only love given and love received that can truly satisfy our souls.


So, while taking time for one self has a role and we do need to take care of ourselves, the true satisfaction comes in two ways: 1) having someone who loves and cares for us and 2) having someone for whom we love and provide care.


We cannot fulfill our own need for love and care.  No matter how many self-care books we read, how much time we take for ourselves, how many treats we give ourselves, how much pampering we arrange for ourselves, we will never feel satisfaction.  So what do we do as adults?


First, we care for someone who needs us, a child, a grandchild, or someone who really needs to lean into us for support and love. Pets also play this role to an extent.  Our love and care for this other person needs to be unconditional if it is to be truly satisfying.  We let go of expectations.  We ask nothing in return.  We love them just as they are.  We offer our care, our support, our concern.  Sometimes we offer a “No, that can’t happen,” (which can also be the most loving thing to do.) We don’t make them work for our love. We aren’t doing this in return for their love.  If they love us, that’s pure icing on the cake.  We give our love and that is enough.  That is what satisfies.


Second, we allow ourselves to be loved and cared for by others.  We don’t have to be self-sufficient in all ways.  It’s harder as adults to find that caring relationship which is unconditional and without expectations, in which we are just loved.  Rightly, it should be parents and/or grandparents who love and care for us. (And their unconditional love can be held in our hearts even if they have passed away.)  But sometimes they didn’t know how to offer this unconditional care.  Sometimes they were the ones who made us work for their love.  So where do we find a relationship into which we can lean?


It may be a dance we do with a spouse or with friends, in which the caring for and unconditional loving is mutual, where we each have our times of leaning into the other.  It may be an aunt or uncle or a long-time family friend or a former teacher – someone who doesn’t make us work for their love, someone who accepts all that we are, with our bumps and bruises, our triumphs and our tragedies.


As followers of the Way of Jesus, we have the gift of knowing One whose love for us is beyond measure.  “God is steadfast love,” the psalms say over and over again.  “The power of God’s love working within us can do infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine,” are the words written to the church at Ephesus.  “I have come that you might know God’s love and joy in all its abundance,” Jesus said to the disciples. 


We can lean into God for the care and love for which our spirits long.  In the divine presence, we can find love that is truly satisfying, we can discover care that trumps any self-care we might do.  As apprentices of the Way of Jesus, part of what we practice is leaning into God, letting ourselves relax into the arms of God, and finding there a love which is beyond anything we can imagine, a peace that truly satisfies.


We are not meant to self-satisfy.  We are meant to be in loving relationship.  Nothing can be better than pouring out our unconditional love to a child or a grandchild, and seeing them flourish in that love.  We get ourselves so tied in knots with expectations and things we think we should be teaching them.  What is really needed is providing them with the protective presence of our love, offering them a safe place where they can express their fears and dreams, their failures and their desires, knowing that they will not be judged, knowing that this person (you) love them with all your heart.


Sometimes it is hard for us as adults to have someone who will do the same for us.  Sometimes we come out of childhood having never had anyone offer us unconditional and steadfast love.  It can make it hard.  There is much to grieve, much to work through in order to believe ourselves capable of loving and being loved.


But when that child or grandchild captures our heart and we allow our love for them to grow, we will find something far more satisfying than self-care.  By the way, you can never spoil a child with too much love.  Even as you search for those who you trust to offer you unconditional love, even as you learn how to lean more and more into God’s love, you can put things in the right place for your child.  You can love them with all your heart.  Caring for your child unconditionally is the greatest gift you can give both them and yourself.  You will love them into becoming all that God created them to be.


May 28, 2015                           ©Susan Lukey 2015


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