4 Ways to Boost Your Self-Care Quotient

“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.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Leaning on Jesus,

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A Season of Listening

Christmas is the season of listening. We gather around the story of Luke 2, as it’s read aloud. We hang sleigh bells on our Christmas trees and on our door knobs and enjoy the nostalgia for days when holiday traffic was all “over the river and through the woods.” Carols ring out in the most unlikely places and carolers freeze their fingers and noses to spread the joy of music to their neighbors. Brass quartets suddenly play to packed halls, and Salvation Army bell ringers lighten our hearts with a reminder to share.

Even those who totally miss the point of Christmas listen ardently to a genre of music unique to the season and fine tune their ears to the glad tidings of dramatic price reductions and the great joy of “no interest ’til next year!”

But then, there’s the carol that, on the down beat, demands a listening ear:

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

 

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is deeply theological and yet joyfully singable, which is no surprise, coming as it does from a collaboration between theologian Charles Wesley and composer Felix Mendelssohn. (According to Wikipedia, George Whitefield even had a hand in it!)

The message of the carol offers a theological basis for a unique Christmas listening, particularly in reference to the carol itself, for how ironic is it for us to sing all four verses of a song beginning with “Hark!” and then to zone out on the words as they come effortlessly to mind?

When the familiarity of the words stands like a giant barrier between your heart and the truth, it’s time to slow down for a deeper pondering of Christmas. After all, this is no small event. Because of the newborn King, a giant rift in the universe has been healed.

Have You Noticed?

Wesley refers to Jesus using 11 different names in the four verses of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Each one is theologically dense and rich in promise:

  1. Newborn King,
  2. Christ,
  3. Everlasting Lord,
  4. Offspring of the Virgin’s Womb,
  5. Incarnate Deity,
  6. The Godhead Veiled in Flesh,
  7. Emmanuel,
  8. Prince of Peace,
  9. Sun of Righteousness,
  10. Desire of Nations, and
  11. Second Adam.

Any one of these names has enough embedded truth to warm a cold December heart.

We love to sing about “peace on earth and mercy mild” at Christmas time, and the angel’s message urges us to pay attention to the source of true peace and reconciliation. We are invited to “rise” and to “join the triumph of the skies” that teemed with worship on that dark hillside so long ago. The carol borrows words from Hebrews 1 to remind us that we are in “the last days” ushered in by Jesus’ arrival “late in time.”

The incarnation is a durable truth that yields richness even on a rainy Thursday in August, but at Christmas time, we’re invited to dwell in its enormity, and I’m thankful that when God revealed Himself to humanity, He did not say, “Here I am! Find a way to come to Me!” Instead, he “lay His glory by” and “raise[d] the sons of earth.” He said, “I’ll come to you, and I will raise you. I will take you with Me”

The season of listening is also a season for new beginnings, not because of ritual New Year’s resolutions that follow on its heels, but because of “the woman’s conquering seed.” The safe delivery of a warm and swaddled newborn triggered a chain reaction of spiritual warfare. It began in the slaughter of infants with Herod’s bloody and paranoid sword, which was parried by an angelic warning and a flight to Egypt. Later, a test of wits in the wilderness was countered by Words of Truth that exalted Living Bread. Then, at “an opportune time,” a wooden cross and a grisly death ushered in the crushing power of resurrection to “bruise in us the serpent’s head.”

Listening for Christmas truth sheds glory everywhere. When my son’s jazz band plays Feliz Navidad, I pray for our post-Babel world. As I tap my foot to its non-traditional rhythms on the floor of a drafty New England church, I remember that the Yin of my cold and snowy Christmas has a Yang of 90-degrees-and-Christmas-at-the-beach for those who live south of the equator. The effects of the angel’s message are world-wide; the invitation is to “all nations.”

It is my hope that you are among the listeners this Christmas, that your ears are tuned to the whisper of truth amidst the noise of holiday hoopla, and that Jesus is making His “humble home” in your heart. Because of His coming, you can know God personally.

Blessings to you as you rejoice in the “light and life” He brings.

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Thank you to my friend Abby from Little Birdie Blessings for the uniquely crafted image, complete with musical angels.

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The Practice of Listening

Students had assembled for an October chapel service as several dozen faculty members strode to the front of the Great Hall  bearing symbols of their work — a laser in the hands of a physicist, clay in the hands of an artist, spreadsheets borne by an economist.  Each offering was placed on the stage, transforming it into an altar.  Prayers of blessing consecrated each symbol of the professors’ work and communicated a valuable lesson to the student body on that day:  All work is holy work when the worker is listening for the voice of God.

A Spirituality of Listening is Keith Anderson’s argument that listening to the voice of God, paying attention to the rhythms of obedience, discipleship, and worship, mark the beginning of “living what we hear.”  All of our spirituality is “grounded in ordinary life experiences.”  In the process of sharing from his own life and the deep well of his reading and thinking, principles of listening practice emerge that are based in the author’s understanding of spirituality: “learning to pay attention to the speaking voice of God in everything; paying attention to God’s active presence and seeking to stand in that place.”

Listening fosters spirituality in its simplest form, for God shows up in time and space.  During Old Testament times and in the time of Christ, interaction with the Word of God happened through listening.  Life in an oral culture gave weight to the words of Genesis 1:  “God said . . .”  It is not for nothing that Jesus made his point eight times in the Gospels:  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Therefore, for the one who believingly follows the speaking God, listening must be an intentional “emptying of distractions and noises that gives [the] soul space to hear what is there.”

