Dear Barbara: How do I care for myself as a woman and mom?
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on self-care and self-development which seems to be the thing right now. Thanks, Amanda
I’m delighted to attempt a reply because this is a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but especially in the last year, after hearing from many other young moms like you. I’ve concluded that we women need more than me time, self-care or self-development; we need to care for our souls, which is a bit different than self-care.
I have much more to share than one post will allow, but let’s try and see if these thoughts enlighten and help. It’s January, a great time to start a new life focus!
Visiting my daughter Rebecca last summer was like being in a time machine. I watched her non-stop pace as a mom of five young kids. Oh, I so remember all of this, I thought. She fielded unceasing requests, worked hard to meet needs, rushed to solve crises … and was utterly exhausted at the end of the day. She’s a great mom and along with her husband is parenting their little “image-bearers” with excellence; but still she is weary.
As Rebecca and I talked in interrupted fragments during those days, I asked her, “What are you doing to feed your soul?”
She replied, “I’m not sure how” and, “It’s so hard to find time.”
Reflecting on this conversation gave me new eyes on my own mothering years. I, too, worked ceaselessly, sacrificing myself daily for the good of my six children. But in hindsight I see that I often crossed an invisible line. On one side was genuine God-pleasing service to my children and husband. Across the divide was the failure of much self-effort in which I often felt like a martyr. Many days I was depleted in ways more than just physical fatigue. What I didn’t understand as well as I do today is the necessary integration of all of my soul with the Spirit of Christ. All of me needed feeding and care.
As I look back on my life, one of my biggest regrets from those early mommy years was not making personal Bible study a regular priority. As a family we were in church weekly. I knew Bible study was important, too, but I was susceptible every day to the tyranny of the urgent like my Rebecca. And there are lots of urgent moments with a houseful of children. I didn’t enroll in a women’s Bible class until most of my six were in school. I wish I had realized sooner that some Bible study is better than none.
Like you, Amanda, I wondered how to become all God intended me to be, how to feed my soul and how to grow my relationship with God, all while working full time as a mom, working regularly on my marriage and working in the ministry with my husband.
And it’s not just moms. A married friend who has never had children was telling me this week that she’s really good at taking care of her husband, who’s had several surgeries lately. But she’s forgetting to do the same for herself. Women worldwide often ignore their soul needs for the sake of their families.
So what is soul care?
In Hebrew the word for soul, nephesh, means throat, suggesting that what our soul feeds on is as necessary as healthy food passing through our throats to feed our physical bodies. In many verses in the Bible, nephesh, means the whole person, a living breathing human being. Your soul includes all of you. (for more on this word click on this link to the Bible Project.)
Simply put, soul care means taking the time to feed your soul, which includes our spiritual, physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, and creational, God-made image. Just as our bodies need a variety of foods for optimal health so do our souls. Your Maker, your Creator is the One who knows you inside and out. He is “intimately acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:3, NASB).
Common to all souls is the divinely created God-shaped space within. This invisible place is designed to be filled and ruled by the Spirit of Jesus. My will, the power to choose, can follow my own way or surrender to His way.
Once He lives within I invite Him to feed me, all the parts of me, with His food; the Word, the Bread of Life, the Living Water. Romans 8:11 says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” As I allow Him to lead me with His love, I grow as Christ and His truth influence my physical actions, my emotions, my intellect, my relationships, my work, and my creative endeavors.
Though our journeys are filled with commonalities, each of us has a path, a curriculum known only to our Father. We discover this path as we walk with Him, for “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which the Father prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
The most important way we as disciples feed our souls is by communing with our Maker, nourishing our inner private relationship with Him through His Word, talking to Him frequently all day, and listening to hear His love whispers, His touch, His presence. He makes Himself known to each one of us uniquely; therefore our soul refreshment is also distinct and personal.
I have learned three truths about my soul, my being, that I believe are common to all God’s image-bearers.
- I was made by God to create beauty and order with meaning. (This includes my work in my home, my ministry, my family, etc.) In Genesis 1, God reveals Himself to us as the Creator of life and order. Then He describes the creation of humans, saying, “Let us make man in our image…” (Genesis 1:26). The Creator formed human creators, or as J.R.R. Tolkien calls us, sub-creators. All of humanity is created to create.
- I was born to teach and inspire others to follow after Jesus. (God’s design of me enables me to communicate uniquely in my relationships in my family and outside my home) He gave all of His followers the command to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20, NASB). As a mother for almost 30 years, I focused on teaching my children as much about God as they could absorb. Now I focus on teaching others. All humans have the ability to teach.
- I was born to love, for God is love, and I am made like Him. (My soul was made to love God and share that love with others through the ways He has made me). All women and men as image bearers are made to love our families and those God has put in our lives. All of God’s children are made to love.
All three of these are expressed various ways through the combined parts of my soul.
But here is the key: Though we have common, soul-created purposes and common parts of our souls as people, we express His call to create, teach and love differently from one another. And we refresh our souls in ways that are just as unique. For example, coding computer programs, designing skyscrapers, or creating fabulous meals does not fill or restore my soul. But creating art, arranging visually beautiful settings and painting energizes me.
So how do you know what nourishes your unique soul as a mom and woman?
I invite you to begin asking your Father in heaven to show you what your soul uniquely needs. He made you, so He knows. Begin to make a list of the things you do that make you feel alive, deeply fulfilled or refreshed. (I’ll share my list in the next post.) Be patient as this may take weeks or many months as you observe who God made you to be. And remember His timing is perfect. As Psalm 130:5 says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope”
Ask yourself and God these questions; then journal your discoveries.
- God, what do I need to commune with You and hear Your voice to me? To develop and grow that hidden place we share?
- My Creator, what are the needs and requirements of my unique God created soul? What specific things feed all of who I am?
- Lord, what do I need to do to be in Your Word to me, the Bible, regularly reading and absorbing Your love letter to me?
As I’ve matured as a believer I see more clearly that the way God fashioned me gives the world a glimpse of God as no one else can. And it’s true of all of us. We all deeply desire to be individuals, but in our insecurities, we work hard to be like everyone else because it feels safer.
Sara is a friend of mine. We seem to understand and get each other on many levels. But Sara is a runner who discovered in her jogging how to commune with God in a way I admire deeply.
Another athletic friend told me, “I think I’m a kinetic worshipper. When I’m biking I more easily direct my attention to Him.” Another friend climbs the mountain near our home two or three times a week for the exercise but mostly for the alone time to talk to God and soak in His presence in the beauty of creation.
If I tried to be a runner or a cyclist or a mountain climber, I would only be communing with my selfishness as I bemoaned the discomforts of serious exercise. I need quiet, alone time in a comfortable place or walking alone in my neighborhood or working in my gardens.
Also, I’ve learned being with people constantly drains me. Even too much time with my children or husband can become depleting if not balanced by the kind of alone time I need uniquely. Being away from my kids but still around crowds of people at ministry events was not refreshing for my soul.
To sum up, we all need to learn how to feed our soul by communing regularly with Him and listening to Him in His Word. But God also wants us to ask Him how He made us and then listen for what we can do to experience regular soul refreshment so we can become all He made us to be and do for His glory and our joy.
And I’d love to hear what you are learning, too!
Click here for part two.