[image by Tamara Areshian]

In my last post, When You Refuse To Take Care Of Yourself, You Are Refusing To Take Care Of Those Around You, I just briefly reflected on some comments by Rob Bell at the Catalyst Conference 2009 and how I felt they played into self-care.

Self-care is a large topic. For example, what does it mean? I know there are lots of different definitions, but I tend to think of it in terms of how one cares for themselves physically, spiritually, emotionally (psychologically). Anne Jackson adds a fourth one talking about relational health. These things involve some basic things that are sometimes difficult to integrate into our daily lives. Things like getting enough good sleep. Eating well. Setting personal boundaries. Exercising. Spiritual devotion and exercises. Etc.

A couple of observations.

Self-care just isn’t about doing the right things–it’s really a way of thinking that is connected to our identity and who we are as people. So it doesn’t matter too much if you do all the right exercises, but deep down inside you have a distorted view of who you are. Going through the motions is not the same thing as caring for one’s self.

You might say that self-care is as much about being as doing.

Also, the amount of literature on this topic is glaringly absent in many Protestant, Evangelical circles. Please tell me I’m wrong and point me towards it, and then I will stand corrected. I’m not saying there isn’t any period–I’m just saying that Protestant, especially Evangelical theology tends to leave out the topic of self-care.  It’s often the Catholic literature that one must turn towards to find any help on this issue. And many have as I have.

Again, we tend to want to go do something…to fix something. That is the wrong view to take on self-care. Ultimately there are some things that we do do…but it’s as much about who we are and about being, rather than doing.  That’s a difficult concept for many people who equate doing and busyness with godliness, spirituality, success in ministry, etc.

So what I want to do is recommend some books that I think do a good job of blending two things together: 1) Getting at the root of self-care, and issues around identity, and how they play out in our behavior. So don’t go in expecting just to find a to do list. These are books that get at the roof of the matter, and often that will take you to an uncomfortable, but necessary place. 2) Providing some practical steps for self-care and things that you can practice and hopefully integrate into your daily life.

There are lots and lots of books that I can recommend, but let me start with some basic, very accessible books that I think are MUST READS. Yes, I did say MUST READS. But then again–I’m biased. So I will start with a list of 11 (10 books and a novel series) for you. Every one of them is great and has deeply influenced my life in some profound ways around the issues of how one’s identity and being shapes their view of self-care.

  1. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri Nouwen.
  2. The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen.
  3. The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen.
  4. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer.
  5. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life by Parker Palmer.
  6. Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic by Anne Jackson.
  7. Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro.
  8. Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing by Soren Kierkegaard.
  9. The New Man by Thomas Merton.
  10. The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich
  11. The Starbridge Series by Susan Howatch (6 novels in that series–this series gives you a close up look of those involved in ministry and what happens when issues around self-care, identity, boundaries, etc. are ignored–fascinating reading).

So please add to my list and tell me what books have helped you out in this area of self-care.