Every other Wednesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.I am thinking a lot about self-care these days. And I don’t mean self-care in a “Treat Yo Self” kind of way, but in a basic, meaningful, showing oneself care kind of way. Our church keeps advertising a “Blue Christmas” service for those grieving and struggling during this most joyous of seasons. My students report concerns from the standard to the serious. Our family calendar is jam packed with amazing experiences that sometimes leave me feeling almost hungover from all the fun we’re trying to pack into Advent. We can work ourselves to the bone trying to make this season meaningful, thereby leaching it of all its meaning.My husband jokes that he can’t believe he found someone more introverted, more of a homebody than himself to marry. But he did find me. And somehow every Christmas season we still go against our natures to participate in the many events available to us. Even my last office hours session of the semester felt crammed with student meetings; I’m glad they all came and proud of their hard work. I appreciate the opportunities for engagement with friends, family, colleagues, students, and our community, yet the emphasis on reaching out reminds me that I neglect the fundamentals of self-care at my own peril. By fundamentals, I mean the little things I remind my students of in the final weeks of a semester. Go easy on the caffeine. Take a walk. Eat fruits and vegetables. See the sunshine. Get some sleep. It’s advice I need for myself, too. For those of us who are parents or caregivers, it’s even harder to find the time and space needed for the simplest acts of self-care. We can work ourselves to the bone trying to make this season meaningful, thereby leaching it of all its meaning.
This morning I’m writing in my living room. I persuaded the children to go play with their blocks downstairs because I didn’t think I could handle another minute of their flashing Christmas-lights necklaces. Those things should come with a warning for overstimulation. So far today I’ve consumed nothing but coffee and homemade chocolate chip cookies, which I baked last night in lieu of dinner. So, yes, this piece is a confessional as well as a call to collective action. It’s good to bake cookies if one is so inclined. It’s important to remember that they are not substitutes for actual meals. And this is always the caregivers’ dilemma. My kids ate a healthy dinner and a healthy breakfast, but I prioritized knocking an item off my to-do list over consuming something nutritious.
While I can give myself a little leeway here, I’m reminding myself not to make these behaviors a habit. There are more lists and more events on the calendar and more—always. But that empty feeling when the holidays are over and we feel gutted? That’s a key symptom of missing the point. The shows and the parades and the presents and the parties can all be good things, and certainly some folks thrive on these kinds of events. Christ is in the crowds, certainly.
Christ is in the quiet, too. And what my family needs most right now, after all the crowds, is the quiet. It’s in these quiet moments, these rare convergences of space and time where I’m still in my pajamas and the children are not bickering, that I’m able to recall all the reasons why I have to take care of myself. God made us to need sleep and food and sunshine and movement. We feel off, at best, when we lack these resources. A good friend and I quip that sleep is second to God in our homes, but really, things go better with God when we’ve had enough sleep. Made in the image of Christ, we, like Christ, can glorify God in the crowds and in the quiet.
It’s so much harder for me to do that when I’m anxious, exhausted, and fueled by caffeine and sugar. It’s not about indulging myself but about resisting the indulgences that cloud the real meaning of care. Instead of a relentless pursuit of pleasure, it means a still submission to truth, to presence. Instead of a full calendar, it means recognizing my own emptiness so that, seeing my own neediness, I can minister to the needs of my neighbors. It is reflecting inward that allows me to serve outwardly. My holiday problems are a privilege, and it’s in slowing down to see what I lack that shows me where God needs my hands and feet. So many of us are hungry for more than cookies. I’m going to eat a real breakfast now, to care for myself the way Christ cares for me, so that I can care for those around me with the love of God instead of the idol of cheer.