Self-Care and Soul Care: Learning from Christ’s Example

Divine Transformation
An image of a white letter board with a black frame that reads "self care isn't selfish" in black letters, set against a pink background with a shadow of a palm branch

What comes to mind when you think of “self-care” or “soul care”? Some of you may cringe, thinking it is for others, not you. Taking time to care for your needs may feel selfish or simply out of reach.

I invite you to prayerfully examine your beliefs and experiences as you read on, asking God to reveal what He has to say regarding caring for your needs.

Learning from Christ’s Example

Let us first take a closer look at the example Christ set before us. While on this earth, scripture records numerous occasions of Christ caring for his human needs while offering the gift of hope and eternal life through the gospel. His heart posture was to serve His Father, pouring out love and compassion to those He came to serve. This was His utmost priority. If an occasion required Him to set aside His needs for the sake of expanding the kingdom, He did not hesitate. He was the ultimate example of selflessness. (Philippians 2: 5-11) But, scripture shows Christ did not habitually neglect His own needs while caring for those around Him. Let us look at some examples.

Caring for Your Physical Needs

As a human, Jesus had physical human needs. He felt exhaustion. He felt hunger. He felt thirst. During His encounter with a Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4:5-26, He sought rest and replenishment during His travels. As He sat to rest by Jacob’s well, He initiated a conversation with the Samaritan woman by asking for a drink of water. Verse 6 describes Him as being tired and weary from the journey. His ultimate priority was His Father’s work, telling her of the “living water” God offers. (v.10 NKJV) In this moment, God used Him despite His physical weariness, ultimately receiving all the glory. Christ temporarily set aside His physical needs to offer love and eternal hope, but these needs were very real and present. 

We see another example of Jesus caring for His physical needs in Matthew 8:23-27. In this beloved story, Christ was traveling with His disciples by boat. Verse 24 (NKJV) states, “And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.” It is easy to miss, but I love that Matthew gives us this detail that Christ was sleeping. He responded to the disciples’ cries by calming the storm and waves, demonstrating the mighty power of God. But, right before this moment, He was resting His human body. Being immersed in a culture that normalizes chronic burnout and exhaustion, it is reassuring to see Christ take time for rest. In Matthew 11, Christ encourages us to come to Him when we are weary from the cares of life. He says in verse 28 (NKJV), “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Just like Christ, we also need times of recovery from the stress of life. He invites us to find true and lasting rest in Him. 

In Matthew 15:33 (NKJV), we see Christ’s concern for His followers’ physical needs. He expressed this concern to His disciples: “..I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” He then miraculously fed thousands of people with just seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Christ’s ultimate priority is eternity, but what an expression of love it is to see Christ also caring for the physical needs of His people. This passage demonstrates the importance of consuming enough fuel to keep us going, a concern Christ directly expressed to His disciples.

Caring for Your Emotional Needs

Jesus also felt human emotions. Scripture records examples of Christ’s heartache and intense grief. Matthew 26:36-45 (NKJV) records Christ’s mental and emotional suffering before His arrest and ultimate crucifixion. In verse 38, He expressed, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death..” In verse 39, we see Him wrestling with God regarding the task set before Him. He acknowledged His desire to be spared yet chose God’s will over His own.

On another occasion, we see that Jesus “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” after hearing of John the Baptist’s death in Matthew 14:13 (NIV). Although scripture does not record the full details, it is apparent Christ was likely grieving the loss of His loved one. It is a healthy human response to acknowledge and process grief when we experience loss. In the following verse, we again see Christ temporarily setting aside His emotional needs as he was “moved with compassion” by the crowds. Still, scripture hints at His downcast emotional state.

It is comforting to know Christ can relate to our own mental struggles and emotional turmoil. He sees us and cares deeply for us. 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV) encourages us to cast all our anxiety on God because “He cares for you.” God uses these moments to soften our own hearts to those around us experiencing pain and suffering, just as Christ was moved by compassion for those around Him.

Caring for Your Spiritual Needs

Although He was God, Christ also prioritized what we would describe in our modern era as “spiritual practices.” Numerous scriptures describe Christ taking time away from the crowds to be alone with His Father, seeking His presence and receiving anointing. Luke 5:16 (NKJV) states, “..He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” There are similar recorded moments in Mark 6:46, John 6:15, and Luke 6:12. Christ demonstrates the importance of taking time away from the distractions of life to bring our focus back to what matters most. In our moments of being alone to pray, study His Word, and listen for His voice, we become aware of His presence with us at all times. This opens our eyes to His work around us as He works in and through us, providing light for our next step.

Understanding Your Body’s Needs

These stories recorded in scripture help us see our own needs through God’s perspective. God created our bodies intelligently (Psalm 139:14), putting systems in place to maintain survival. When things get out of balance, there are usually symptoms to alert us of these imbalances. For example, when we are feeling stress or anxiety, we may experience muscle tension, headaches, and/or shallow breathing. When we lack adequate rest, we usually feel exhausted and struggle to think clearly. When we are not eating enough nutrients, we may feel more ravenously hungry and have increased food thoughts, making us feel out of control around food as our bodies seek survival. We may also feel “faint,” as Christ described in Matthew 15:33, lacking adequate energy to sustain us through our days.

Taking Steps to Care for Your Needs

When we live with awareness and connection with our bodies, these cues can serve as helpful guides by alerting us to changes we can make to improve how we feel and function. If you are considering making changes to how you care for your needs, here are some things to remember, considering the example Christ set for us:

Ask God to reveal your next step in caring for your needs, remembering how much He loves and cares for you. Feel free to share your next step in the comments below.