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The Insanity of ‘Self-Care’

These tactics do not even pretend to address your needs or to offer a cure. If you think that a tune, a labyrinth or a squirrel are going to heal the things that haunt you, you are more helpless than you even realize. A tune covers the silence you fear, but it will never cover the sin you carry. A squirrel might find a nut, but he never finds freedom from guilt and shame. A lonely walk in a corn maze never leads to reconciliation between estranged friends or family members.

The Maddening Idea of Mindfulness

And what is “mindfulness”? Dr. Cindy Sanderson says, “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience.” What does that mean?

  • “You eat dessert and notice every flavor you are tasting. … You’re not thinking about ‘is it good or bad to have dessert?’ You’re just really having dessert.”
  • “Dance to music and experience every note, instead of wondering if you look graceful or foolish.”
  • “You walk through a park, you actually walk through the park. What does that mean? It means you let yourself ‘show up’ in the park. You walk through the park aware of your feelings about the park, or your thoughts about the park, or how the park looks, or the sensation of each foot striking the pavement.”

Mindfulness sounds an awful lot like mindlessness. Do whatever you want, but whatever you do, don’t think about your problems. Want to deal with stress? Fixate yourself on chocolate or Netflix or the park near your house. Pretty soon, you’ll realize you haven’t been thinking at all about your looming financial debt, or your failures as a father, or your mom’s cancer. For a whole five minutes, you’ve been thinking about Reese’s, The Office and golden retrievers.

Isn’t that the freedom you’ve been dying for?

The Self-Care Search for Big

The closest the self-care movement can get to truly good news is to tell you to stare at something big:

  • “Watch a sunrise.”
  • “Hike in the woods.”
  • “Go to the beach.”
  • “Take a country drive.”
  • “Watch a sunset.”

Each of these is an effort to put you in front of something bigger than yourself long enough that you forget yourself. The strategies hint at the Christian gospel because the sensations we feel gazing at bigness begin to uncover the God-sized cavity beneath our guilt, stress and anxiety.

The Care You Really Need

The care you really need is not buried somewhere deep inside of you, waiting to be unlocked by some dessert or diversion. No, you need the healing, forgiving, restoring and transforming grace of a God who loves you. Only Someone stronger than your greatest weaknesses, bigger than your worst failures and brighter than your deepest darknesses could address the things you fear or regret.

If you’re drawing on the ocean of God’s grace to you through Jesus Christ, then your habits might make all the difference. Our habits of grace—our daily and weekly rhythms of seeking God, of surrendering our dreams and anxieties to him, of spreading his fame in all we do—are the means by which we experience real, genuine happiness, and they are the highway along which we will begin to experience freedom from sin and all its awful consequences in our lives.

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Marshall Segal (@MarshallSegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife Faye live in Minneapolis.