A Spirituality of Listening was written on the fly — not in a quiet office, but in moments snatched in a crowded ferry terminal and in noisy places Keith Anderson inhabits each day.  His writing an exercise in attention itself, he offers his thoughts on filtering and classifying sounds on a continuum from white noise, through business sounds, sounds that trigger emotions, the endless chatter of one’s inner storyteller, and, finally, “meaning sounds where you are making sense out of the storyteller in your mind.”  Paul emphasizes the importance of the everyday life, urging his readers to make even our listening into a spiritual discipline, to train the ears and the heart to work together in finding the voice of God in everyday, ordinary life.

The idea that story matters is central to Anderson’s thinking.  God has given the biblical narrative as a guide for truly hearing our own life’s story, and even so, we live in the midst of an unfolding plotline that yields, at times, more questions than answers.  Keith Andersons’ wife suffers from the constant pain of idiopathic neuropathy, and so he queries:  Where is God in this?  Listening, he sees that the answer will not be an audible defense, but instead a gradual, unfolding story to which he and his wife must keep listening.

God’s “be still” in Psalm 46:10 is His invitation to persist in one’s trajectory of faith, for God is in the business of speaking —  but is also a Listener whose ears are tuned to the language of lament.  Coming down with both feet on the position that lament is an act of bold faith, Keith Anderson asserts that lament makes for good theology.  God’s Old Testament prophets reinforce that justice is a core value to God — not merely in their lament, but also in their statements about God and worship.

As Jesus listened to the words of Torah, active listeners today tune their ears to His words in the Gospels.  Listening comprises both “Remember” and “Observe,” because it will be our humble voices that carry the Divine Voice to future generations through our words and our deeds.  Both community and solitude have their impact upon the listening life today (even as they did in the earthly life of Christ), and the example of Jesus teaches that the voice of God may be heard in “unexpected voices and surprising places.”

Wendell Berry (one of the many excellent writers quoted in A Spirituality of Listening) is at his wisest when he yields the podium to Jayber Crow who said:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out only a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”

This is the nature of all story-telling, and is especially true when we are listening for God.  There is always more.  Keith Anderson’s writing emphasizes the absolute other-ness of God while, at the same time, exalting the truth that incarnation has made sacred every little thing.  Knowing that I am heard by the-God-who-speaks-and-the-God-who-also-hears draws me into active and expansive listening, waiting for the heart of another to be unmasked — or for whatever God might choose to reveal.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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The Gift of Listening

The word “listen” appears in Scripture over fifteen hundred times, and the most frequently voiced complaint in the Bible is that the people don’t listen.  It may well be the most frequent complaint of present-day mothers, also, and, as a mother of four, I was in love with Adam McHugh’s The Listening Life before I was half-way through the first chapter.  “Listen to me!” I have beseeched my brood.  “Are you hearing my words?”

However, as I continued to read, I was carried into Adam’s argument that discipleship is a journey of ongoing listening, and suddenly, the book’s message was for me and the “entrenched selfishness” of my own heart.  There’s a good reason for the fact that, in the Latin, the words “listen” and “obedience” have the same root.  It turns out that all my prayers for wisdom in parenting and living life could be understood, like Solomon’s words in Hebrew, as a request for, a “listening heart” or a “heart with skill to listen.”  Adam McHugh helps his readers to see that the skill of listening well begins with the heart, silent and open first to God for His word, then ready to hear others before speaking.

Jesus set the example by listening widely (to the sick, the outcast, the despised), deeply (with probing questions and a heart for underlying need), and hospitably – fully present to the speaker.  The believer’s listening to the voice of God is best done “with the feet” as we embody our listening through acts of obedience.  In this way, listening to God becomes a spiritual discipline as we read — and are read by — the Scriptures; as we listen to creation’s sermons about abundance and the mercy of God, about “the fading nature of human life and beauty in contrast to the constancy and permanence of God.”

Listening to others is best done “listening to,” rather than “listening for” in the manner of a cross-examining attorney trying to catch an inconsistency or to collect data.  The Listening Life parades all our self-promoting, self-centered habits of NOT listening and then describes (with convicting examples) the mindset of keeping the conversational arrow pointed unselfishly toward the other person.  To be honest, I would like to just memorize the chapters on listening to others and listening to those in pain, so that I would always have an assortment of thoughtful and probing questions and comments on the tip of my tongue to remind myself that my conversations are not supposed to be about me.  Then I recall that listening is a matter of the heart, and I see the truth:  it’s my heart that needs changing, and no memorized list from a book – no matter how helpful – is going to bring that about.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer framed the matter beautifully:

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening.”

The Listening Life imagines a world in which the usual pattern of listening is reversed, where leaders listen to followers, where the rich listen to the poor, and the insiders listen to outsiders – not as part of a program or with a prescribed agenda, but one person at a time with listening as an end in itself.

True listening is a path out of the spiritual fatigue and distractedness that we bring to every interaction.  As we listen to God, as we pay attention to the messages our own hearts are trying to communicate to us, and as we turn our focus outward to hear the hearts of others, we are giving a gift that comes directly from God — and in the process, we receive a gift as well.

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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