The summer of self-care

Humidity hangs heavy today and the temperature has crept toward 90; it's undeniably feeling like summer in Virginia. As I sit with a calendar that has palpably shifted from the frenetic end-of-school-year busyness to a more sanguine, relaxed busyness, I'm making a promise to myself. Summer will be for self-care.

Summer will be for strengthening the habit of entering into God's rest.

It is said that it takes 21 days to form a habit. My experience has been that the best habits take considerably longer. Some studies have confirmed it takes 66 days for behaviors to become as much of a habit as they were going to become. And those are habits like exercising every day or giving up a daily muffin with one's coffee. Resting in God isn't like giving up smoking. Resting in God is a re-alignment of a life.

In the pursuit of caring for our families - whether by earning an income or running a carpool - often we fail to care for ourselves. We martyr ourselves on the altars of professional advancement or pleasing others or both. We sacrifice sleep, eat on the run, write way too many things into a calendar square, or neglect the true needs for margin in our lives. In bowing to the urgent, we fail to breathe deeply of God's grace and see clearly His intention for our lives. Often, self-neglect is slow-creeping and insidious; it begins as dying to self in order to serve others in a vocation. It becomes burnout because we have failed to understand how much we are valued by God and how we actually are called to live in His gentle care and accept His rest - not to power up again and again under our strength and derive the meaning in our lives from the productivity of our lives.

Our work doesn't define us. Our output doesn't define us. Our bottom line doesn't define us. Our homemaking or childrearing capability don't define us. Instead, God calls us to work and asks us to let Him energize it for His glory. Are you feeling crushed as the school year wraps up and you've jumped through a million and one hoops? Jesus is calling. He's saying, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt 11:28-30). If you are bowed down and burned out by the demands of your life, you're not in His will. Summer is the perfect time to attend to self-care in order to learn a new habit of rest in Christ.

Sometimes, I have to be reminded that not every need must be filled by me. The bone-tired feeling? That soul-crushing fatigue? Usually they are the symptoms of self-reliance. They mean I've tried to save the world instead of trusting that God can accomplish His will in my life and the lives of the people I love. I take on every need as my personal mission, and I neglect to seek God's wisdom and direction in filling the needs around me. I am certain His plan is more prudent than the full-throttle assault that is my default.

So summer is a perfect time to reconfigure the default. It's a perfect time to stop worshipping at the altar of self-reliance. With a little more breathing room and the opportunity to spend more time outdoors, I'm more likely to successfully re-calibrate.

Self-care means saying "no" to some people who are very much in the habit of hearing my "yes," learning that God can step in and say "yes" instead, and we are all better off for allowing Him to do so. Self-care means taking the time to tend the temple of the Holy Spirit. No matter how willing my own spirit, my body can only be pushed so hard for so long. It's self-abuse and it's sinful. So, summer is the perfect opportunity to sleep a little more, to exercise outdoors, to curl up with a good book, to journal in longhand for a long time. My brain and my body need time and space to unfurl in the presence of my Maker.

What things are life-giving for you? Where does God meet you? Can you put your hand in His this summer and let Him take you to a place where He fills your depleted soul and nourishes your tired body?

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

@elizabethfoss