During another week of killings, war, protests, and debates about whether Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, I’m concerned about the toll it takes on those who are witnessing the violence and fighting for justice.
I’m not on the front lines of these battles, but I can feel my energy draining, nonetheless. Over the past few days, while I’ve stayed informed about the latest tragedies and conflicts, I’ve intentionally limited my exposure to most news and social media outlets. I’ve begun preparing for a contemplative retreat with other women who also care about justice. For me to continue to participate in any effort of transforming society, culture, or the church, I must nurture my mind, spirit, and body.
Audre Lorde put it like this:
“Caring for myself Is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Self-care is a radical practice of self-love. It is absolutely necessary when engaged in conflict against those who do not show love to you, or worse, those who seek to destroy you. Your survival and your flourishing are defiantly brave. Self-care honors the God who created you, the One who loves you, and the Spirit who sustains you.
My mother was the first woman to teach me this, and I’m grateful to her for that. She is a loving woman who is generous with her time and energy and resources, and she unapologetically cares for herself, too. Many years ago when I was trying to navigate the pressures of teen life, she told me how she nearly gave herself an ulcer once and then decided that she would not let it happen again. Decades later, I cannot remember the details of that conversation. What has stayed with me, though, is the permission she offered to love and protect myself through difficult circumstances. She and her friends (my other mothers) demonstrated that love of self and love of others can co-exist.
In my Christian tradition, sacrifice for others is lifted up as a noble idea. Jesus died for the world, sinners and non-sinners alike, so his followers (disciples) are encouraged to be willing to follow his example of self-sacrifice. Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark state, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “ (8:34, NRSV). Another series of verses in 1 John 16-18 tells us that love requires sacrifice: “We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
We rightfully honor the martyrs and the moral exemplars who give selflessly at great personal cost, yet we must resist trivializing their sacrifice with clichéd religious language. The story of Jesus and his followers is not only—or primarily—about suffering. It is about a powerful love that saves. It is about a community that cares for each other and cares for outcasts. It is about a teacher/healer/revolutionary who took time from his important work to withdraw and connect with God. Loving others and ourselves should not stand in tension.
I’m grateful that in my academic life, I’ve had female mentors who are compassionate and generous. They’ve cared about me enough to encourage me to care for myself. They’ve modelled self-care in their own lives. In the oft-cited definition of womanist from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), Alice Walker defines a womanist by several things she loves:
“Loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness. Loves struggle. Loves the Folk. Loves herself. Regardless.”
Loving the divine, the world, other people, and the fight for justice must be affirmed alongside an unconditional love of self. Womanism and today’s multitude of feminisms remind us to love our bodies, our minds, our spiritualities, our voices, and our communities even if they do not conform to dominant standards. Showing ourselves love means sustaining ourselves physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. These are just a few self-care practices for you to consider implementing:
- Read something that delights you or inspires you.
- Talk to a person who loves you.
- Immerse yourself in clean water.
- Eat a tasty, nutritious meal or snack.
- Get enough sleep.
- Let unimportant things go or delegate them.
- Be patient and gentle with yourself.
- Spend time in silence, prayer, and/or meditation.
- Ask for help. Accept it.
- Seek competent, professional help for persistent physical, mental, or emotional health issues.
- Do something creative: write, sing, compose, dance.
- Do something physical: walk, run, jump, clap your hands, stretch, breathe deeply.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Spend time in a place that provokes awe.
- Learn something new.
- Write your thoughts down in a journal.
- Unplug from television, computers, and social media for a while.
- Embrace yourself or share that love with someone close to you.
- Express gratitude.
- Confess your shortcomings to yourself, God, or someone you trust and then release them.
Please add more safe-care practices in the comments below. I’ve seen a few posts on various sites the past few days that encourage self-care in the midst of activism. See Christy Croft’s piece on FAR just a few days ago or Anthonia Akitunde’s post on Mater Mea for more reading on the topic. The more voices encouraging self-care the better.
However you choose to do it, take care of yourselves as you would the ones the love most dearly. Love yourselves bravely, defiantly, and fiercely. Regardless.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.
Categories: Activism, Bible, Black Feminism, Christianity, Community, Embodiment, Ethics, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Ethics, Feminist Theology, Foremothers, God, Healing, Justice, Love, Media, Racism, Reform, Relationality, Resistance, Social Justice, survival, Theology, Violence, Women's Suffering