How have you found Self-Care Week? I hope it’s been helpful.
I’m continuing this series of about the seven components of self-care which I first published in early 2015. I’m using the hashtag #selfcareweek on Twitter and Instagram and would love it if you’d join me. Self-Care Week continues over the weekend and it’s a subject I love talking about.
And today, it’s…
Do a Google image search for ‘self-care’ and you see a lot of yoga and meditation pictures. It seems lots of us recognise that there is a spiritual element to taking care of ourselves. I’m a Christian and not keen on yoga (which is strongly linked to worship in Hinduism and also forms a part of Buddhist spirituality). I am into music and prayer and being community and reading the Bible and trying to apply my faith in really practical ways, hence the whole adoption thing, à la James 1:27 (NLT):
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.
So. This post isn’t about bashing anyone over the head with my faith or singing platitudes about how Jesus will make all your child(ren)’s trauma and attachment issues disappear. It’s just an honest outline of the ways in which my faith helps me parent my children.
Why it matters
Why bother with spirituality? When many people tick the box marked ‘none’ when it comes to describing their faith, why should we add spiritual practices to our already over-full to-do lists?
The UK’s Mental Health Foundation describes the benefits of spiritual activities:
‘Being able to express and explore our spirituality is a basic human need and a universal human right. This right applies to everyone and is enshrined in European and UK law, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. …
Spirituality can help people maintain good mental health. It can help them cope with everyday stress and can keep them grounded. Tolerant and inclusive spiritual communities can provide valuable support and friendship. There is some evidence of links between spirituality and improvements in people’s mental health, although researchers do not know exactly how this works. …
Spirituality can also help people deal with mental distress or mental illness. Spirituality can bring a feeling of being connected to something bigger than yourself and it can provide a way of coping in addition to your own mental resilience. It can help people make sense of what they are experiencing.’
I certainly find all that to be true. And this stuff matters to me. It is a huge part of who I am and how I hope to parent our girls: teaching them unconditional love and endless grace and hope and honesty and integrity (and, here’s hoping, perhaps a bit of self-discipline one day). So here’s what it all looks like in practice for me at the moment.
Even before I was an adoptive parent, I was tired a lot of the time. Now, on less sleep and more stress, some days are a bit of a fog. I just don’t have the mental capacity, let alone the free time for reading the more academic theology books that I used to love, so I now feel that I ‘connect’ more through music. My current favourite albums are:
I have these CDs in the car and I have the MP3s on my phone and computer. They help me calm down, cheer up, and generally regulate and get a bit of a broader perspective on whatever’s on my mind. It helps that (with absolutely no coercion on our part) the children love them and will sing these songs with gusto when they wake up in the morning and are ‘playing quietly’ in their rooms. I think they find them helpful too.
I’ll be honest. Making time to pray and try to stop thinking about my to-do list sometimes just doesn’t happen. We pray with the girls at bedtime every night. We pray at church. Pete and I pray together when we remember and are both in the same room at the same time. We have previously had an arrangement that we pray together after lunch on the days he works from home, but his schedule has been crazy recently and we have forgotten a lot. I rely very heavily on God’s grace (knowing that he’s not keeping score) and on what some people call ‘arrow prayers’ – things like ‘Please help me not mess up this important conversation’ and ‘Please let them be asleep before the babysitter arrives’ and ‘Thank you that that revolting stain on her school uniform came out in the wash when I was expecting to have to make an emergency shopping trip’. That kind of thing. But I do find prayer helpful. It isn’t always answered in the ways I would like, of course, but if God always did what I wanted there wouldn’t be much point in him being God, would there?
I love the church when we get it right. It can be the best kind of support network – if there are people there who ‘get it’, it can be a place to offload, to find excellent childminders, to find people who like ironing way more than I ever intend to and are willing to take yours on… there all kinds of ways they help. Yes, there are also those who are less helpful, but with a bit of determined explaining and teeth-gritting, even those can soften eventually.
It’s through the church that we have organisations like Home for Good, encouraging more Christians to get involved in adoption and fostering and explaining to the rest of the church that these families often need extra support.
This one’s kind of a big deal to me. From where I sit writing this, I can see 16 Bibles on a bookshelf in various translations, including Scouse. I also have the Bible on my phone and my Kindle. I have BibleGateway bookmarked on my computer for looking up passages I have only half-remembered or topics I want to investigate. I try to read it every day, though I don’t manage it all the time. I use all manner of different resources to help me understand and apply it, though my current favourites are the She Reads Truth app and Beth Moore studies which are either a DVD or download, and a workbook (I have done the ones on Esther, James and Knowing God).
Though I rarely live up to my own desire to read more (I set an alarm to be Mrs Spiritual Bible-reader at 6.00am, but it often gets ignored), when I do, it helps me focus on what is important, and reminds me that I am not, and don’t have to be, in control of everything that happens to every member of our family (I need reminding of this a lot. I have control-freak tendencies. Ask my husband, or, well, anyone who knows me). Anyway. The Bible is full of advice on how to life ‘life in all its fullness’ (John 10:10) and how to get on with others. Also good adoption-friendly advice for families, like
‘Children, do what your parents tell you. This is only right. “Honour your father and mother” is the first commandment that has a promise attached to it, namely, “so you will live well and have a long life.”
Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.’
(Ephesians 6:1–4, The Message)
The book of James is one of my favourite parts of the Bible. I love the way the author is delightfully blunt.
‘What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Goodbye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.’
(James 2:14–17, NLT)
Mine and Pete’s faith is a huge part of why we adopted. It wasn’t from a deep yearning to be parents, but a deep acknowledgement that we couldn’t not adopt, having become aware of the need of children for families. More of that story another time, perhaps.[Update: that story is now here.]
Though I practise my faith very imperfectly (imperfection and grace being part of the deal), I get a huge amount of strength and peace and guidance from it. In terms of self-care, these are big pieces of the jigsaw.
If you have questions about any of this, I’ll gladly answer what I can if you leave a comment below. If you want to know lots more, I’d also recommend you find an Alpha Course near you (see ‘further reading’) where you can ask all your questions in person (and usually with free food – there is almost always a pasta bake involved).
What are your thoughts on the importance of spirituality to your own self-care? Is it something you are making a deliberate part of your life, or are there reasons you prefer not to? Are there particular practices you find helpful as an adoptive parent? Please share your comments below and join in the conversation on Twitter with the #selfcareweek hashtag. Tomorrow’s topic – the last in the series – is treats, or, for the sake of alliteration, superfluities. Hurrah.