How to Love Ourselves:
10 Strategies for Self-Care

Let’s talk about self-care.

We are all familiar with the great commandment of Jesus to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, but what does it mean to really love ourselves? Why don’t ministers preach on that part of the commandment?

I remember not too long ago preaching a sermon on the dangers of self-love. One angry member of our discussion that followed yelled, “We need more self-love, not less!”

It is easy to confuse the wording of self-love and loving ourselves. It is better to think of it in terms of the difference between selfishness and self-care.

Jesus connects the two teachings that you really can’t love others if you don’t take care of yourself. And, if all you do is focus on yourself, you can’t love others. We must do both at the same time.

The importance of highlighting self-care is critically important right now. Washington is again boarded up preparing for protests. Tension is in the air. Depression and anxiety are high before the pandemic is at record levels. There’s a three-week wait to speak to a counselor. Many of us are becoming unemployed in the midst of all of this.

Last night we moved our clocks back which psychologists suggest throw off our body’s sleep rhythm. As the city gets colder and we have days of overcast, the need to take care of ourselves is of critical importance.

All of these things make this a perfect day to focus on what we can do for self-care.

When I was asked by Sheri to preach on this topic, I wondered why our ministers don’t often speak to the importance of self-care as a spiritual principle. Then, I came across these statistics about ministers that answers the question.

75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed”
90% work between over 55 hours per week
90% feel fatigued and worn out every week
70% say they’re grossly underpaid
78% were forced to resign from their church because of church conflict
91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry
18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now”
53% of pastors do not feel that seminary prepared them adequately
44% of pastors do not take a regular day off
31% do not exercise at all.
70% constantly fight depression

The answer is that our ministers don’t preach on it because we ourselves haven’t figured out healthy ways to live out self-care.

Ministers, like myself, and other caring givers who enjoy helping others often believe that if they just keep loving and giving the Lord will give them the strength to power on. The reality is we are ignoring the command to love ourselves. Self-care itself is a spiritual practice most important for those who love to help.

Many of us have come to live out the parable of Sal Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree. In the famous children’s story, a tree that gives a give and gives. It shares its leaves for a boy to play in, then branches to climb, but as the boy becomes a man the tree is chopped down for wood and man uses the stump as a bench. This book became a parable of how we should keep giving of ourselves, but how many generations of children will never have leaves, branches, or fruit in the next generation.

Many care givers end up as tree stumps happy to be of service. Stumps don’t have a lot to give.

Our level of stress directly impacts our ability to care. Ask me for help or support when I’m stressed out and you’ll get one answer. Ask me for support when I’m at peace with myself and not stressed and you’ll get something else.

We can’t say we love others if we don’t love ourselves.

But some truly caring people have figured this out self-care.

Over the past 15 years of my coaching practice, I’ve noticed how givers also take time to care for themselves manage and I’d like to share what I’ve learned. Here are ten strategies.

1. Life is a Marathon
Givers who prioritize self-care look at life as a marathon, not a sprint. Their vision is much more long term. They can put into perspective what’s happening with the knowledge that soon it will be resolved.

2. Guard Time
Givers good at self-care are also ruthless managing their time. When you are with them, you have no idea how busy they are because they are present in the moment, but they also have an ability to say “no” to unimportant things. This ability to create boundaries may be their greatest superpower. One reason we say “yes” when the answer our gut is telling us should be “no” is we fear what they’ll think of us. They remind themselves that the people driving them nuts are God’s children, but their ability to say no will preserve their strength for the truly important situation yet to come. Their schedule books time to be alone.

3. Limit Social Media
Givers good at self-care also monitor their intake of news and social media.

4. Exercise
People who prioritize self-care also understand the connection between the body, mind and spirit. They are investing in taking care of their physical bodies. They walk each day and find ways to get their body moving.

5. Sleep
Givers prioritize sleep over almost everything else. They know that if the body fails their ability to be of service on earth fails. They use increased sleep as their first line of defense against illness.

6. Diet
They are very aware of what food goes into their body. One funny story about Swedenborg is that in one of his first mystical engagements the messenger said, “Don’t eat so much.” Swedenborg himself became a vegetarian. What we eat impacts our stamina and long-term health. I took one small step toward improving my diet this past week by doing my first visit with a nutritionist and I think I’ll see some great results.

7. Delegate
People who prioritize self-care also know how to ask for work and delegate work. They know what they do best and find others to what they don’t do best. If the group thinks something is a good idea, they invite team members to take up the cause. If no one does, they are good letting it drop.

8. They are Less Concerned with What Others Think
People who prioritize self-care don’t care so much what other people think of them. We all spend so much time wasted over concerns of what others might be thinking only to discover they are thinking about us that much at all.

9. Breathing
Across the world those givers good at self-care often seem to be in touch with the power of breathing. Exercises, such as, breathing in through your nose for four seconds and breathing out through the mouth for ten often bring immediate calm.

Breathing has emerged for me as one of the most powerful strategies for self-care. In Eastern religions, this is part of the faith path, but in the west, we’ve put a much great focus on books and knowledge. I heard one expert recently say that the way Americans breath is so poorly based on the fact that our mind is constantly under stress which emits messages that we are under attack putting risk to our heart and back and immune system.

Swedenborg was given the title of Buddha of the North by DT Suzuki because he pioneered breathing exercises that allowed him to enter into spiritual states. Wouldn’t it be cool if Swedenborgian churches taught breathing for spiritual resilience and insight? Instead, we often rent out our buildings to yoga studies focused on body and breath.

10. Developing their Spiritual Life
People who prioritize self-care often have rituals that they use daily to get them through. This includes meditation, journaling, and prayer. People who find the time to come to worship each week rate in the highest category of happiness within the entire culture. The effort to learn something new and hear and share concerns are transformative.

People with great self-care have a positive and realistic narrative about their life. They are honest about what’s going on and what might happen. They have strategies for moving beyond negative thoughts and focusing on positive thoughts. They do the best they can do to prepare, but they leave the rest to God.

Taking care of ourselves is of critical importance to our spiritual life. God created a sabbath in Genesis to recharge. Jesus often departed from the crowd to get his downtime. Swedenborg engaged in deep breathing and time alone. He spoke in-depth about both developing our inner and outer life together.

What can you do to improve your own self-care?

Maybe it is as simple as a massage, a day off, sleeping in.

Can you change the perspective on something stressing you out now?
Can you imagine a positive resolution?

Can you make time each day for exercise?

Can you commit to a few minutes of prayer to ask your angels to guide you?
Can you commit to eating in a way that energizes your body?

Can you practice breathing?

What can you stop doing?

What must you say “no” to?

What can you do this coming week to really love yourself?

We cannot love others if we do not love ourselves, seek this week to take care of yourself and, with the Lord’s, help you will be more able to truly love others.