I found myself in a place, recently. It’s not a physical place, but more of a mental one. In this place, I’ve felt like I was searching and searching for a deep sense of “rest”, which has become quite a buzz word in our society. I kept doing all the things – sleep, exercise, books, Netflix, “me time”, time away from my family, time with my family.
You name the “self care” trick, I tried it. I tried them all.
And yet, my soul didn’t feel cared for. My mind didn’t feel rested. My anxious thoughts would never subside.
And then, I got it. It took a week of TRUE solitude to find and discover, but I slowly felt like I was finding the answer. I was finally finding this place of rest in my soul. And it’s crazy, because it didn’t come from any amount of “me time”, or reading, or shows, or exercise, or healthy foods, or quiet time. It came from the realization that I was making the concept of self-care exactly what it sounds like – about making myself feel better.
I had taken the honest questions of stillness and reflection out and replaced them with ease and escape for my soul.
Behind so many of our candle lit baths, exercise routines, and additional hours of sleep, maybe some of us truly find rest for our souls. Maybe. But for other people (me), the real reason we engage in rest and self care is because we need a practical, “healthy” agenda to add to our crazy schedules, distracting us from reality and tricking ourselves to remember, “Oh yeah, I’m still in control and this busyness is all still good.” We use this “time away” in all actuality to help distract us, rather than heal us, from the really hard things in this life – the heart ache, grief, hard conversations, the pressure at work. From my own experience, I’ve used this self-care time as a distraction far more times than I’ve used it for reflection.
I think the best leaders are not the ones with the most self-care built into their schedules, but the ones with a deep desire for reflection and stillness. The kind of reflection and stillness that hurts. The kind that reminds you that you’re human, that those words from your boss hurt, that the side comment from your spouse was painful, that your anxiety isn’t something you can brush off because your soul is still restless.
I believe true stillness and reflection isn’t something we can show or prove. It isn’t our pretty Instagram pictures of our park runs, new exercise routines, candle lit baths, Netflix marathons, or the most trendy coffee shops.
I can’t speak for others, but I know that the more I try and show how much time I devote to “self care” the more I’m really just staying self-obsessed to make myself feel good in one way or another. I don’t come back from that self care activity feeling refreshed or revived. And if I do feel refreshed, it might only be for an hour or two until the next soul wrenching comment, demand, or pressure comes my way.
I don’t know that self care is meant to make us feel better instantly, though most of us are striving for the best self care bandage out there. I think in this culture, self care can easily become a distraction, another check off of our list, and a final way we prove to ourselves that we are “healthy” when in fact, we are living behind a mask and not hiding from the world, but hiding from ourselves. That is a slippery slope.
The word “stillness” sounds far less sexy than “rest” or “self care”, right? It’s because stillness doesn’t appeal to us – it has no measuring tool.
How can it help us achieve? How can it help us succeed? How can it make others understand how healthy we are, for no one will be able to see these things?
Stillness and reflection can’t be measured, but self care can. Stillness and reflection can’t be photographed and documented for its true worth, but self care can. Stillness and reflection don’t sound practical with clear action steps. They don’t look like items we can check off of a productive list, but self-care can. The concept of stillness and reflection are often needed in the most inconvenient times, but self care can be scheduled in a way that won’t disrupt our lives entirely.
I’m not even speaking from my heart in this – I’m speaking from my experience. In this life, I’ve discovered the very things I have used to try and keep me “healthy” are the very things that have indeed distracted me from the core being of my soul. Those “me times” can sometimes be helpful, but as I reflect more on my life, I see them as just a small way to escape from the reality that is life. And maybe I needed that escape just once in a while. But then, the need to escape turns from once in a while to once a month, then twice a month, then twice a week.
And suddenly, we need “me time” every morning, not to re-center ourselves, but to allow us to escape from our reality so that we can go back and start living it in a “healthy way.”
Honest reflection causes us to face ourselves and our hurts.
The only question I’ve learned to ask myself on this topic is this:
Are you numbing yourself to escape by reading this book, binging this show, taking this drive, going to this small group? Or are you going to allow yourself to be still and listen to the pains, wounds, and shortcomings of your soul?
This isn’t for everyone, and some might be deeply offended. But if you find yourself angry by these words or such a concept, I do challenge you to search your heart. For there might actually be a barrier in your heart and soul that no amount of vacations, baths, studies, music, or movies is going to heal. That type of healing, dear, is something you and only you can choose to find.