Self-care or self-sacrifice?

We live in a stressful world — maybe we may have draining jobs, babies waking during the night, children struggling in school, family difficulties, or filled-to-the-brim schedules.  “I really need some ‘me’ time,” you think.  Some self-care.

But then we read passages like this:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matthew 16:24-25)

So, which is it?  Does a life of self-sacrifice leave room for self-care?

I think an example from the life of Jesus gives us the answer.

In Matthew 14, after hearing about the tragic death of his relative John, Jesus climbs into a boat and sails to a spot where he can mourn privately.

But his privacy doesn’t last long.  Soon, crowds of people begin to flock in — thousands of them, many of them sick and in need of healing.  Jesus spends the entire rest of the day attending to their ailments and then decides to feed them a miraculous dinner, too.

After the disciples clean up, we are told that “immediately,” Jesus sends his friends on their way while He tells the crowds to go home. Then He then goes up on a mountain to pray alone.

Here is what I learn from Jesus in this story:

1 – When interrupted by the needs of others, Jesus made time for them Jesus’ intention that morning was to spend some alone time, quietly grieving John’s loss.  He could’ve told the crowds to go home as soon as they approached him.  No one would’ve blamed him if he’d said, “I’m sorry, I can’t help today — I just need a day to myself.” But he didn’t do that.  He had compassion on these strangers and cared for their needs.  There were 5,000 men there that day, plus women and children, so this was no small interruption.  He went above and beyond, in fact, as feeding them supper was his idea.

This is a tough one for me personally.  I don’t like interruptions, particularly when I’m tired or have a long to-do list.  But we must always be willing to serve others. When your child wants you to read to them, but you’re exhausted and have to get the dishes done.  When you’re asked to teach Bible class, but it’s been extra stressful at work.  When there’s a work day at the church building on Saturday, but you’ve had an exhausting week.  Fatigue does not excuse us from being faithful.  Galations 6:9 is a good reminder for me:

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

We must remember that serving others is what we signed up for when we became a Christian.  (Note to self!)  It’s precisely why we’re here.

When we do get tired, Jesus shows us how to be refreshed:

2 – Jesus renewed his soul with purposeful alone time… with God.  At the end of the day, he made his disciples leave. He sent the crowds home.  He found a quiet place.  And He prayed.


If it were me, after a long day, I’d be tempted to go to bed.  Or find some other way to “calm” (distract) myself, like with technology.  Prayer requires energy, right?  Hadn’t Jesus done enough for God already that day?

Now, what floors me is not only that he made time to pray when he was tired, but how long he prayed.  Matthew 14:25 says that Jesus left his quiet mountainside to join his disciples (on water, mind you) during “the fourth watch of the night.”  A quick footnote check told me that this was between 3 and 6 am!!  Jesus prayed for hours.  In fact, it appears he prayed all night.

How in the world did Jesus have the energy to do that?  And why did he feel the need to?

Because Jesus understood this truth:  Prayer is the best self-care.

If we are to have the energy to go out and serve others tomorrow, our souls need time with God today.  Even more than sleep.

This is often hard for us – for me! – but we must make time to rejuvenate our souls with the One who made them.  We must find a time and place when it’s just ourselves and God.  Like Jesus did, we need to do what is necessary to remove distractions so we can be with our Father, even when it seems inconvenient or tiring.  The only way to have energy for a life of service to God is through time with God.

God does not ask us to be little Energizer bunnies who serve 24-hours a day.  We’re not capable of that – even Jesus in his earthly form had limitations.  But God does want us to come to the right place to recharge our batteries: Him.


Lord, today, this week, this year, help us to remember that the best thing we can do to take care of ourselves is spend time with You.  You are the one who refreshes our souls.  You are the giver of life.  Give us divine energy to serve when we’re tired, to do good when we’d rather retreat.  Our spirits are willing, but our flesh is weak.  Actually, sometimes our spirits aren’t willing.  Change that.  Give us hearts that seek You and Your kingdom first each day.




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