Every Lenten season I give up something, usually chocolate. I sometimes fast for several hours during the day. Sometimes I read an extra book or two, usually on peace theory. I do not know if this is a real sacrifice since that is what I ordinarily do. If I had any courage at all I would give up General Hospital. Every year I think about it and decide against it. This Lent will be no different except that I am going to unapologetically dedicate this Lent to my own self-care.
My plan is to live on one of those reduced calorie, heart-healthy, live 120 years diets. I intend to practice my yoga twice a day. I can do the morning, but the afternoon requires divine intervention. (Those who know the worth of prayer please pray for me.) I intend to go to bed early and get seven hours of sleep. I am going to drink more water. I plan to sit still before God twice daily and try to listen to what God is saying to me. I will not bombard God with the troubles of my family, the world, and my own hopes and dreams. My prayers will be prayers of gratitude.
I am going to listen to good music and read a novel or two that I have been intending to read, but that I put off because of some more urgent work. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to following Jesus have dedicated ourselves to a difficult road. We are obligated to care for the least of those among us, to seek justice and mercy, and to work for a society and for a politics that makes these values real. Such a commitment can be exhausting. We ought to tell people this when we invite them to Christ.
However, there are times when it is necessary to unplug and to refresh. Jesus understood this. His time in the wilderness was surely not a spa vacation, but it was an alone time that allowed him to be in spiritual touch with God. Very often, we see Jesus going away from the multitudes for rest and for rejuvenation. When the wind and the waves came crashing into a boat and his disciples became afraid, Jesus was sleeping.
Quoting Old Testament scripture, Jesus taught: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30-31)
For too many of us, it is difficult to properly love our neighbor because we do not properly love ourselves. We over-schedule ourselves and our children. We feel the need to read the various newspapers, magazine articles, blogs, and books on the subjects of the day. And speaking only for myself, a steady diet of this makes my temper grow short as I am constantly amazed by politicians who demonize teachers and government employee unions, cut K-12 education, and say it is for the sake of the children. This leads to angry eating.
So, this Lenten season is for me. It is a season where I will recall the saving grace we see in the life of Jesus as well as in his death and resurrection. Jesus lived to bring sustenance and joy to the world. He lived a life of compassion and care. That care included self-care.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.