By Lee Stewart
I always think of the King James Version of the Bible as the high-brow version, but there’s one verse in there that fascinates me because it seems like it’s trying to be funny. Proverbs 11:25 says, “The liberal soul shall be made fat.” And I picture this roly poly sort of fellow handing out candy, but getting a little chubbier with each piece he gives away. Not quite Santa Claus, but somewhere along those lines.
The Message Bible says it this way: “The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed.” The ESV says: “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched.”
One thing seems clear—if you want to do yourself some good, do good to others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3). Develop a particular mindset toward others, not just a particular behavior. Lose your life so you will find it (Matthew 16:25).
If you look around the internet, you will find encouragement to love yourself and many ways to practice it. Here are a few things I found in an image search using the phrase “self-care.”
You gotta nourish to flourish!
You can’t pour from an empty cup. Fill your own cup FIRST.
Letting toxic people go is not an act of cruelty, it’s an act of self-care.
Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.
Self-care is how you take your power back.
Self-care is an act of self-love.
Self-care isn’t selfish.
Then we have practical application. If you need mental refreshment, read a book. If you need physical refreshment, take a bath. If you need emotional refreshment, have lunch with a friend.
It’s worth mentioning that these mantras and suggestions could sound rather privileged. Some people can’t afford luxuries like following all their dreams, going to yoga class, trying new restaurants, and taking long baths. And what if their boss is the toxic person in their life, but they need the job?
Let’s consider a Biblical view of self-care. What does it mean to be a liberal soul? Is there room for rest and care for myself?
This metaphor is not perfect, but here goes: If you’ve been on an airplane you’ve heard the instructions. In the event of a loss of cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. We do this to stay alive and help others do the same. If we actually found ourselves in that moment, we would be utterly dependent on the oxygen and we would know it. But the world’s version of self-care is so focused on the mask and on the act of being filled, it doesn’t pay attention to the oxygen (You are the hero of this story!). Or it’s so focused on the mask, it doesn’t bother to tell you how to wear it. Just put it on! Doesn’t matter how! (Just take time for yourself! Cut the toxic people out!) Or worse, the world tells us WE are the source of the oxygen. The world says fill yourself up with more of YOU. Meanwhile, we haven’t noticed the way our worship is shifting. The message is subtle and wrapped up in memes or Pinterest quotes with fancy lettering. Maybe it’s wrapped up in spiritual language from undiscerning bloggers.
God knows all about the human condition and how to feed our hunger, how to supply the oxygen. He has given us the instruction we need. FIRST, love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind. SECOND, love your neighbor as yourself. These are not pat answers. Pat answers are the sayings I found on the internet. Expect to find yourself on your knees when you try to apply God’s commands in the middle of laundry loads, health problems, difficult co-workers, toddler tantrums, etc.
What is it to love a neighbor as I love myself? I give myself food and water. I take time for work and play. I set boundaries. I tell myself hard things. I don’t go on in cool indifference toward myself. If I followed myself on Instagram, I would probably still like my posts, even after I offended myself.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way in his book, Mere Christianity: “That definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself.”
Sometimes doing good to others feels dutiful so we avoid it. I used to wait until I felt like doing something to do it because otherwise it felt artificial. I was too “authentic” for that, behaving only from a place of sincerity. But there are many occasions in which we are called to deny ourselves. The sincerity is in the will—the will to please God at any cost to yourself.
As the youngest of three kids, I fit into some of those stereotypes about the baby of the family. Sometimes it’s hard for me to serve, or even notice where it’s necessary. I don’t always feel pressure to be the most productive, and I don’t feel like I’m good at doing good. I’m Eeyore saying: “I’m already behind. Why bother?” Being a liberal soul is something I have to practice first in order for it to make its way into my heart.
But maybe you’re an oldest child and always the responsible one. Maybe your motives for serving come from a place of control instead of gratitude. You love how it feels to be a “good girl” because there’s a sense that God owes you. So maybe being a liberal soul is more of a heart change than a behavioral one for you.
We are naturally lovers of ourselves. Even those with low self-esteem may be consumed with themselves, although negatively. But Jesus shows us a glaring template for self-denial and taking up a cross. We are also naturally enemies to ourselves. But Jesus shows us His love with boundless endurance that never stops.
Amy Carmichael was an Irish missionary to India. She wrote a little book called If that’s packed with counter-cultural truth about the self. Here are a couple of quotes:
If I feel bitterly toward those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I knew myself, they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary love.
If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve around myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.
In the last days people will be lovers of themselves.
This year God has been urging me to upend some of the thinking that has crept into my brain and heart. I’m tearing down messages like these: I can’t be a good mom unless I’m addressing self-care in just the right way. I can’t show respect to my husband unless he loves me in just the right way. I can’t look to the needs of the poor until my income is at just the right level. I can’t be hospitable until I get a bigger house.
The liberal soul shall be made fat. May we trust God’s design and enjoy the feast.
Lee is the wife of Josh and the mother of three. She’s a pianist, a baker, a runner, and a recovering perfectionist. Motherhood, to her, often means finding beauty in the minutiae and grace in the big picture. Writing helps her find those things a little faster. Lee believes God’s truth seeps into everything from the duty of a simple laundry load to the making of little disciples. She loves being a mom because it takes her through deep waters and plenty of silliness, all in a day’s work.