Many in our culture regard self-care as a selfish habit. One can sense the disapproval behind comments such as, “She’s so self-absorbed; she spends all her time at the gym.” We sometimes even hear such admonitions within church circles, as if the call to deny ourself (Luke 9:23) means total self-abnegation. Let’s explore the idea of self-care within biblical and psychological frameworks.

The Danger of Extreme Neglect

Excessive selflessness — particularly when it ignores one’s physical, emotional, or spiritual well-being — can be damaging. Pastors and others in helping professions may fall into the “caring for others trap,” depleting themselves and harming families in the process. A friend in the mission field experienced a family breakdown because the parents focused solely on others’ needs and neglected their own marriage and family life.

Scripture warns against neglecting one’s own body, as in Proverbs 29:18 (ESV), “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. We may omit ‘vision’ here for spiritual purposes, and apply it more literally to our physical well-being. In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah was so overwhelmed he fled for his life, only to collapse under a tree near death before God’s intervention (1 Kings 19).

Jesus, in telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, instructed we must love even ourselves (Luke 10:25-37). We cannot be Christ’s servants to others if we’re burned out. The adage about putting the oxygen mask on first before assisting others also has its roots in the wisdom of Exodus 18:19–20, where Jethro admonishes Moses to delegate some of his administrative responsibilities to lighten his own workload.

Biblical Concepts of Self-Care

The words “selfish” and “self-care” do not align in Scripture, where tending to our emotional, spiritual, and physical welfare carries positive connotations.

  • Sabbath rest (Ex. 20:8–11; Deut 5:12–15): Set aside one day a week for rest, acknowledging God as Creator and yourself as his beloved image-bearer. The Hebrew root of “Sabbath” implies rest from, or abandonment to, God.
  • Wise Stewardship: The Bible repeatedly condemns excessive workaholism and the neglect of other important endeavors (Ecclesiastes, 2:22–23, 5:17–18). Joseph disciplines his brothers, later revealing himself, saying, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Through hardship and challenges, even a deep transformation might occur.
  • Loving your Neighbor: We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). Loving one’s own soul allows us to love others more effectively.

The Role of Psychological Concepts

Psychological insights can augment our biblical understanding. Healthy, realistic self-regard is not self-absorption or self-indulgence. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” not as a stranger. Secular psychology offers practical tools for nurturing healthier selves, for the benefit of ourselves and those around us.

  • Mindfulness: Sustained attention to one’s inner experience, helping manage stress and stimulating compassion for self and others (Kabat-Zinn).
  • Positive Self-Talk: Research shows that self-affirming statements can neutralize the effects of negative stereotypes, boost academic performance, and improve immune system function.
  • Self-Compassion: Physiologically, reacting to our own pain as we would to a friend’s distress, making it possible to cope with one’s vulnerabilities without self-hatred (Kristin Neff).

None of these ideas undermine biblical faith. Many scriptural characters dealt with their own mental and emotional struggles, using the means available at the time for resilience and redemption.


The idea of self-care is not a modern fad but an essential aspect of human flourishing. It includes paying attention to our well-being while connecting us more strongly to our families, friends, congregations, and the communities we serve.

As believers, we can adopt a balanced view of self-care. It’s not a selfish pursuit, but rather a vital means of holiness and wholeness, enabling us to love and serve others more effectively.

“Bird in Hand” photo courtesy of Alexandra Simpson.

Additional Resource: Explore more from Ellen and her book, Tending Souls: Spiritual Care Skills for Unpredic table Times, which teaches us how to use a range of methods (with scriptural support) to address personal resilience and care for others.