“Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…?” 1 Cor 6:19
St. Paul continues, reminding us that we are not our own; we are bought at a (very high) price.
A temple is an earthly representation of a heavenly reality, and each one has a distinct design. Being only a representation, each temple has areas where it falls short of full conformity to that heavenly reality. There’s nothing wrong with this; it is the nature of our fallen world. This does not mean the temple is flawed or broken, only that it is beautiful and unique. Each will reach its full potential and fulfillment when transformed into its glorified state.
While earthbound, every temple needs maintenance. Temples need roofs, cleaning, and painting. People, too, need self-care, doctors, bathing, food, and water. But what, exactly, does self-care mean? And isn’t it selfish, and a waste of time? Shouldn’t we spend that energy serving others?
No, self-care is not selfish, and it is not a waste of time. There’s a cute meme on Facebook about pouring from an empty cup. It’s quite true – one cannot pour from an empty cup. We also cannot take care of others if we don’t first take care of ourselves. That’s why airlines tell us to put our own oxygen mask on first. If we don’t, we can’t help anyone else – we’d be impaired at best, and unconscious at worst.
In my life, I’ve both seen and personified that “haggard caretaker” who puts everyone and everything ahead of themselves. It tends to turn out like this: 1. The crisis ends, more or less uneventfully, followed by a recovery period; 2. The exhausted caretaker creates a secondary crisis when his or her own health fails before the crisis ends; or 3. The caretaker creates a secondary crisis by making a mistake that may be forgiven considering his or her exhausted state.
Take care of the caretaker or you can’t take care of anyone else.
Human beings require maintenance just as much as homes, cars, or anything else. Even our vacuum cleaners need maintenance – new bags, pet hair removal, etc. Dishes need washing. Lawnmowers need fuel and tune-ups. Electronic devices need software updates, charging, and the cache cleaned.
As a tea aficionado, I love that meme about the empty cup and how you can’t pour from one. When I get to the bottom of my ever-present teapot, silt from the tea leaves gathers into the last cup. It’s gritty, bitter, and tastes terrible. When the pot hasn’t yet been filled, I can’t even get that terrible cup at the end. And after the terrible cup, but before I refill the pot, I can’t get my tea then, either, because there’s nothing there for the pot to give. Truly, I cannot pour from an empty pot – and it’s not for want of trying!
Eleanor Brownn, a self-help author, said in her book, Mile 9: “Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel. ” She goes on to say that “when you take the time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow.” I disagree with her here. I don’t want to, and frankly cannot, replenish my own spirit. I have no well of my own from which to draw. But God can replenish my spirit. He is the well of Living Water.
That’s why the first stop for real self-care is prayer, spending dedicated time with God regularly, and hopefully without distractions or interruptions. Hang out with God, spending time sharing and listening as you do with beloved friends and family. Rest here, share your cares and your gratitude with Him for all the good in your life, as He is the source of all that good.
That’s the second stop, actually – gratitude. Take a moment each day to acknowledge at least three good things to God. There will be days when three is a stretch – perhaps we’ll only notice cheesy ones, like “I woke up, the sun rose, and there’s clean running water in my house.” Other days, stopping at three will be the challenge. Over time and with practice, it becomes easier. When it feels natural, start noticing when God has answered a prayer. We pray for things all the time, and God does answer. For example, we ask for our daily bread every time we say the Our Father. Thank Him for delivering.
I prefer to start my days with my gratitude journal. Others may prefer doing this little prayer exercise at bedtime. Either way, when something particularly stands out to you, share it with your spouse or a friend! A joy shared is doubled.
Third stop of five: Rest! If you can, keep a regular sleep schedule. Take a day off each week from housework, paid work, and general busyness. God took a day off, and the Earth kept turning, so I think we can, too. Commit to it as a family, plan ahead, and reserve time to actually enjoy life. It is what’s happening while we’re busy working, shopping, and waiting, so we may as well make the most of it. Take the initiative and enjoy it!
The next two are short, common-sense things.
Fourth, eat properly and drink enough water. Sounds simple, right? It’s hard to do in the middle of a busy life, though. We wouldn’t put sup-par fuel in a car we rely on to get around, so we shouldn’t put sub-par food into our bodies, either. Treats are one thing; I use them as a reward system for myself. A steady diet of them is something else. When all we have time for is convenience foods, it may be a signal that we’re overscheduled and need to rebalance the load before we burn out.
Lastly, exercise (this is where my treats come in). Exercise, if you didn’t already know, affects hormonal and mental health, as well as general physical health. I’m not a doctor, and even if I were, I’m not your doctor. Therefore, I’m just going to say that going for a stroll in the sunshine while chatting with God about what’s on my mind or while praying my rosary is one of my favorite ways to take care of myself.
Taking care of ourselves is a duty, and it’s one that pays huge benefits. Failure to do so, prioritizing ourselves below everyone and everything else, results in no one being served – by us. They’ll be served, just not by us, and perhaps not in the way we’d prefer.
Stewardship is a term we tend to hear once a year or so, and usually concerning money. It also applies to the rest of God’s bounty, though. It means caring for something entrusted to us, but that ultimately is not ours. We are called to stewardship of our minds and bodies. They’ve been entrusted to us as a temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell in. Maintenance of that temple is a duty and a responsibility that will benefit us, and everyone around us, because it really is true that we cannot serve from an empty vessel.
Besides, who wants to invite an honored guest to a place with a leaky roof and a wonky door?
Delsonora lives in Central Ohio and has been married to the best husband a woman could want for over a quarter century. She has a disability and was adopted as an infant. Delsonora loves pets, crafting, and food, and she thinks that coincidence is often a “divine hint”. Catholic from conception, she’s convinced that the faith is why, despite the prevalence of other options, she was able to be born.